Five Ques­tions

Catch­ing up with The Mo­tor Com­pany’s Chief Styling Emer­i­tus

Motorcyclist - - Contents - BY BASEM WASEF

I’d like to go to the Isle of Man. I’ve read about it all my life, but I’ve never been there.

WIL­LIE G. DAVIDSON IS MORE THAN just a liv­ing link to Har­ley-davidson’s co-founder Wil­liam A. Davidson. As The Mo­tor Com­pany’s chief stylist for nearly a half cen­tury, the 84-year-old Mil­wau­kee na­tive played a piv­otal role in forg­ing the brand’s dis­tinc­tive look. We rapped with Davidson to un­ravel his moto roots, his pas­sion for all things two-wheeled (and three-wheeled), and how he’s been chan­nel­ing his cre­ative en­er­gies since retiring from the leg­endary mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­turer his grand­fa­ther es­tab­lished 114 years ago.

1 What are some of the pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives of grow­ing up a Davidson?

I can ac­cen­tu­ate the pos­i­tives. If I was a good young man, my fa­ther [Wil­liam H. Davidson] would take me to Har­ley-davidson head­quar­ters here in Mil­wau­kee on the week­ends and let me wan­der through the great fac­tory. That was al­ways a big happy day for me. My dad was a great rider who won the Jack Pine [En­duro] in the early 1930s, and when I was grow­ing up he would come home with dif­fer­ent pro­to­type mo­tor­cy­cles. He rode through the win­ter months with a side­car rig, so I had a lot of pleas­ant mo­tor­cy­cling mem­o­ries. If I was re­ally a good boy he’d take me to the flat-track races, and that in­cluded Spring­field and some half-mile events close to Mil­wau­kee. I loved that and still do.

2 Tell me about your life­long ex­pe­ri­ence rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles.

I started rid­ing when I was about 15, and I’m 84 now. I don’t know how old you are, but there are things that hap­pen to you phys­i­cally— I’m fine, I’m healthy, I’m ac­tive every day, but you have to re­spect your body and your lim­i­ta­tions. I’m more care­ful and lim­ited, but I ac­tu­ally just bought an­other bike. The en­thu­si­asm is con­tin­u­ous; it just has to be mod­i­fied ac­cord­ing to your phys­i­cal tal­ents and what you can and can’t do. I have a nice bike col­lec­tion, and our home was de­signed to house my col­lec­tion. We have about 30 bikes in our house and 40 to­tal, and they’re all mile­stone ve­hi­cles. Over the years, I’ve added all of the an­niver­sary mod­els [which have special paint and trim], and I just added a side­car rig, which is kind of fun.

If I was re­ally a good boy, my dad would take me to the flat-track races.”

3 It must be great to look back at your ca­reer and think about how many bikes you’ve cre­ated that peo­ple have en­joyed.

It’s pretty ex­cit­ing. In my re­tire­ment years, I am the com­pany am­bas­sador. And I have an of­fice in the Har­ley-davidson mu­seum, which is run by my son, Bill, who’s an avid rider and col­lec­tor as well. Our daugh­ter, Karen, is a fash­ion de­signer and de­signs all the cloth­ing for Har­ley-davidson Mo­tor Clothes. So our whole fam­ily is very much in­volved in our mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­asm. That is just a con­tin­u­ing chap­ter. We go to races and events to­gether, and I’m al­ways fas­ci­nated by what’s hap­pen­ing— in­ter­est in old, in­ter­est in new, flat-track, road­rac­ing.

4 What’s an av­er­age day of your life like now?

For my sec­ond ca­reer, I’m a pro­fes­sional painter. My of­fice in the mu­seum is an art stu­dio that in­cludes my fa­vorite an­tique, a 1945 Knuck­le­head bob­ber, which is beau­ti­fully ex­e­cuted, and that sits on a rug next to a win­dow over­look­ing the river. I’m happy to come into this of­fice every day and con­tinue my learn­ing as an artist. I’ve al­ways been an artist all my life, but th­ese years are spent con­cen­trat­ing on paint­ing and study­ing mo­tor­cy­cles. I do things for our mu­seum store, de­sign graph­ics, and work on some of the cloth­ing graph­ics, so I’m ac­tive. I’ve been a wa­ter­color guy all my life. I took a course when I was at Art Cen­ter many, many years ago, and I never got away from it. It’s now ramped up to where I have a lit­tle more free time to con­cen­trate on it. I’m prob­a­bly go­ing to have a nice fa­ther/son ex­hibit with son Michael, who is also an avid painter and rider.

5 Where have you longed to go that you haven’t yet?

I’d like to go to the Isle of Man. I’ve read about it all my life, but I’ve never been there. I’m a rac­ing en­thu­si­ast and my col­lec­tion in­cludes early eight valves, peashoot­ers, all the R, XR, VR, and K mod­els, and dirt-track bikes. They sit in a beau­ti­ful room that’s an­cient barn beams and a gor­geous tiled floor, and that area is filled with his­toric per­for­mance mo­tor­cy­cles. So, yeah, the Isle of Man is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous, I un­der­stand that, but I ad­mire those rid­ers. Man, I’d love to sit at the bar, have a warm beer, and watch those guys come scream­ing in there, down­shift­ing, and blast­ing out of there. That’s gotta be fan­tas­tic.

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