Larger than Life Harley-Davidson FLH Liberator
Daily Slideshow: Craig Vetter's Liberator fairing is an impressive footnote in Harley-Davidson's history.
The 'Liberator' might just be the largest faring ever fitted to a Harley-Davidson. With headlights from a semi-trailer truck, creator Craig Vetter named the Liberator after the WW2 Consolidated B-24 bomber — affectionately known as the 'Flying Boxcar' for its slab-sided fuselage. With quirky, ungainly charm, the massive Vetter Liberator fairings are sought after by collectors, and cherished by owners.
Up in Smoke
Harley-Davidson offered the Liberator from 1975 to 1978 on the FLH model. With only five-thousand produced, Liberators are rare. In 1977, production of the fairing stopped because of a fire at Vetter's Illinois plant. With all the molds destroyed and at least a year before Vetter could resume production, the Motor Company dropped the Liberator from its offerings.
Founded in 1966, the Vetter Fairing Company created aftermarket motorcycle fairings before they were standard factory items. Fitted to a myriad of motorcycles, Vetter's Windjammer fairings become synonymous with motorcycling in the 1970s, and even standard equipment on some brands. In 1999, Craig Vetter was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. In 2000, he was credited by American Motorcyclist magazine as the “man who changed motorcycling.”
Vetter began work on the frame-mounted Liberator in 1973, in what he hoped would be a great fairing for Harley-Davidson. Vetter recounts, “The Liberator began when I made a call to Harley-Davidson in 1973. I asked, would they like a big, frame-mounted fairing for the FLH? The answer was yes, and a 'fit-up' bike was made available.”
In January of 1974, Vetter revealed the Liberator to Willie G. Davidson. By 1976, the fairing was an official Harley-Davidson product. At the time, the Motor Company only offered a factory-fitted 'Batwing' fairing designed by Dean Wixom in 1965. Initially listed in 1969 as a 'windshield fairing kit,' the Batwing became a standard feature in 1971. Unlike the Liberator, the Batwing design is still in production to this day.
Charly Perethian, a friend of Vetter, and later co-founder of the Rifle Fairing Company, test rode the first Liberator. Vetter said that he “liked the idea of making a big bomber of a fairing,” and wanted to offer the most touring protection possible. “After all, the FLH was the definitive cross-country cruiser of America, right?”
Dual headlights from a Kenworth truck grace the Liberator's behemoth facade. Vetter explained that getting the headlights, the Harley-Davidson auxiliary lights, and the turn signals, was a challenge. Concerned with aerodynamics, Vetter hoped to put a “clear, rounded cover over the front, but the laws at that time would not allow it.”
If there is a legacy for the Liberator it comes from Elvis Presley. A fan of the FLH Liberator, Elvis bought numerous models yet was only ever seen riding the black and gold Liberator that is on display at Graceland. As Vetter later said, “I had helped Elvis get his start when I bought my copy of Heartbreak Hotel in 1957. He returned the favor by buying a Liberator in 1976.”
With worldwide distribution, the Vetter Fairing Company was one of the largest motorcycle industry manufacturers in the United States during the 1970s — only second to Harley-Davidson. After the 1977 fire, the Vetter Fairing Company was sold to bankers in 1978 and went bankrupt in 1983. Bell (Helmets), acquired the assets and continued to produce Windjammer fairings until 1987.
As an automotive consultant, the Vetter story continues to this day. There are no aftermarket suppliers for his fairings, including the Liberator, but small parts are available. Impressively, Vetter still stands behind his product, even thirty years after he ceased production. If you have questions about your Vetter fairing, Carol Vetter, Craig's wife of almost fifty years, will help you out.
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