Harley-Davidson Evolution Motorcycles | Rider’s LibraryMotorcycle Library Retro Review

There is no shortage of books about Harley-Davidson motorcycles — there are about 30 on my bookshelf alone. However, there have been relatively few that I’ve run across that focus on the development and impact of one particular set of models.

Greg Field’s “Harley-Davidson Evolution Motorcycles” is such a book, focused on the V2 Evolution Big Twin and V2 Evolution Sportster engine-equipped models produced from 1984 to 1999, when the new TC 88 (Twin Cam 88 cu. In.) and TC 88B became the motor used in Harley’s big bikes.

The V2 Evolution ended the run of the revered and reviled Shovelhead motor that had been the leaky, shaky power plant for Harley’s big bikes since 1966 when it first appeared on the FL and even earlier on the Sportsters.

Field has the chops to do this kind of a book – he is also the author of “Harley-Davidson Knucklehead,” “Harley-Davidson Panhead,” and “Moto-Guzzi Big Twins,” all of which are also published by MBI Publishing.

Field examines the V2 Evolution engine not only as a technological turning point for Harley-Davidson, but as business and company cultural turning point as well.

Indeed, Field not only provides in-depth insight into the Evolution engine’s impact, but other aspects of the bikes that came to be in the Evolution era, such as the surprising story of how a young non-Harley-Davidson mechanical engineer named Bill Davis created the “sub-shock” frame we know today as the Harley-Davidson Softail.

Field picks up the story of the V2 Evolution engine with the early development and prototyping done while H-D was still owned by AMF in the late seventies and early eighties.

The goal was surprisingly simple: replace the shovelhead with a motor that did not leak oil, was reliable in service up to 100,000 miles and beyond and would be accepted by both long-time Harley riders and would bring new riders to the brand.

Oh, and they had to bring the new engine through development and into production on a shoestring budget—a shoe string that got very short and thin immediately after the buy-out from AMF in 1981. Without the substantial resources of AMF to draw on, H-D had to bring the Evo motor on while achieving economies in every conceivable way.

Part of that, Field reveals, was internal change long overdue in the Motor Company. Advancements in manufacturing through Statistical Process Control (SPC) that improved product quality and just-in-time Materials As Needed (MAN) inventory control that dramatically cut overhead costs combined to save the company from bankruptcy and allow the completion of the Evo engine development long before its popularity could drive growth in sales.

There have been many stories told about how the introduction of the Evolution engine and they buy-back of the company were what saved Harley-Davidson in the early 1980s, but if you want the whole story, find a copy of “Harley-Davidson Evolution Motorcycles” by Greg Field.

Book Data:

  • Title: Harley-Davidson Evolution Motorcycles
  • Author: Greg Field
  • Published: 2001
  • Publisher: MBI Publishing Co., 729 Prospect Ave., P.O. Box 1, Osceola, WI 54020 USA
  • ISBN: 0-7603-0500-5

Note to readers: many of the books that we’ll feature in Rider’s Library may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.