Harley developed the “45” in 1929, named for the engine’s capacity in cubic inches, as a competitor to Indian’s flathead 750, but with limited success until the U.S. entry into the World War II hostilities, when demand for the reliable Model D really took off. Known as The Liberator, 90,000 bikes rolled off the production line until 1945, heading for Britain, mainland Europe, Africa, etc. These military Harleys benefited from the new aluminum cylinder heads fitted to the civilian version from 1939 and came with a full complement of equipment including D-shaped footboards, crash bars, skid plates, cargo racks and panniers. Designated WLA (Army) or WLC for the Commonwealth (UK and Canada), the Harley 45 saw action in just about every theater of war. “De-mobbed” Harleys helped meet the upsurge in demand for motorcycles in the immediate post-war years, doing much to establish the marque’s reputation worldwide. However, WLA production started again in 1950 for Korean War active service and finished in 1952.
The WLA’s motor was a 45ci or 739cc, 45-degree flathead or side-valve v-twin which built itself a massive reputation for ease-of-use, both riding and maintenance, and longevity, and thus was perfect for winning wars. However, it also proved itself in racing, as the four-camshaft motor was easily tuned, and it formed the basis for Harley-Davidson’s entry into Class C racing.
The de-mobbed example on offer here, has been part of a discerning collection of cars and motorcycles. The bike has been on static display in a climate-controlled environment since recent purchase and is presented in excellent restored condition. This beautiful blue and cream 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA Type II was originally from the Chris Bergan collection, and it’s a lovely older restoration. It features the rare 3-speed gearbox with a reverse, which could make for fun riding moments for the brave. This machine has been “civilianized” with a fresh paint job, and it was restored to ride, its owner reporting that with a recent service it “runs great.”