A Chat With Legendary Motorcycle Designer - Willie G. Davidson

Jun 11, 2015

Willie G., as he's known throughout the Harley-Davidson world, is a legend when it comes to motorcycle design.

He's also been painting with watercolors for over 50 years.  The Harley-Davidson Museum will highlight the work of Willie G. Davidson for their special summer exhibit, opening on Saturday, June 13.

Although he retired officially from the company in 2012, Davidson still acts as chief styling officer emeritus and brand ambassador at Harley-Davidson.  He has a painting studio at the museum where he continues to create art. "Painting is a real passion," says Davidson. "It's still an exciting challenge. I can come down here, look at the bikes and work on a painting. What could be better than that?"

Davidson is the grandson of company founder, William A. Davidson. Having famously stated he was born with “gasoline in his veins and a crayon in each hand,” Davidson’s journey as a professional artist didn’t begin at Harley-Davidson.

After graduating from UW-Madison with a degree in art, he went on to study at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The competitive and creative atmosphere at the school appealed to Davidson, and there were plenty of other gear heads there to pass the time with.

Upon returning from California, Davidson worked for Brooks Stevens, Inc., designing everything from outboard boat motors to furniture and graphics. After taking on a project to design a motorized scooter for them, Davidson decided it was time to join the family business.

After joining Harley-Davidson in 1963, he got to work on designing utility vehicles, golf carts and even boats. He eventually was able to establish the motorcycle design department. Without using outside consultants for design or engineers who didn’t have the best eyes for design, Davidson got to take advantage of the freedom he was allowed in the small department.

His iconic design for the 1971 Super Glide paved the way for the custom cruiser, which Harley-Davidson is very much known for.

Davidson still has undying passion and enthusiasm for motorcycles today. “I’ve been an enthusiast all my life. I love these things," he says. "I still find going to a motorcycle exhibit or a show just fascinating. That’s never died. If there’s a show nearby, I’ll be there."