1977 H-D XLCR
Willie G’s styling masterpiece, sales disaster
“Only One Man Could Have Done This.”
That’s the advertising slogan Harley-Davidson used when it unveiled a radically different motorcycle in 1977.
The man was Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the company’s founders and Harley’s vice president of styling. “This” was the XLCR cafe racer, a bike that Harley noted, “couldn’t have been built by a committee.”
The sleek, race-inspired cafe racers of the ’70s were the predecessors of modern sportbikes. Most of these machines were built by enthusiasts, although Norton and Ducati tapped into the movement with their John Player Special and 750SS models.
Harley’s own Sportster line had started life in a similar performance-oriented role when it was introduced with the XLCH in 1957. But by the mid-’70s, the company’s hot-rod image had taken a beating from the likes of Honda’s CB750 and Kawasaki’s Z1.
So Willie G decided to take the Sportster in a new, cafe-racer direction.
“In 1974, I had an idea to build a Sportster motorcycle in a racerly mode,” Willie G says in his new book, “100 Years of Harley-Davidson.”
The result was the 1977 XLCR. Based on the 1,000cc Sportster motor, the bike had an all-black look that is remarkable even today.
The styling is highlighted by the long, angular tank and tail section, along with the quarter-fairing. But it’s also notable for the “siamesed” exhaust pipes and cast alloy wheels, the first ever used on a Harley.
There’s no doubt that the XLCR is one of the most distinctive examples of Willie G’s work, but it was also one of the few that failed in the marketplace. Despite the attention the bike got at shows and in the press, only 3,123 XLCRs were made during two years of production.
One of those belongs to Tom McKee of Terra Alta, West Virginia, who bought it after his dealer told him in the late ’70s that the bike “won’t sell well and will be collectible.”
He was right on both counts, and now, McKee’s perfect, original XLCR can be enjoyed by visitors to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA Headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio.