Harley-Davidson: big, air-cooled v-twins, right? Yet the Milwaukee manufacturer has dabbled with other multi-cylinder layouts on occasion, most notable the Model W of the early 1920s and the WW2-era Model XA. Following the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, both Harley-Davidson and rivals Indian received substantial orders from the British and French governments for military motorcycles, which Harley fulfilled with an adapted version of its 45ci ‘flat head’ v-twin: the WLA. Although the USA was not in the war at this time, it seemed to many in the Department of Defense that it would inevitably be drawn into the widening conflict, and procurement of military supplies accelerated. Harley-Davidson would go on to produce a staggering 88,000 motorcycles for the war effort, the vast majority of which was accounted for by the WLA… in big, air-cooled v-twin format.
In the autumn of 1942, with the USA now fully committed to the Allied cause, the United States Army Procurement authorities commissioned the Harley-Davidson and Indian factories to produce military motorcycles based on the successful designs by BMW and Zündapp employed by the German Wehrmacht, which had demonstrated their effectiveness in Rommel’s North African campaign. H-D responded with the XA, a 750cc sidevalve flat twin modelled on the pre-war BMW R71. Like the BMW, the XA featured shaft drive, a four-speed gearbox and a hand operated clutch, while the steel disc wheels and balloon tires were tailored for use in desert terrain. In the event, neither the XA nor Indian’s similar 841 were considered to offer any advantages over the cheaper-to-produce WLA and Scout models, and XA production halted after little more than 1,000 had been made. In any case, with the war in Europe drawing to a close, the ubiquitous Jeep was considered far more suitable for combat duties in the Far East. Today, surviving XAs are highly sought after by collectors of both military vehicles and Harley-Davidsons alike.
This rare XA hails from a substantial and discerning private California collection. Fully restored in previous ownership, the bike comes fully equipped for military duty with gun holster, ammunition box, ‘crash’ bars and leather panniers. Fresh from service, the bike is offered in fine riding condition.