1971 Harley-Davidson Super Glide
The origin of the factory custom
The motorcycle world has always been divided into two major camps: factory production machines and custom bikes.
From time to time, though, a company will try out new ideas with a “factory custom.” The result isn’t always a success on the showroom floor, but these motorcycles are often influential for decades after their creation.
The American motorcycle scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s provided the perfect breeding ground for such experimentation. Bike sales were rising toward record numbers, and Japanese companies were redefining streetbikes with such landmark machines as Honda’s CB750. Meanwhile, American customs were gaining recognition as a unique style through exposure in movies like “Easy Rider.”
In the midst of those dramatic developments, Willie G. Davidson sat down to sketch a new bike for the company bearing his name. Taking note of the custom scene, Willie G combined the 1,200cc motor and frame from the company’s Electra Glide with the chopper-style front end from the Sportster. He added a Euro-inspired fiberglass seat/tail section for a unique look, with wide, bold graphics.
The resulting machine, released in 1971 as the Super Glide, was not an instant success. In particular, the “boat-tail” rear was a bit much for most American buyers.
But the notion of a lean, muscular cruiser caught on in a big way. Once the tail section disappeared for ’72, the Super Glide developed a following, spawning the FX line of Harleys that has continued for more than 30 years, through the Low Rider, the Wide Glide, the Sturgis, the Softail and the Deuce.
That’s a lot of very famous Harleys, all of which got their start with this machine.
Tom McKee of Terra Alta, West Virginia, owner of this ’71 Super Glide, currently on display in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio, admits that the appeal of a factory custom worked on him.
“I was in junior high, and there was a guy down the road who would ride by on his Super Glide,” says McKee “I remember thinking, ‘How do I become him?’ ”
Now, even with some 30 Harleys in his collection, McKee rates this 1971 design as one of his favorites.