Harley Davidson WLA

filed under | motorcycles


The WLA is a model of Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was produced to US Army specifications in the years during and around World War II. It was based on an existing civilian model, the WL, and is of the 45 solo type, so called due to its 45 cubic inches (740 cc) engine and single-rider design. The same engine, in a slightly lower state of tune, also powered the three-wheeled Servi-Car (the "G" family), leading to the "solo" distinction. Harley-Davidson began producing the WLA in small numbers in 1940, as part of a general military expansion. The later entry of the United States into World War II saw significantly increased production, with over 90,000 being produced during the war (along with spare parts the equivalent of many more). Harley Davidson would also produce a close WLA variant for the Canadian Army called the WLC and would also supply smaller numbers to the UK, South Africa, and other allies, as well as filling orders for different models from the Navy and Marine Corps. Unusually, all the WLAs produced after Pearl Harbor, regardless of the actual year, would be given serial numbers indicating 1942 production. Thus, war-time machines would come to be known as 42WLAs. This may have been in recognition of the use of the continued use of the same specification. Most WLCs were produced in 1943, and are marked 43WLC. The precise serial number, as well as casting marks, can be used to date a specific motor accurately, and some other parts bear year and month stamps. Frames and many other parts were not tagged with the serial number, and cannot generally be dated. (This is common prior to adoption of the VIN.) Many WLAs would be shipped to allies under the Lend-Lease program. The largest recipient was the Soviet Union, which was sold over 30,000 WLAs. Production of the WLA would cease after the war, but would be revived for the Korean War during the years 19491952. Most WLAs in western hands after the war would be sold as surplus and "civilianized"; the many motorcycles available at very low cost would lead to the rise of the chopper and other modified motorcycle styles, as well as the surrounding biker culture. Many a young soldier would come home hoping to get a Harley-Davidson like he saw or rode in the service, leading to the post-war popularity of both the motorcycle and the company in general. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]

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