1988 Electra Glide Classic
The Harley that took a victory lap of America
On the surface, that may not sound like a terribly significant milestone. But in fact, it may have been the company’s most important anniversary—ranking ahead of 2003's gala 100th anniversary celebration.
Why? Because 85 was the anniversary that almost didn’t happen.
Within years after its founding in 1903, Harley-Davidson had grown to become one of the country’s biggest motorcycle manufacturers. And when archrival Indian stopped making motorcycles in the 1950s, Harley was the sole survivor of more than 150 motorcycle manufacturers that had once called America home.
But then came the ’60s, when Japanese companies challenged H-D’s share of the U.S. market. And by the end of the decade, the company agreed to a purchase by recreational-equipment giant AMF to stay in business.
With an infusion of AMF money, production increased, but quality and relations with customers and dealers declined. By the late 1970s, AMF was disenchanted with motorcycles, and Harley was on the ropes again.
In June 1981, a team of Harley executives bought the company from AMF and set about improving quality and expanding the model line. After staggering losses in 1981 and 1982, they turned a profit in 1983.
But that was only a temporary solution. By the end of '85, Harley was nearly forced into bankruptcy when it had to restructure its debt. The situation remained precarious until Harley went public in June 1986, bringing in a stable source of cash.
The company’s 85th anniversary rolled around in 1988, and Harley had a lot to celebrate. When Harley President Vaughn Beals took this FLHTC on a cross-country ride, it wasn’t just a celebration of that milestone. It was a victory lap of America.
The exact motorcycle Beals rode—number 106 of only 850 anniversary editions built—was part of the Museum's "Heroes of Harley-Davidson" exhibit presented by Progressive Motorcycle Insurance.