Victory Vision Development | Octane Press

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Victory Vision Development

By Michael Dapper

Victory Motorcycles 1998–2017 author Michael Dapper shares photographs and interviews gathered from his access to project codename "Platinum" development. The Victory Vision was not only one of the most complex models in the history of the brand, but one of the most anticipated as well—clandestine test runs took place in the dark of night, and with a posse of protectors. Check back next week for more on the making of Victory Motorcycles, with original articles and insider interviews you won’t find anywhere else—not even in the book!

          The code name for the project was “Platinum.” It was expected by some inside Victory and Polaris to be the ultimate luxury-touring motorcycle. It was the Victory Vision.

The Vision was a game-changing model, and it remains an incredible bike. Whether it lived up to its promise or the hopes of Victory management is open to debate. But forget its sales numbers and its looks, which Victory management fully understood would be polarizing, and take it for a ride. It’s an incredible motorcycle.
It was, in many ways, the “most” bike of all time for Victory, and in some ways, for Polaris as well. Introduced to the public in January 2007, the Vision was the most expensive vehicle Polaris had developed. It had the most complex plastic bodywork of any Polaris vehicle to that point, and the most complex electrical system of any Polaris vehicle to date.
No other Polaris vehicle at the time had complex plastic bodywork. Snowmobiles and off-road vehicles had hoods and side panels, while the personal watercraft hull and upper deck were made of sheet molded compound (SMC) bonded together.
But the Vision had numerous plastic parts (and some metal ones) that fit together like puzzle pieces to create the stylish tail of the bike with its side storage compartment. The fit of these pieces had to be precise to produce the bike’s smooth, flowing style lines, and to withstand the rigors of serving as the shell of a road-going vehicle.
The finished bodywork (in front as well as at the rear of the bike) was truly impressive, and highly educational. The Victory design, engineering, and manufacturing teams, as well as other Polaris personnel, learned a lot about plastic work from the Vision experience.
The teams also learned a lot about electrical systems. Kevin Nelson, Victory’s lead electronics engineer at the time, led the effort. The team developed a large Vision wiring harness that ran throughout the motorcycle and powered everything from a trunk lid-mounted taillight to the highly versatile audio system, push-button-adjustable windshield, heated comfort elements, antilock braking, and more.
As with the bodywork, the electrical work was educational, giving Victory and Polaris engineering teams greater insight into what was possible on their vehicles and how to achieve it.

This is what the Vision looked like under its early, pre-production developmental bodywork. Some components are quite similar to what went into production, except that the front end was not yet developed, and the forks were far from finalized. To further mask the bike’s brand identity, the brake calipers carried the Nissin brand name, and were not yet stamped with the Victory name. This was shot in May 2005. Michael Dapper

This May 2005 photo shows the falsely branded bodywork on the test bike that made the secret night flights. Imagine a trucker on I-90 in southern Minnesota on the CB: “Who makes the Accent motorcycle? Ugly as hell, and terrible fit and finish.” Michael Dapper

Left: Here’s a view of the cockpit of that same nighttime test bike. There’s not much here that even remotely resembles production components. The handlebar, mirrors, and speedo are from Victory cruisers of the era. Michael Dapper
Right: Here’s the tail of the test bike that made midnight runs. The primitive bodywork was fitted with a Vegas taillight, and the side panels were fixed, rather than the hinged openings to cargo holds found on eventual production bikes. Poor automaker Hyundai was being credited with being behind this Frankenstein bike. Michael Dapper

Shot in October 2005, the test bike has evolved since May of that year. The fuel tank is close to production condition, as are the handlebars, driver floorboards, the rear air suspension, and the two-piece cast aluminum frame. Michael Dapper

          Flash back to Sturgis in 2001, when Victory displayed a concept bike called the Visteon Vision. Industrial Designer Mike Song styled the bike, which had a smart-looking fairing and hard bags. It was also loaded with electronics (or at least the switches) from Visteon, Victory’s engine control unit supplier. The bike resembled the Cross Country more than the eventual production Vision, and it sparked the notion that Victory might have much bigger ideas than the V92C in mind.
In the couple years after that, a buzz developed within Victory hinting that there was a major, major project in the works. I proposed to then-General Manager Mark Blackwell that if something epic was coming, I should get access early to chronicle its development. Coverage of such a bike could appear in Victory Rider Magazine, of which I was editor, once the bike was introduced.
With my newly granted access, I began shooting photos of developmental Vision models as early as 2005, and had tremendous cooperation from Victory personnel affiliated with Platinum, especially then-Product Manager Gary Gray and project lead Jason Hoeve. In a 2007 interview I did with these two, they described some dark-of-night Vision test work the team conducted on an interstate a couple hours’ drive from the Polaris Product Development Center in Wyoming, Minnesota. Examples of the bikes used in those clandestine tests accompany this blog.
Gary Gray (GG): It’s so top secret, we’ve hardly been on public roads. It’s only been on proving grounds. That’s a big drawback.
Jason Hoeve (JH): [A drawback in processes] like calibration. Our powertrain people spend days upon days, weeks upon weeks, doing cold starts and hot starts, usually outside at a garage. But that had to be done on the chassis dyno.
GG: On the rare occasion when we did ride it here [on the grounds of the development center in Minnesota], it would have to be after hours, the gates would have to be closed and there couldn’t be any visitors left in the building.
JH: One big question we couldn’t simulate was “what’s the effect of the bodywork on the engine cooling?” There was no wind tunnel we could roll the bike into, so that was one exception to the rule – they had to do that on public roads. They started at 11 o’clock at night running up and down the interstate. We would never run a Victory with the Vision, so we had competitive bikes run with it. The other bikes would block the view of the bike if they came alongside other traffic.
GG: And there were no Victory jackets, no Victory helmets. Just generic riding gear. They got into the truck and drove two hours away from here to do this on a remote section of interstate. The one fear was that the truck said Polaris on it, but it was all done at night, and we don’t think they ever were noticed.
As noted in the book Victory Motorcycles 1998-2017, some Victory executives had such extremely high hopes for the Vision, they considered making it available to dealers through a separate dealer agreement. That would clarify its status as a premium luxury brand. Under that business plan, just as not every Ford dealer is a Lincoln dealer, not every Victory dealer would have been a Vision dealer.
But in the end, the Vision was sold through every dealer. It never sold enough to recoup the estimated $22-25 million development costs, but it further established Victory as an innovative, progressive brand that produced incredible motorcycles. Ask any Vision owner and they’ll attest it lived up to its project name: Platinum.

Also shot in October 2005, this shows how pre-production plastic fit together. The pieces were made of a rough, translucent material, but its fit looks sound. Michael Dapper

In this December 2006 photo, members of the engineering and manufacturing teams are abuzz as they produced Vision units on the Spirit Lake, Iowa, assembly line. The original two models, the Victory Vision Street (no trunk) and Victory Vision Tour (with a trunk) were introduced one month later at the motorcycle show in New York City. Michael Dapper

During that December 2006 build, electronics engineer Kevin Nelson sorted out the Vision’s complex wiring harness. No Polaris vehicle had ever had such a complicated electrical system as the Vision. Michael Dapper

Oh, what potential. Here, on the sidelines while the December 2006 Vision build took place on the nearby assembly line, was a Vision rolling chassis. Think of the endless ways this magnificent, great-riding chassis could have been finished off. An evolved version of the two-piece frame made the Cross bikes Victory’s most successful family of models. Michael Dapper

In late-2006, three development technicians rode a couple unbranded pre-production Visions and a BMW touring bike on a test trip in Washington state and British Columbia. Shortly after the trio started riding in  Canada, Todd Chamberlin, then a senior development specialist, was pulled over by the police. Todd (pictured) said at the time that the cop stopped him to learn what in the world kind of bike Todd was riding. Todd Chamberlin

Check back next week for more insider interviews and behind-the-scenes photography gathered in the making of Victory Motorcycles 1998–2017, available for preorder now! 
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