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HARLEY’S MYSTIQUE BRINGS FANS TO MUSEUM

SHARE HARLEY’S MYSTIQUE BRINGS FANS TO MUSEUM

Cold, wet weather probably discouraged most motorcyclists from scooting down to the art museum Saturday, but a Harley-Davidson rider is not your typical fair-weather whimp.

At least that's the image - mystique, some would say - that has grown around the Harley-Davidson rider over the past 86 years of the motorcycle's history: He's tough, and he'll cruise to the museum in foul weather if he wants to.And he might have wanted to on Saturday because a traveling Harley-Davidson museum featuring classic bikes dating back to 1907 had rolled into town.

On display inside the semi-trailer truck parked at the Salt Lake Harley-Davidson dealership were a 1909 V-Twin, a 1927 JD, a 1936 with the first "knucklehead" engine, a 1948 "panhead" with twin-chain drive, a 55-cubic-inch 1954 KH, a 1971 Super Glide, photographs and other memorabilia.

Inside Joe Timmon's dealership were brand new Low Rider Customs, Police models, Softails and even a top-of-the-line Tour Glide, equipped with everything but air conditioning. With a price tag of about $14,000, the 650-pound chrome-laden Tour Glide costs as much as a new car.

"People say that, but where are you going to get a good car for that much?" Timmons argues. But he admits that the price of a good Harley-Davidson can be steep. "The income level of our buyers has changed somewhat," he says. "We're getting some pretty affluent customers, like doctors and lawyers."

Not exactly the "Easy Rider" image, but the attraction is the same. "Harley-Davidson represents freedom," Timmons explains.

Although the museum has been touring the country as a marketing tool and a fund-raiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, it is primarily an exhibition of Americana, according to Timmons. To motorcycle enthusiasts, Harley-Davidsons are art.

"Its history is special," he said.

Special because Harley-Davidson is the only American motorcycle left in a market dominated by Japanese street, bullet and dirt bikes and scooters.

Once, there were 150 manufacturers of motorcycles in America. In 1982, the Milwaukee-based firm almost followed their trend to failure. But President Reagan came to the rescue with a temporary tariff on Japanese motorcycle imports, and Harley-Davidson used the breathing spell to improve many of its management and manufacturing practices. Within five years, the firm had regained its lead in the U.S. market.

"It survived because of workmanship, craftsmanship. No plastic. All metal, and the best chrome," said Timmons, who moved his dealership into a new, $300,000 complex at 2928 S. State last year. For 40 years, it had been located at 872 S. State.

"We're doing very well," Timmons said. "We sell every motorcycle we can get our hands on."

More than 1,000 art lovers visited the exhibition, and while most of them arrived in the warmth and comfort of automobiles, a few cruised it in the spirit of the mystique.