Flashback. 1971 Harley FX.

1971HarleyFX1971. The first year of the Harley FX Series. FX meant. “Factory Experimental” Harley-Davidson styling director Willie G. Davidson designed it as the first factory custom motorcycle..” Because of the weird Bobtail section ) borrowed from the Sportster , the experimentation got a cold reception from the press and from Harley fans. This model was a mix of XLH Sportster (telescopic forks, Bobtail fender) and of FLH electra Glide components. (frame, rear suspension, drivetrain, engine accessories) Many buyers were removing the rear section and Harley sales improved when it did the same. (photo @ Doug Mitchel)

31 Responses to “Flashback. 1971 Harley FX.”


  1. 1 Paul Hemsley Nov 22nd, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Yep, showing that Willie G. was able to design an ugly bike. And he was not fired by HD.

  2. 2 nicker Nov 22nd, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Nice stance… but that tail section didn’t get much design thought.

    -nicker-

  3. 3 James just another crazy kiwi Nov 22nd, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    Trying to be trendy when there was no need.

    Funny What sells, I thought the XLCR was a great looking bike but never sold either

    It is easy to sit back and criticise and everyone here would like to design an MC but when the commercial numbers are huge it must be stressful.

  4. 4 1550tc Nov 22nd, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    Willie G. was able to design an ugly bike. And he was not fired by HD. –

    the guy has an asbestos jacket!!!

    At least Polaris hired the Ness clan 🙂

  5. 5 Troy Nov 22nd, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    I love the tail section and overall look. It would be fun to build a Super Glide tribute bike using a replica FL frame, Sportster front end,”B” engine, and one of the many used boattails I see on Ebay.

  6. 6 rocks Nov 22nd, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Willie G is the biggest joke in motorcycle design. Ridiculous what the descendants of successful men achieve with no talent.

  7. 7 LowriderLarry Nov 22nd, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Wiilie G obviously made a mistake with that one, but Rocks, don’t forget all the beautiful bike he’s designed over the years. All designers have a bad day…

  8. 8 Seymour Nov 22nd, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Willie G: “Who made this mess?”

    The People: “YOU did!”

    Willie G: “Oh what a beautiful messterpiece!”

  9. 9 domino Nov 22nd, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    We always called them “Boat tails” … I think it is a cool piece of history … My FXLRC (FXR Low Rider Custom) was designed by Willy. Nuthin like sitting in the café at a run, watching out the window, and with all those bikes lined up, mine is the one people do a double take and walk around … year after year … run after run. Good job Willie.
    Domino Dave

  10. 10 Max Frisson Nov 23rd, 2015 at 7:59 am

    One of the ugliest things every made. No objective critic of the design could possibly find something positive to say.
    Willie G has exactly one value to The Motor Company, his lineage.
    Certainly isn’t talent.
    Who designed the Rocker?

  11. 11 Jod Nov 23rd, 2015 at 8:28 am

    As usual, most negative comments are from those that figure just because it’s different it’s ugly… just like the people who make the negative comments.

  12. 12 Hillbilly Jim Nov 23rd, 2015 at 8:41 am

    I have one of these 71 FX forks on a panhead in a 58-64 swingarm frame and it is very spindly and squishy. Not nearly heavy enough for a 74. Having said that I still feel this is one of Willies best designs along with the XLCR, but what the hell do I know, I’ve only been riding them for 54 years.

  13. 13 Emmett Nov 23rd, 2015 at 8:58 am

    Butt ugly or fashion queen is not for me to judge. I was riding an old AMF Ironhead back then and remember looking at the first one at a dealer. It kind of hit me both ways. All I can say is things have steadily gotten better from the motor company since those days so I guess it was a good thing.

  14. 14 Calif Phil Nov 23rd, 2015 at 9:02 am

    I would luv to have one of those boattail FX bikes to park next to my XLCR.

  15. 15 mazz Nov 23rd, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Such a beautiful bike, but then there’s that seat and fender, didn’t like it then as a kid!! Still dislike it now as a man.

  16. 16 boatman Nov 23rd, 2015 at 9:21 am

    Got a boat tail on my 83 FXE. In defense of Willie G.: The boat tail seat is probably one of the few things at HD that ever got to see some actual vehicle design work done to it. Everyone who has taken a look at the bracket that holds the foot brake lever on the FX will doubt that there even were vehicle designers at HD at the time 🙂

  17. 17 Paul Holdsworth Nov 23rd, 2015 at 11:06 am

    I bought the ’71 Super Glide in black, and rode the shit out of it.
    I liked that seat- front forks a bit soft, but a great bike for eating up the miles.

    I had a few FLH”s after that, but I missed the Super Glide. When H-D debuted the FXR(T) in ’83, I was bit.
    bought an ’84 FXRT and been riding that bike ever since.

    But I miss the simplicity of the old FX

  18. 18 Drew Nov 23rd, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Modern day online motorcycle experts: Get to MF a man (worldwide) whose complete story, career and accomplishments they more than likely don’t really know. I would venture to say though he has done more for motorcycling than the large majority of us all on this particular forum. p.s. Wasn’t aware the FX was available in the rootbeer brown color.

  19. 19 Heavy Metal Nov 23rd, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Willie G may have had some misfires but what would the MoCo come up without him. Like many the boat tail didn’t make me swoon but I dig looking at them now that my expiration date is closer, takes me back a bit.

  20. 20 richards Nov 23rd, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    The detractors of Willie G. are pathetic. Willie has a proven history of great designs through the years. It would be fine if your remarks were along the line “I don’t like this model”, but some of you ignoramuses just had to get personal. It made me wonder just what have YOU ever designed that would give you the privilege of crapping on an icon who has contributed so much to motorcycling over so many years? You’re MORONS!

  21. 21 James just another crazy kiwi Nov 23rd, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    The 77 Low Rider was a MotorCycle that looks good today and really changed things.

    Jealousy is a terrible thing.

  22. 22 jdiamond Nov 23rd, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    The boat tail was influenced by European racing bikes. Willie was a good designer–he took chances–but in my opinion he hit the creative wall with that over-hyped cartoon abortion know as the Crossbones.

  23. 23 Highrider Nov 23rd, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    My friend had a white one, with the large Number 1 decal in the console. I really liked that bike. I ordered a new Sportster shortly after I saw the FX, but sadly I could not afford it at 19 yrs old

    If they made a “Re Issue” I would consider one.

    Willie G had a remarkable career and many bikes came from his group that have set the motorcycle trends over the years no doubt. I own a 1987 FXLR and still cherish the machine. Willie G also brainstormed the CVO idea. Having met the man 2 times, I can honestly say he was ” Genuine” Once was down in Hill City SD , He came out of a party store, we caught each other’s eyes and he stopped to talk, I had my 1987 FXLR parked right there , he remarked it looked good ( This was 1990)

  24. 24 Andygears Nov 23rd, 2015 at 5:44 pm

    I had a late 72 FX with the regular rear fender and got many complements. The FX was created to respond to the choppers of the late 60’s, stripped down big twin, kick only,narrow glide. As the design progressed thru the 70’s and 80’s, it was THE bike to have. I recall looking at them in ’71 and wondering if I ever could spend $2400 on a motorcycle.

  25. 25 Woody's Nov 23rd, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    Funny, folks rag on this boattail bike while oohing & ahhing over the Destiny custom with the horrible “shoehorn on Viagra” seat. Those of us around in ’71 knew it was a different time, with lots of things being tried and there was a constant push against the norm while still trying to make it something that might have a chance financially. As noted, the basic bike could always have a different fender and seat put on it (and probably should have) but it seems over the top to spew such hatred at the bike & Mr. Davidson. At least Polaris hired the Ness clan? Um, yeah, and probably something they shouldn’t have. I love Arlen’s early bikes and Corey’s recent stuff, but there’s a lot of folks who think the same of the angular Victory stuff as I’m reading here about the FX.

  26. 26 Hi-PerAl Nov 23rd, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    Took me until 1980 to be able to afford to own one. Still wish I had it. Used one of those boatails on one of my Gas Dragsters and got a ton of attention at every strip that I went 2 with it. Boatman is rite about the hookie pookie rear brake mount system.

  27. 27 Blackmax Nov 23rd, 2015 at 7:04 pm

    Yes, it does look kind of funny now
    But give credit where credit is due
    Willie brought the Mo-Co back from the brink
    & whatever he’s done since that time,
    he, at least, deserves credit for that

  28. 28 Mdkuder Nov 23rd, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    The ugliest HD ever great job!

  29. 29 Bleeding Ears Nov 24th, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Many people in the motorcycle community don’t realize that Willie G. is a graduate of the prestigious California Art Institute where he majored in dog grooming. His Cocker Spaniel won the blue ribbon at the New York Kennel Club. His rendition if a Full Size Poodle at the Westminster Dog Show was proclaimed a “tour de force.” Mr. Davidson is now retired from the family motorcycle business, but give him a Miniature Schnauzer and a pair of sharp clippers and he will show you what “style”is.

    I like LOUD pipes!!!

  30. 30 Woody's Nov 26th, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    The more I look at the picture above, the more I start to like that boat tail. If the striping were horizontal to the ground/exhaust pipe I think it would flow better, then just put on a beefier front fender to balance out the look. Something that covered the sidewall slightly to match the rear look.

  31. 31 jawnie Aug 25th, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    if it is an FX model then it was modeled after the XLCH, the FXE was modeled after the XLH

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