Erik Buell, a part-time engineering student and full time motorcycle racer and machinist, landed a job at Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, WI in 1979. Senior executives at Harley-Davidson, including Willie G. Davidson (grandson of co-founder William Davidson) purchased the Harley-Davidson Company from AMF in 1981. In 1983, Harley-Davidson and President Ronald Reagan successfully petitioned the International Trade Commission for a tariff on all Japanese motorcycles sold in the US with engines of 700cc and larger. This action raised large Japanese motorcycle purchase-prices to be more in-line with Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
Erik Buell began designing and building hand-made race-bikes with Harley-Davidson engines in 1983. In 1988, Buell worked with Porsche to design the liquid cooled VR1000 engine to be used in a Superbike for racing. Harley-Davidson decided the engine should also be used in the V-Rod cruiser and then took over development, making it "too big, too heavy, too expensive and too late" for Buell.
1994 Harley-Davidson VR1000 Superbike with Porsche-designed engine
Harley-Davidson became listed and publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange in 1986. The tariff on large Japanese motorcycles was lifted in 1987. In 1993, Harley-Davidson purchased 49 percent of Buell. Buell was the only manufacturer of high-performance sport-bikes and world-class competitive race bikes in the United States. In 1998, Harley-Davidson bought a majority stake and took control of Buell, and it was a subsidiary until 2009. From 1983 to 2007, Buell used modified Harley-Davidson engines, primarily from the Sportster, to power its high-performance sports motorcycles. In 2007, Erick Buell designed the 1125R. For the 1125R, Buell used an Austrian-made Rotax liquid-cooled 8-valve engine. The Buell 1125R won the 2009 the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Superbike Competition season championship.
Harley-Davidson announced the end of production of Buell Motorcycles in 2009, to focus more on the Harley-Davidson brand. Harley-Davidson declined an offer from Austrian engine-builder Rotax to purchase the Buell company.
The Italian-American Connection: Aermacchi, Cagiva, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, MV Agusta.
The Aermacchi factory (Air-Machine) in Varese, Italy, built aircraft from 1912 until WWII and then switched to building motorcycles in the late 40s. Harley-Davidson purchased 50 percent of the Aermacchi factory in 1960. The Aermacchi factory built a wide variety of small, lightweight street, dirt and trail bikes to be sold in the US with the Harley-Davidson name on the tanks. The Aermacchi factory also built the 250cc and 500cc race-bikes which Harley-Davidson campaigned in road-racing and top-speed competitions.
Harley-Davidson sold the Aermacchi factory to the Cagiva Company in 1978. The Cagiva Company was owned by Giovanni Castiglioni of Varese, Italy. In 1983, the Cagiva company purchased Ducati engines and installed them in Cagiva motorcycles. In 1985, Cagiva bought the Ducati Company. Cagiva motorcycles continued to be built in the Varese factory and Ducati motorcycles continued to be built in the original Ducati factory in Bologna. It was under the ownership of Cagiva and Castiglioni's dedication to racing that Ducati became so successful in racing and then also successful in sales. Cagiva also bought the Moto-Morini motorcycle company in 1985, the Husqvarna company of Sweden in 1987 and the MV Agusta motorcycle company in 1991. In 1996, Cagiva sold the Ducati company to the Texas Pacific Group (TPG Capital), owners of Del Monte Foods, J. Crew and Piaggio, the maker of Vespa Motor-Scooters. Today, Audi owns Ducati.
MV Agusta was a motorcycle company founded in Milan, Italy in 1945. MV Agusta was very successful in Moto Gran Prix racing through the 1950s, 60s and 70s. MV Agusta ceased motorcycle production in 1980, shortly after the passing of owner and founder, Count Domenico Agusta. Cagiva purchased MV Agusta in 1991. In 1997, MV Agusta unveiled their first new production motorcycle since the 70s, the F4 750 Oro.
No longer owning Ducati and with the MV Agusta name being the premier brand, the Cagiva Company changed its name to MV Agusta in 1999. In 2007, MV Agusta sold the Husqvarna motorcycle company, which specializes in motocross and dirt-bikes, to the BMW Motorcycle company. Today, KTM owns Husqvarna.
In 2008, Harley-Davidson signed a definitive agreement to acquire the MV Agusta Group, including the same factory in Varese, Italy, which Harley-Davidson owned from 1960 until 1978. Harley-Davidson announced that it would divest its interest in MV Agusta, in 2009. Harley-Davidson also shut-down its Buell Motorcycle Company in 2009, the only manufacturer of high-performance sport-bikes in the United States.
MV Agusta announced that for the first three months of 2010 bike sales went up 50% over the same period in 2009.
Erik Buell launched Erik Buell Racing in late 2009. Today, under the EBR name and partnered with the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer, Hero Motorcycles of India, Erik Buell Racing is back to competing in Moto-America Superbike Racing and has three models for sale to the public.
Fascinating Fact: The name "Cagiva" comes from the first two letters of each word CAstiglioni, GIovanni and VArese.Part Two: Early European and British Motorcycles
Written By: Paul Andor Nagy