The time Harley Davidson won MotoGP

In the 1960s Harley Davidson took stock in Italian motorcycle manufacturer Aermacchi. Together the companies would develop small grand prix racebikes and ultimately win multiple titles at the highest level. This is the story of how it happened.

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  1. Don't forget Danny Eslick, Bruce Rossmeyer’s Daytona Racing/RMR/GEICO Powersports made history by clinching the 2009 AMA Pro Road Racing Daytona SportBike championship at New Jersey Motorsports Park, Eslick's own and Buell Motorcycle Company’s first professional AMA road racing championship. That Buell actually did work! Of course, that was the year that Harley pulled the plug on Buell.

  2. Harley's management almost killed every company they owned including Harley. Luckily MV go out before MV's got bastardised like Buell's to become ugly motorcycle that crippled sales leading to Buell's kill off.

  3. Please, Harley Davidson cannot and will not ever get near top level if any level competition again. The company is dying. The company will not invest in r&d anywhere sufficient to come up with a modern design let alone a race worthy one. Even the VRod was a Porsche design under contract ( much like Toyota and Nissan used Yamaha to find horsepower in their engines and design their sports cars. HD couldn’t and wouldn’t take the risk on designing much less building a race bike now since they have risk averse management and have had for decades.
    The HD individualist maxim is a lie. May as well be a Swiss bank. Their motorcycles have long been under powered, under braked, over weight and over priced lumps that appear to have been designed by people who simply don’t understand the dynamics of even how motorcycles steer.
    The rest of us are decades past that and H D know that their target market baby boomers ( me too) are dying out. They do make? Some nice boots and pants though…
    And just so you know, The Italians were building fast two strokes anyway by the time HD bought into Aermacchi the race bike builder. HD had no idea where two technology was at and didn’t care. And note that the 250 class was not ever the Premier class in GP. At the time it was 350 and 500cc.

  4. HD are in a real pickle. Their former customer base is retired or retiring, and their current product line is lacklustre and rearward looking. Indian out HDs them so easily, because they developed their engines and adapted to the 21st century and not the 1980s. Buell was their best chance, and they blew that. The buells were spoken of in reverential tones among the cognoscenti of riders. Original thinking and some insight into the future. Perhaps if they buy up as much of the technology as they can from Buell or the estate, or what ever they have to do. At any cost, or their decline will be terminal. Who is stupid enough to buy a sloppily made overweight piece of badly designed junk without any power, when far superior options exist at one third of the price? The big dressers won't save the company, because the world will run out of gay men eventually who tolerate them. HD, you lost the niche you once had, and you are resting on your credit now. That will not last very long. You need industrial designers and technology (Buell) You need to rid yourself of the old man's image, and the sad gangster facade of the brat packs with matching cloths.
    Recall what happened to the once great British motorcycle industries? They looked nice, they were more fun than an HD, but you used US cultural hegemony to your advantage and Ronny Rayguns help to save your company. The British bikes wept oil everywhere, and they vibrated themselves to pieces, A two-hour ride would take four and a half for repairs and looking for fallen off bits. You are still working the same crowd expecting the same result, which will disappoint you. Get focused and build a far ore powerful engine, with genuine technology, using cad cam and the best and lightest materials. Move to metric unless you plan to be a boutique American brand exclusively. The middle-aged men who want to play cowboys and Indians worldwide have never ridden a bike and the HD will kill them off very quickly, so at least give them a fighting chance. Lighter weight, with real brakes and cornering ability, and all the safety gear possible. No longer rely on selling a 36K 60 BHP, almost litre bike with a single skinny carburettor or fuel ignition injection system. Make them corner properly, with a lean angle past 14 degrees (each way)
    The triumph made a comeback on nostalgia, in appearance only, with some models. So retro only works if all the bad qualities are removed and tamed. Forget colour schemes and crazy tough guy shit, and just make a genuine attempt at building the finest performing HD at the best price possible, you cannot gouge people to pay 35K then an additional 33.5K for a kit which adds 20HP. 80 HP is still shit.
    Ducati L-engines can pumps out 225 plus BHP and can win GP's out of the box, aim much higher.
    Fork & tine crank shafts? One carburettor with a bad V angle? Bad breathing and no exhaust design. A single coil with single spark plugs? No more foot pegs mounted to the engine casings??? This is a long list. My point is that paying 35K for nothing but disappointing nostalgia won't cut it any longer. Business lives or dies by making the right decisions at the right time, in the right order. Never by reminiscences or the good old days. There were no good old days. HD believing that is why you are building and selling agricultural equipment that might be alright running an irrigation pump, but nothing more.
    Okay, I don't like HDs and never have. But you deserve to survive if you work very hard at it. Best wishes.

  5. If any of you are interested in seeing some on board race videos of an Aermacchi, I have a lot of videos on the 250 and 350 four strokes from the 60s and 70s. Bart is completely right about them being fragile, you get a good 30 laps out of them before they need to be rebuilt.

  6. ハーレーダビッドソンはレーサーを通して製品開発をして来なかった。日本のバイクとの完成度の違いが歴然としている。

  7. I actually raced one of the across the counter water cooled RR350 twins back in 1976 it was a good looking bike with some interesting design ideas like the two piece heads and separate cylinders unfortunately it could never run at the front with the Yamaha TZ's clearly the RR was not the same bike that Villa was winning world championships on and the money and know how was not available to make it competitive at the time in fact why even bother when you could just buy a Yamaha TZ, apparently they only made 26 RR350's I am assuming this is the reason why.
    The Jarno era was an exciting time as he was cheekily challenging MV in the 350 class and would soon do so in the 500 as much as I loved the sound of the MV's they had ruled these classes for years and it was good to see some competition Jarno was a hero of mine, still is to honest, a real ten tenths rider with an engineering background but I feel the reason for his riding ability was his previous career ice racing in Finland his passing with Renzo Pasolini was a devastating tragedy to me and many others.
    As a side note I have never heard Aermacchi pronounced the way you have the macch component was always pronounced like the Mach used in measuring the speed of sound if you lookup Giulio Machhi the founder of the company you will find that is how his surname is pronounced.
    Anyway thanks for covering an interesting period in GP history and revealing the connection between Harley Davidson and Aermarchhi.

  8. It's pronounced "Aermakee", not "Aermachee". That's the correct Italian right? Just like it's Moto Gootzee, not Moto Goozee. A pizza pie is pronounced peetza, not "pezzah"

  9. The world GP series in those days was not called MotoGP. The top capacity GP bikes were 500cc . The name motoGP came in in 2002 when the bikes changed to large capacity four strokes although 500cc bikes 2 strokes were allowed to compete but these soon faded out as they were not competitive. Your title is inaccurate on two counts. The term used is wrong and HD never won the senior class but did win the smaller 250 and 350 classes.

  10. Miguel Duhamel loved the handling of the HD AMA Superbike, but it was down on power and not too reliable and another concern of his was the inexperienced pit crew he had. But he rode the wheels off it when things were right with it.

  11. I wish he'd pronounce the name Aermacchi correctly. In Italian, if the letter C is followed by an I or an E you pronounce it 'ch' as in church. If C is followed by any other letter (in this case H) you get a hard 'k' sound as in kite. The double C is basically a longer 'k' sound. It's not rocket science.

  12. You butchered the pronunciations especially " ah err Maki "…. how can you have done this ?
    You showed a picture of Giles Villenueve as W. Villa…. Agostini etc. You missed out on the little known now
    braking system the "idronico " which is a form of a drum brake . It's a cone working within a cone to work smoother and has increased surface area. Better for aerodynamics. You had one pic of it btw.
    Macchi did not need any engineering expertise from H D . They were building 16 cylinder twin plug per cyl
    Supercharged aircraft engines in the 1930s and still hold the float plane records. Italy was under financial
    mayhem due to the OPEC restrictions, so it was a mutual benefit to do business. I lived it.
    Thank you for sharing some light ….. call on a real Italian , contact a consulate or some of that nature next time

  13. Good segment in general but it is incredibly irritating to hear aermacchi pronounced herrmaci over and and over again. And Walter Villa clearly Germanic ualter. Also aermacchi could not build planes because of the armistice terms so the bike company was born when the plane company died.

  14. Harley n'a jamais gagné de MotoGp ! La moto était une Aermacchi avec un autocollant Harley ! Simple accord commercial entre les 2 firmes pour distribuer de petites cylindrées estampillées HD sur le continent US !!!

  15. If I am not wrong you were talking about a 4-cylinder 2-stroke 500cc-"Harley" ? I just remember a 500cc with 2 cylinders – it featured 4 carburettors, maybe this leads to a misunderstanding?

  16. Lucifers hammer in statesville NC built by don tilley is another great story! My father was really close with don, as don sponsored my dad when he drag races pro fuel.

  17. Doesn't anyone remember the Harley Davidson's
    "Wrecking Crew???"
    Or Mamola and the VR??
    The drag racing "Destroyer?"
    When was the last XR made, 1978!??? Or Eric Buell, with TZ-250 spec's, 52 inch wheel base, 21 degrees of rake, and a Sporter engine.
    We were "PROMISED!" VRs
    I've been waiting since 1977, to give me a bike I'm not ashamed of riding (XLCR).
    Just saying……..,
    Suzuki stole the 'secret' porting. (Eyebrow exhaust ports) from here in the USA.
    A drag racer, who ran the little 250 H-6 Hustler. (record holder) still I think.

  18. Technically "Moto GP" didn't start until the 500cc class was replaced in 2002 when they moved to the new 990cc four stroke engines. Harley have never been in the Moto GP competition. Regardless Harley have never won the premier class championship which is the pre moto GP era equivalent. Winning the 250 class in 75 and 76 and claiming it as the premier class is like a current Moto 2 champion claiming to have won the Moto GP championship. It is just wrong. It is for this reason the title is misleading at best or just plain wrong.

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