1977 Harley-Davidson Confederate Edition
The Forgotten Soldier
Few Confederate Edition models survive, with just 23 total known today, including the 1977 XLH Sportster pictured here and previously owned by Matt Berthold.
Years produced: 1977
Total production: 299
Claimed power: 61hp @ 6,200rpm
Top speed: 115 mph
Engine type: 997cc OHV, air-cooled V-twin
Weight: (wet) 220kg (485lbs)
Price then: $3,127
Price now: $8,000-$20,000
Disavowed by the factory for years, and unknown even to most Harley riders, 1977’s Confederate Editions are a fascinating footnote in the history of Harley-Davidson, and may be the most collectible Harley ever.
1977 was an interesting time in America. The year before, citizens had been giddy with patriotic pride as the entire population settled into a year-long celebration of the country’s bicentennial. Patriotic expressions were the order of the day, and naturally, manufacturers got into the act as well. Harley-Davidson introduced special “Liberty Editions” of its bikes featuring red, white and blue detailing, while Ford marketed a special red, white and blue Pinto. Talk about putting lipstick on a pig. As it happens, it was also the heyday of “Southern Rock.” Bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Black Oak Arkansas and Marshall Tucker were the new cultural vogue, regularly showcasing their roots in visual shorthand with large confederate flags as backdrops for their stages.
The rise of Southern Rock gave the South a new cultural cachet, while also unfortunately spawning Billy Beer, Hee Haw and, in 1979, The Dukes of Hazzard. So what’s this have to do with motorcycles? For Harley-Davidson, it was the motivation behind the most unknown model in the company’s history.
State of the industryIn 1976, motorcycle sales were booming, thanks in large measure to a continuing oil crisis. The lion’s share of product came from Japan, the once-great British bike industry limping to a self-inflicted death from outdated technology, short-sighted management and recurring labor strikes. But the Big Four — Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki — were enjoying unparalleled success with their less expensive, technologically superior twins and fours.
Harley-Davidson, which held 21 percent of the over-700cc market in the U.S., was already charging Japan with “dumping” — selling motorcycles cheaper in the states than other markets. That’s what John Davidson, then-president of Harley-Davidson, alleged in the early 1970s when the motorcycle business was doing well world-wide. “The Japanese established production schedules that were much higher than mid-Seventies demand for their products,” he contended. “They chose the U.S. to unload their excess production.” (Following strong lobbying from H-D, on April 1, 1983, the International Trade Commission imposed new tariffs on all Japanese motorcycles 700cc and above.)
Harley-Davidson was still in an unhappy alliance with American Machine and Foundry (AMF) that would continue until a company buyback in 1981. The 1969 merger with AMF had brought engineering and marketing experience, as well as a generous influx of cash. Unfortunately, federal mandates meant much of the engineering money was directed toward safety and anti-pollution features, not new product development.
Furthermore, the public balked at “The Great American Freedom Machine” being built by a bowling ball manufacturer, and H-D bristled at AMF’s heavy-handed management. It’s long been fashionable to attack AMF/H-D’s quality control during this period, but the worst problems were mostly contained by the mid-1970s. The 1970s motorcycle boom appeared to have a positive effect on quality, as H-D found itself overwhelmed trying to meet demand.
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