Rebadged Racer: 1975 Harley Davidson RR250

1975 Harley Davidson RR250 r side front

When is a Harley not a Harley? When it’s an Aermacchi, like this RR250. At different times during its history, American manufacturer Harley Davidson seemed to recall the perceived benefits of “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” and attempted to rectify a lack of road-racing product by absorbing an outside manufacturer, using the truckloads of cash generated selling leather chaps and vests and protective bandanas.

While they’ve been active and successful in dirt-track racing, they’ve only rarely been competitive in road racing, and a purchase of Aermacchi in the 1960’s attempted to fill that role. Most Aermacchi Harleys you’re likely to come across were Sprints, bikes that handled well and were powered by their outdated, but extremely reliable four-stroke singles, distinctively laid-over for a low center of gravity. But the writing was on the wall and, by the late 1960’s, it was clear that anyone who wanted to compete in smaller classes needed a two-stroke if they wanted to compete in smaller categories of racing or on the street.

1975 Harley Davidson RR250 dash

In 1973, Aermacchi’s two-stroke twins were also rebadged as Harleys and the bikes won three 250cc championships in a row. Variations were raced as late as 1978. Aermacchi’s original two-stroke was based on a pair of dirt bike engines, siamesed together. It shared many internal parts with the Yamaha single on which it was based, keeping running costs for the high-performance machine under control. The bike was lighter than the Yamaha TZ available at the time, and proved to be very competitive.

Water-cooling was added for 1973 and power jumped from about 50hp to 58hp, and the Harley-badged bikes won three 250cc championships in a row.

From the original eBay listing: 1975 Harley Davidson RR250 Daytona Road Race Bike

Motor turns nicely. Overall bike shows little use.
2-stroke water cooled 2 cylinder
No race damage, excellent over all condition
Race #53 raced at Daytona in 1970s, some history.
Has not been run since 1970s.
Dealer owned since new

There are five days left on this auction with a starting bid of $30,000 and no takers so far. The Buy It Now is listed as $35,000 so it’s pretty clear what the seller believes this is worth. It’s unrestored and a bit rough around the edges, but that’s the nature of true racing machines: ten-foot paint jobs and scuffed paint are the norm when the goal is speed.

A cool bike from another, slightly forgotten period of Harley’s racing history. I still hold out hope that they’ll shock me speechless and actually “build” something like this again. Plenty of custom shops are assembling Harley café racers and sporty retros are all the rage. I can’t imagine that a stylish, agile bike based on their new 750 wouldn’t find buyers.


1975 Harley Davidson RR250 L side

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5 Responses

  1. Hi Tad,

    I’ve had discussions with Ray Drea (head of H-D design) about just this issue, i.e., building a cool bike! This was at my ‘Ton Up’ exhibit in Sturgis two years ago, which became my book ‘Cafe Racers’. If you saw the press on the exhibit, you’ll see Drea’s own version of a cafe racer XR1000, called the XRCR – it’s an awesome piece of kit, and I asked to buy it, but Willie G bought it instead.

    The upshot of many conversations: H-D build the XLCR, which you must admit is one of the baddest ass cafe racers ever built by a factory, styling wise. Yes, it was an AMF Sporty underneath, but that didn’t stop buyers from snapping up 27,000 standard XRs in 1977 when the XLCR came out…while that bike only sold 1800 units. The XLCR was a total failure in H-D’s eyes, and the project was dropped.

    Drea knows how to make a killer cafe racer, but H-D knows it won’t sell 25k+ units, so it won’t be done. They don’t mind if aftermarket suppliers build kits though…

    I had the same discussion with Ola Stenegard of BMW when Roland Sands brought out the Concept 90…the factory’s answer was the R9T, which is a bland cow to my eyes. But, they’re happy if you want to make the bike of your dreams from their platform…

    See the pattern here? Motorcycle factories are unwilling to take big risks on niche design trends, but are happy to support custom builders with free machines to modify, to plant the seeds of grooviness in the public’s mind. It seems to be working as a marketing strategy. The net effect for the custom builders is mixed: the really small, independent builders I know who’ve played the game are really bitter at their experience, but a pro like Roland Sands never complains. The small guys fantasize that factory attention will boost their fortunes, but that bubble is quickly popped – like I said in my BikeExif essay, ‘a Like is not a dollar’. You make money selling product, not ‘Net grooviness.

    H-D had the chance to capture the spirit, and winning streak, they got with Aermacchi, when they bought MV Agusta. I was actually excited about it, thinking they were looking to expand into competition, but that came to exactly zero. I think some sober-thinking Board wonks saw no value in expanding H-D back into racing. They don’t even make XR750 spares anymore…

  2. Jess says:

    Wasn’t this also on RSBFS? Doesn’t look like the seller is going to get the minimum $30K bid again. The Harley faithful must not be interested in a 2-stroke road racer. Maybe if it were a ’70’s XR-750 or a 60’s to ’70’s Harley V-twin road racer? I wonder what a TZ 250 or 350 of the same year and condition will sell for?

  3. tad says:

    Paul! Good to hear from you. Yeah, I definitely understand what you’re saying. It’s more me wishing more people liked what I like, rather than actually expecting the factories to build bikes for an audience I know doesn’t really exist. Harley definitely is doing something right from a business standpoint, so far be it from me to tell them how to run their company, although their buying and selling of Aermacchi, Buell, and MV Agusta does suggest some indecision… Sometimes, I feel like they “try new things” in such a half-assed way, like they’re just looking to fail so they can say, “See? We tried to do it your way, and look what happened.” See: Buell Blast.

    I just get so frustrated with the two polar opposites of mainstream American motorcyclists: Sportbike Guys who think that anything less than 1000cc’s is a “girl’s bike” and Cruiser Guys who think that an 800 lb hunk of poorly-performing chrome with tacked-on water-cooling is worth $30k. I realize that for most people here in the US, motorcycles are more about looking good and being “cool” than riding skill, and that’s okay. Even though their customer base doesn’t require it, I just wish Harley would build something like the Bonneville: great-looking, good real-world performance, safe handling, brakes, and a decent price. Something like their new 750, but with styling that doesn’t look like a 1980’s Kawasaki…

    I almost posted up an XLCR I found last week, but it didn’t fit in, timing-wise… Not a pretty bike, but definitely mean-looking: cafe-styling, but 100% Harley. And I love the pipes on those: so much better than the standard staggered shorties found on most Sportsters. And I like the R9T, but I definitely don’t love it. Sort of bland, but a good combination of retro styling cues and real-world performance.

  4. Adam says:

    So you say why can’t H-Dull build something like a Bonneville? Have a look at the Indian Scout. Maybe Indian is clever enough to be everything in the American V-twin motorcycle market that H-D is not.

    As for the XLCR, of course it was a failure! Look at the HD faithful that were riding them at that time, and then the XLCR; they tacked-on all the window-dressing accessories that represented why even the Brit and then the Jap bikes that were murdering the American made motorcycle market at the time. Further to that, the thing was a overweight, overpriced, underpowered POS, with the reliability problems of the time that would likely not keep up with a 750 Honda 10+ years its junior (and certainly not the also-aged Z1). Had it had a real suspension and brakes, and a sporty engine like my ’97 Buell it would have been a different story. In other words: who was the realistic target market? HD has come a long way from those days but just ask Eric Buell about how HD really felt about sporting bikes these last couple decades; you now know where Eric wanted to take it. They wanted the impractically massive V-Rod engine to power the Buell! I agree that some HD management likely made a half-assed effort by purchasing Buell and then MV but were inwardly happy to have them fail and prove those ambitious staffers that wanted to broaden HD’s market wrong. That’s my v-twin’s worth of hot air anyway.

  5. tad says:

    I actually do like that new Indian Scout. The rear fender is a bit chunky, and it’s a bit too “foot forward” for me, but I love the look of the engine. It’s looks modern and retro at the same time, styled, but not OVERstyled.