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Harley-Davidson V-4 NOVA Model

It’s not a discovery that ranks up there with the Egyptian tombs, but there are plenty of ‘skeletons in the closet’ about Harley-Davidson products that never made it to production.

One such item from the motor company was the NOVA Project which dates back to the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

The company made a decision to start a program for a new family of modular engines built with two, four or six cylinders, and in displacements ranging from 500 to 1500cc.  Design and development of the engine was in collaboration with Porsche in Germany.

Sound familiar?

This was “revolutionary” stuff back in the day when AMF owned Harley-Davidson and AMF Corporate initially supported the Nova Project with $10 million.  Keep in mind that in June of 1981, AMA Hall of Famer Vaughn L. Beals Jr. and other Harley-Davidson executives (including Willie G. Davidson), were in the middle of executing an $81.5 million leveraged buyout of the company so, AMF protested at the additional millions that would have been required to make the motorcycle a reality.  Harley-Davidson was unwilling to explore other alternatives and officially shelved the project in 1983.

Harley-Davidson V-4 NOVA Engine

The only known NOVA Project motorcycle was a “test mule” and it’s unclear how the final version might have looked or been re-styled for a product launch.  However, the prototype reveals a lot.

The engine was an 800cc water-cooled V-Four, with chain-driven dual overhead cams and wet-sump oiling.  Fuel was delivered by Bosch Jetronic fuel injection.  The horizontally split crankcases were made provisionally for a balancer shaft, though one may or may not have been fitted to the prototype.  The deep finned cylinders and heads revealed the fact of liquid cooling, as did the apparent lack of a radiator.  The radiator was, in fact, located above the engine shrouded by a false gas tank that would duct air across it.  The real gas tank was located beneath the seat. The fuel filler cap was mounted on the right side of the rear fender.

As previously mentioned, Vaughn Beals Jr. was chairman and CEO after the buy-back, and one of the company’s exec’s who actually rode an operational prototype of the Nova motorcycle.  Wayne Vaughn was one of the engineers that worked on NOVA under Mike Hillman. The motor company had completed the first phase engine development, and tooled production crankcases.  It’s estimated that Harley-Davidson invested between $10 million and $15 million on the entire project including the expensive tooling necessary to manufacture the NOVA before shelving it in favor of redesigning the company’s traditional V-twin engine.

Harley-Davidson V-4 NOVA Model Instrument Cluster

Though NOVA never went into production, the program clearly “paid it forward” on future motorcycles and designs.  For example, the fairing that was designed and wind tested for the NOVA made it into production the first time and was used on the 1983 FXRT Sport Glide.  The NOVA Project was a precursor for the eventual development of the liquid-cooled VRSCA Revolution V-Rod engine.  And some elements of the NOVA liquid-cooled design and fuel injection were leveraged in the Twin Cam 88 and Twin Cam 96 to help meet ever tightening emission and noise standards.  It’s interesting to speculate about how NOVA may have changed the market dynamics of motorcycle industry at the time and the effects these Harley “projects” may have made on future motorcycles and their engines.

Harley-Davidson likely finds itself in a position today with the Milwaukee Eight in spite of—or perhaps because of—the no-go decisions and the rejections it’s made in it’s NOVA engineering past.

Photos take by author at and courtesy of Harley-Davidson Museum.

All Rights Reserved (C) Northwest Harley Blog

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Think Snow Bumpersticker - HD Advertising (circa: 1972-74)

It was a big year for Harley-Davidson as they shifted from downsizing, labor agreements and weathering the recession to now looking forward to growth in 2011.  With freezing temperature and snow falling in many parts of the U.S., I’ve compiled some 2010 highlights to provide you some entertainment as you warm up with hot chocolate:

January
1.    Downtown H-D Renton, WA., one of the northwest dealers named among top 100 (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D reported its first quarterly loss since 1993 (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D announces the new, but “old” Forty-Eight Sportster (Link: HERE)

February
1.    H-D donates 28 new Buell and H-D motorcycles to assist in the earthquake disaster (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D marketing continues to pitch brand with young-rebel-with-tats ethos (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D internal documents indicate 382,000 absenteeism hours in the factories (Link: HERE)

March
1.    H-D promotes danger as Seth Enslow breaks Bubba Blackwell’s jump record (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D dealer (Shumate) in Kennewick, WA., closes under a mountain of debt. (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D CEO, Keith E. Wandell 2009 compensation package becomes public as the $6M dollar man (Link: HERE)
4.    H-D marketing pulls out all stops on innovation and launches Super Ride II (Link: HERE)

April
1.    H-D consolidates motorcycle testing in Arizona Proving Grounds (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D files mass layoff notice with Wisconsin department of workforce development (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D CEO, Keith E. Wandell is “encouraged” as Q1 motorcycle sales revenue declines 20% YOY (Link: HERE)
4.    After 26 years of service Bill Davidson is put in charge of the Museum (Link: HERE)

May
1.    H-D CEO, Keith E. Wandell states in interview that H-D is like GM…a fading American industrial might (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D threatens to leave the state of Wisconsin (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D CMO, Mark-Hans Richer is no man crush of this blog (Link: HERE)

June
1.    H-D launches XR1200 Refresh (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D launches Wii based-game: “Road Trip” (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D at the National Law Enforcement Museum (Link: HERE)

July
1.    H-D opens Hyderabad, India showroom to pandemonium (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D reports Q2 earnings with financial services being largest money maker (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D launches the 2011 model lineup of 32 bikes vs. 38 the prior year (Link: HERE)

August
1.    H-D announces closure of sidecar business which operated since 1914 (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D announces 1-MILLION fans on Facebook (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D sold back MV Agusta to its previous owners (Link: HERE)
4.    H-D announces that after 31 years they’ve parted ways with PR firm Carmichael Lynch (Link: HERE)

September
1.    Erik Buell releases teaser ads promoting a new street bike based on 1190RR (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D gives away free posters of any of their 32 models (Link: HERE)
3.    H-D under threat of moving out of state announces ratified 7-year labor agreement (Link: HERE)
4.    H-D “spins” the fact that massive branding efforts result in a 24% brand value decline (Link: HERE)

October
1.    H-D reports Q3 earnings with motorcycle sales declining 7.7% worldwide and 14.4% in the U.S. (Link: HERE)

November
1.    H-D management “negotiates” with Kansas City plant to accept a new labor agreement or we’ll leave state (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D turns down a $25M tax credit deal by Wisconsin State (Link: HERE)

December
1.    H-D never disclosed a $2.3 BILLION deal with Federal Reserve (Link: HERE)
2.    H-D announces first ever “Crowd Sourcing” for new marketing ideas (Link: HERE)

Photo courtesy of H-D.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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LEM

LEM

Anyone who grew up in America in the ‘60s must find the present state of space travel a major disappointment.

It was the year Harley-Davidson merged with AMF, the cool movie was Easy Rider which portrayed hippies who rode choppers and Neil Armstrong walked/bounced on the moon.   Forty years ago the crew of Apollo 11 squeezed together over an eight day period and a half-million mile journey to place a plaque on the moon that said “came in peace for all mankind.” I was a child, but like others of my generation, I fully expected there to have been massive space stations orbiting the earth and colonies on the moon by now.

What a rush the space race was. Using German WWII rocket technology, both the Americans and the Russians innovated like mad to launch the first satellite in 1959 (Russia’s Sputnik); to put the first person in orbit (Russia’s Yuri Gagarin in 1961); and finally the first person on the moon (Armstrong in 1969). Clearly lunar bases and spaceships in the solar system was expected by the Twitter-first century, right?

In reflecting about the time and place I realized my path is connected.  Sort of a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing.  First were the years I lived in El Paso, TX and my father worked at the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR).  He spent 1968 in Vietnam working with Hawk Missiles, but on his return to Texas they were involved in some Apollo testing.  I didn’t fully know or understand the significance at the time.

And later like many who graduated from college, I joined the electronic masses at Tektronix.  In 1980 Tek sold the Patient Monitor business to pharmaceutical conglomerate Squibb (a.k.a., Vitatek) and I moved into the healthcare arena.  Squibb was on a buying frenzy of medical devices and services so it was anticipated to be a good career move.  Little did I know what it would be like working with Carl A. Lombardi (CEO) and his not so interesting view of business.  The next year Vitatek merged with Spacelabs Medical (originally out of Chatsworth, CA).

Spacelabs was co-founded by Ben Ettelson and James A. Reeves in 1958 for the express purpose of working with NASA and the U.S. Air Force on systems to monitor the vital signs of astronauts in space.   The company manufactured and delivered prototypes of miniaturized signal conditioners which measured astronauts’ temperature, respiration, and cardiac activity. In July 1969, just days after Neil Armstrong become the first man to walk on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission , NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center ) honored Spacelabs Medical with a certificate of appreciation for its “outstanding” contributions to the Apollo Program—contributions which proved vital for the Nation’s goal of landing men on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth.

When I worked at Spacelabs we adapted the technology it originally developed for NASA for the first bedside arrhythmia-monitoring system which allowed physicians to view real-time arrhythmia data, at the patient’s side, for the first time.

Congrats to Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on your 40th anniversary and historic return to Earth with moon rocks!

LEM Photo from a visit to Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Alabama.

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amf-hdThis year marks a couple of interesting historical points on the Harley-Davidson calendar.  It’s coincidental that 2009 marks the first time a non-motorcycle riding enthusiast (CEO, Keith Wendell) was hired to run the company, and this occurred exactly 40 years after Harley-Davidson merged with American Machine and Foundry Company (AMF).  I don’t know if that is ironic or just business karma?!

At any rate, back in 1965 Harley-Davidson went public when the two families decided to give up control and put the company’s shares on the market.  Four years later, in January 1969 it merged with AMF.  The AMF merger started in 1968 when HD was looking for someone to buy the company.  In May of that year Bangor Punta (BP)** stepped in with an offer of $27 per share.  The HD board was skeptical of BP’s reputation and tenacity in pursuing acquisitions.  They continued to shop the company around.  In October they announced that AMF had struck a deal (at $29) and then a bidding war erupted.  Finally on December 18, 1968 there was a shareholder’s meeting to vote on the AMF merger at $40 per share which was $9 less than the BP offer.  The HD board like AMF’s motorcycle fanboy, Rodney C. Gott, and believed AMF had better alignment.  It was approved and in January 1969 the acquisition became final. 

hd-cartAt the time of the AMF merger, Harley-Davidson was producing 14,000 motorcycles per year.  AMF used the merger as a marketing opportunity to slap the Harley logo on many non-motorcycle-related things they produced, such as their golf carts. Management at HD was overrun by AMF personnel and they streamlined production, and slashed the workforce. The tactic resulted in a labor strike and lower quality motorcycles. The bikes were expensive and inferior in performance, handling, and quality to Japanese motorcycles. Sales declined, quality plummeted, and the company almost went bankrupt.

The marriage between motorcycles and one-time tobacco production equipment company lasted but 12 years.  The 1981 recession severely threatened HD’s share of the market for heavyweight bikes and AMF began to lose interest in keeping the struggling business afloat.  Then Vaughan Beals – who had joined HD in 1975 as VP – and a group of 13 HD exec’s raised $100M and bought the company for $81.5M from AMF on June 16, 1981 and restored the company to an independent status. The marketing phrase “The Eagle Soars Alone” became a rallying cry.  In 1986, HD again went public.

Given that HD is laying off and previously asked the union to approve wage cuts and reduced benefits for everyone in exchange of factory expansion… it’s easy to draw a parallel toward the AMF days?  What do you think?  Will HD roll strikes during this economic recession or gutter balls?

**Bangor Punta Corporation (abbreviated BP and was traded on the NYSE under BNK) was an American conglomerate and Fortune 500 Company from 1964 to 1984. It owned a number of well-known companies primarily in the pleasure craft, firearms and general aviation industries.

Photo courtesy HD.

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