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Rearview Mirror: Happy Anniversary in Oh-Three!

By Kip Woodring

The world

• Invasion of Iraq by American and British-led coalition begins, without United Nations support and in defiance of world opinion. Whaddayathink?

• The Human Genome Project is completed with 99 percent of it (figure 1) sequenced to an accuracy of 99.99 percent. The Human Gnome Project continues…

Figure 1

Figure 1

• The last “old style” Volkswagen Beetle (figure 2) rolls off the assembly line in Mexico. Only one of the notable vehicle related occurrences of the year… and I miss them still.

Figure 2

Figure 2

• The supersonic jet, Concorde (figure 3), makes its last commercial flight. Sadly… making air travel about the only thing that’s slowed down in the last decade.

Figure 3

Figure 3

• Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is captured near his home town. Probably not the best choice of hiding places.

The nation

• Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrates during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The final frontier has never been the safest.

• The Spirit Rover (figure 4) is launched, beginning NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover mission. Is Mars the next frontier?

Figure 4

Figure 4

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl premieres at Disneyland. Aye, me hearties!

• Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes governor of California. How hard can it be?

• The new United States Department of Homeland Security officially begins operation. How’s that working out for ya?

• Toyota overtakes Chrysler to get the number three slot in U.S. car sales. FIAT looks on!

• Ford builds brand new Model Ts (six in all, coded “T100”) and parks a couple in the lobby (figure 5), as well as three Ford GT prototypes, and a supercharged Harley-Davidson Edition F150 pickup to commemorate their own 100th!

Figure 5

Figure 5

• The Indian factory in Gilroy, California, announces its closure, after only a year’s production of the Powerplus (PP100) Roadmaster (figure 6). Then, the engines were released without enough development and problems ensued that sank the company. Today, there are at least two companies who specialize in putting this engine right, which makes these very rare, collectible and rideable bikes.

Figure 6

Figure 6

• Meanwhile, Indian’s eventual savior (Polaris) finally stepped away from the stodgy Victory Motorcycles V92, and spat out a stunner (figure 7)… the Vegas!

Figure 7

Figure 7

• Tens of thousands of Harley owners gather in Milwaukee (figure 8) to celebrate 100 years of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Mystery guest… Elton John. Real mystery… why not the Stones? But wait… there’s more!

Figure 8

Figure 8

The factory

In a near 15-month model year, 291,147 motorcycles are produced. A surprisingly high percentage are 100th anniversary-badged. None of these are rare. All are historic. A far cry from the 36,735 built in 1986, it is the Motor Company’s first year as a publicly traded entity. An amazing achievement, if for no other reason than they got it done in spite of diverting resources required to make a roaring success of the celebration! By the time the anniversary celebration came to a close, more than one million people had attended a 100th anniversary event somewhere around the globe. At the same time… Harley-Davidson made Fortune magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For”… for the sixth time! It don’t get much better than that!

On the surface

Harley was spinning plates all over the country, in many efforts and all ways, to get the best outcomes for all that was on their plate this huge model year. So was the entire dealer network worldwide. The fact is, all this seemed to come off seamlessly, with a dash of brilliance thrown in for good measure, making H-D’s culmination of their first century as the oldest continuously-operated motorcycle maker on earth, a worldwide phenomenon. People who really hadn’t a clue about motorcycles still smiled at the fun and glamor embodied in millions of fans having the time of their lives.

The inside story

In my opinion… H-D knocked off the long-reigning champion of fit and finish in 2003. Honda had pretty much owned great paint and cosmetics at the factory level for a long time, but Harley’s 100th Anniversary models, in particular, showed (hackneyed phrase that it is) world-class leadership in that sphere. Nobody has done it better! The cloisonné badges, the two-tone paint, the emblems, the fine touches (figure 9)… exquisite! On the flip side, there was the bit the factory enforced that wouldn’t allow an owner to purchase new anniversary-specific parts without turning in the old ones. It seemed a good way of avoiding counterfeit bikes and bootleg parts sales. But the truth is, it wasn’t practical. I mean, if said part was ripped off, scraped off or just plain missing for whatever legit reason, how could the old part be turned in? Those circumstances required the dealer to step in and vouch for the owner in order for him/her to repair and replace to “as-new” condition… any 100th anniversary bike. Pain in the butt!

Figure 9

Figure 9

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