American Machine and Foundry Company

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AMF was the huge engineering concern that took over Harley-Davidson in 1969, selling it back to the management 12 years later. It was a big firm, based in engineering but with a desire to expand the leisure side of its business: moreover, chairman Rodney Gott was a Harley rider! In the event. AMF forestalled a hostile bid for Harley-Davidson by Bangor Punta. Since then, AMF has not had a good press, being blamed for everything that went wrong at Milwaukee in the 1970s. AMF-era Harleys were for years seen as a real low point, regarded as bad bikes produced by a profit-motivated company that had no knowledge of or interest in motorcycles.

It's a somewhat unfair assessment. While it is true that AMF was motivated by the growing motorcycle market, the Harley-Davidson it acquired was under-capitalized, with outdated plant producing too few bikes. So AMF spent a lot of money re-equipping Harley's Juneau Avenue factory (built in the 1920s) and moved motorcycle assembly to its own plant at York, Pennsylvania. It also began R&D work on a radically updated V-twin and an all-new range of water-cooled machines. None of this was the work of a heartless asset-stripper.

The problem was, in its anxiety to make the best of a booming bike market and see a return on its investment, the company forced up production rates much too fast: Harley-Davidson built 27,000 bikes in 1969, and 60,000 three years later. This decision was dictated from the top, with little regard to quality. Although there were assurances that moving production away from Milwaukee would not mean redundancies, some people did, however, lose their jobs. The end result was a disgruntled workforce, frustrated management and skeptical dealers, left to cope with the poor quality machines that AMF was expecting to sell. But in the final analysis, despite the mistakes AMF made and its heavy-handed approach to reorganization, there is a good case for saying that it actually saved Harley-Davidson. The company stood little chance of surviving on its own into the 1970s, having run out of money: it had nowhere else to go.