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Rear View Mirror: 1998—A very important date

The world

• Europe agrees on a common currency—the Euro. Got change for a farthing, franc, or pfennig?
• Google was founded… go ahead; Google it!
• The largest airport in the world opens…on the little island of Hong Kong. Can you say “made in China?”
• Microsoft becomes the biggest company in the world, a la Windows 98

The nation

• Frank Sinatra dies… he did it his way.
• The movie Titanic won 11 Oscars… an epic winner about an epic failure… go figure!
• Clinton and Lewinsky… impeachment and obstruction… politics and strange bedfellows
• U.S. announces the first budget surplus in 30 years… in dollars!
• The Sturgis Rally 60th anniversary… if you went… you remember!

The factory

Well, “factories,” actually! The first Sportster rolls off the new Kansas City, Missouri, assembly line in January (figure 1). Meanwhile, the equally-new Pilgrim Road powertrain facility begins cranking out engines and transmissions… all with an eye towards steadily increasing production to and through the year 2000. The score so far? 150,818 Harleys and 6,334 Buells built and sold in ’98, the latest record in a 13-year run of double-digit growth for the Motor Company.

Harley-Davidson plant in Kansas City, Missouri

Figure 1

The 1998 Road King Classic (figure 2) bursts on the scene, with hard-side leather-covered saddlebags, as yet another anniversary edition… this time the 95th! Sportsters and Buells get much-improved oil pumps to increase scavenging and keep those flywheels dry at high rpm.

1998 Road King Classic

Figure 2

An easily overlooked “dark horse” that came along as a new ’98 model was the (FXSTB) Night Train Softail. Turns out this machine (figure 3) was created on the double, via H-D’s flexible product development, for a hot “regional” market… Great Britain. Oh… and mid-year, a new Big Twin engine is introduced. (No wonder all 1998 Big Twins got a new nine-plate clutch with 20-percent less effort at the lever.)

 FXSTB, Night Train Softail

Figure 3

On the surface

Ninety-five years in motorcycle manufacturing and on the biggest roll ever… yeah!… it was time for a party. The 95th anniversary celebrations and the release of the Twin Cam 88 were frosting on the birthday cake. There was good news, in detail, all over the model line-up, but truth be told, from July on, all the buzz was about the Twin Cam. For good reason. On paper, with 10-percent more displacement, 10-percent more power, 15-percent more cooling fin surface, an extra camshaft… and some extra chains, it looked like a wonderful successor to the still-in-production Evolution Big Twin. Amazingly, the most-changed, least talked-about model in the line-up was the Sportster Sport (1200S)! Thanks to the “Buell touch” this bike (figure 4), introduced just the year before with adjustable suspension front and rear, gets an entirely new twin-plug/six-trigger ignition, less restrictive mufflers, new cams and higher compression, resulting in a 15-percent increase in torque, relative to other Sportys. Then, Buell counters by building the ultimate tube-frame Hooligan bike… the 101hp S1W (figure 5)—White Lightning!

Sportster Sport (1200S)

Figure 4

101hp S1W

Figure 5

The inside story

The price of the company’s stock shares increased an astonishing 74 percent from 1997 to 1998! Harley/Buell collectively now own over 25 percent of the world market for “big bikes” (651cc-up). Harley sales alone increased 15.2 percent from ’97, but Buell is a pleasant surprise with a bump of nearly 33 percent! GMA profits increased 20.4 percent for the year and believe me… that’s all good! Though it’s the third leg under Harley-Davidson’s stool that really tells the story. Eaglemark financial services (H-D’s version of GMAC) absolutely stuns with a 63-percent uptick in one single year! Where could they go from here? Guess!

 

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