William “Willie G.” Davidson served as senior vice president and chief styling officer for Harley-Davidson until he retired in 2012 at the age of 78.
Grandson of the founder and son of the former president, Davidson found a way to apply a sense of tradition to his family’s legacy of superior design. He had studied graphic art at the University of Wisconsin before entering the Product Design program at ArtCenter. Being in California opened his eyes to the world of aftermarket parts and vehicle customization, which would have a lasting influence on his career. He designed for Ford and several other automakers before joining Harley-Davidson in 1963. Though the executives were initially skeptical of his radical custom-inspired designs, his 1971 FX Super Glide met with resounding success and he was promoted to vice president of design in 1969.
During his tenure, Davidson oversaw all aspects of product design. His most notable achievements can be seen in the signature styling of Harley-Davidson’s classic motorcycle lines, including the Springer, Low Rider, Cafe Racer, Heritage Softail and, of course, Super Glide. The legendary Fat Boy, with its solid grace and presence, was the perfect ride for Arnold Schwarzenegger when he played a cyborg in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
In 1981 Davidson joined with investors to purchase the company, then owned by AMF. As chief of design, he maintained the integrity and style that have distinguished Harley-Davidson since its inception. He recognized the importance of Harley-Davidson’s unique aesthetic bent and dedicated himself to outstanding design, which was critical to the company’s reputation as the most prestigious American motorcycle maker today.
Now serving in the role of chief styling officer emeritus, Davidson also remains involved in the motorcycle company’s future as brand ambassador.