1977 Harley-Davidson Confederate Edition
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The Super Glide
Part of Harley’s re-emergence could be attributed to a model introduced at the start of the decade — the Super Glide. Combining the FL’s frame, rear suspension and 74ci Shovelhead engine with the XL Sportster’s front fork assembly, smallish headlight and 19-inch front wheel, Willie G. Davidson created the 1971 FX Super Glide, a bike that would capitalize on the “chopper craze” and save Harley-Davidson. Wearing a fiberglass “boat tail” fender washed in patriotic red, white and blue trim, Fat Bob tanks and kick-start only, the FX Super Glide is generally credited as the first factory custom. A change to a more standard Sportster seat and rear fender in 1972 boosted sales, as did the introduction of the electric-start FXE Super Glide in 1974, whose sales dwarfed the kick-start model.
To commemorate the country’s bicentennial in 1976, Harley released the Liberty Edition — a successful limited-run paint and trim scheme for the Electra Glide, Super Glide and Sportster — consisting of a metallic black base color with eagle and American flag decals on the tanks, fairings and saddlebags.
The late 1970s would be filled with numerous special editions and commemorative models, most likely to obscure the fact that little technical innovation was happening. In 1978, Harley would release the popular 75th Anniversary models, but not before introducing a most unusual, and still-controversial, limited production bike, the Confederate Edition.
The 1977 Confederate Edition
Like the Liberty and Anniversary Editions that immediately preceded and followed them, the Confederate Editions were stock Harleys with special paint and decals. The CEs wore metallic gray paint (DuPont Imron 44437 Ice Blue Metallic) and rebel flag decals (H-D part no. 61651-77 and 61650-77) on the tank, while the front fender sported a general’s sleeve braid decal (H-D part no. 59100-77).
The Confederate Editions were built across the model range in irregular numbers including 44 FLH Electra Glides, 228 Super Glides (all FXEs with the 3.5-gallon “bread loaf” tank borrowed from H-D’s Italian Aermacchi cousins), 299 XLH Sportsters, 45 XLCH Sportsters and 15 XLT Sportsters. The Confederates were produced in one batch only, and forgotten almost immediately. But why? For starters, the Confederates got no press whatsoever. In 12 years of researching the model for his Confederate Edition Registry, Steve Edmondson has been unable to locate a single review or magazine ad. Second, they were grossly overshadowed by the introduction of two flashier, much more memorable Harleys for 1977. The first was the FXS Low Rider, which took an FXE Super Glide and lowered the suspension, increased the rake on kicked out forks, pushed the controls forward, and covered the engine with black crinkle finish. Black Morris cast alloy wheels and short drag bars finished out the package.
The FXS Low Rider would be an instant sales success and would outsell every other H-D model in its first year. It would also become the inspiration for innumerable future Harleys and Japanese cruisers.
Less successful, but equally memorable, was the XLCR Café Racer, a mostly stock XL Sportster with a 4-gallon Euro-style gas tank and solo seat/rear fender combo that looked suspiciously like it was stolen from a neighbor’s Norton Commando, but was actually borrowed from Harley’s XR-750 flat tracker.
While it’s been suggested Harley-Davidson pulled the Confederate for political reasons, poor sales were probably the true motivation: In vogue or not, the rebel motif was only going to appeal to a small segment of the public.
Not helping things was a fairly boring paint scheme. By the late 1970s, buyers were getting used to more outrageous paint jobs, and the factories worked to accommodate them, offering metallic finishes and hip, stylish tank graphics. In 1980, Harley would introduce the FXWG Wide Glide, which came from the factory with red and yellow flames on the tanks. Viewed in this context, the silver-gray bike with its undersized battle flags (which look like an owner-added afterthought) seems plain and square.
With just 631 produced, the Confederate Editions were clearly a limited production, yet how is it that only 23 models are accounted for today? It’s very likely that dealerships changed the sheet metal to more broadly acceptable motifs to better move product, and/or that owners changed the paint in light of a changing political climate. It’s also possible that Harley-Davidson itself bought up surviving examples to get them off the market.