The Harley-Davidson WLA is one of the most important models ever made by the Milwaukee-based motorcycle manufacturer, it saw a production run of over 90,000 units during the Second World War and earned itself the nickname “The Liberator” during the latter part of the war, when Allied forces were chasing the German armed forces back across Europe – the WLA would often be the first Allied vehicle to make it into freshly liberated towns and villages.
The WLA was directly based on the WL model, the addition of the “A” just meant “Army”. The engineers at Harley-Davidson were careful to keep costs low and build the WLA to be as reliable and cheap as possible, most of the chrome and nickel-plated parts was replaced with much cheaper (and less shiny) painted components, the engine was modified to make it run at a compression ratio of 5:1 – remarkably low by modern standards but this low compression ratio gave the WLA the ability to run on the exceedingly low quality fuel that was being used throughout the European and Pacific theatres of war.
Famously, the WLA relied on an antiquated side-valve system which meant that they weren’t particularly efficient or performance oriented, however they were very reliable and required only minimal maintenance. The somewhat excessive size of the original WL fenders was reduced considerably to lower the amount of mud and debris that would build up in the wheel arches, although after the war many of the WLAs were converted back to civilian specification, which would usually result in the addition of the larger fenders that were favoured in the post war era.
The model you see here has been in the ownership of the same family since 1972, it was civilianised after WWII but has remained in surprisingly original condition – it’s never been restored or rebuilt. The engine still runs without missing a beat and the transmission clicks through the gears as though it rolled off the production line yesterday, they might not have built these bikes for speed but they certainly did a good job of building them for longevity.
Currently listed for sale via Luxury Brokers International the time-capsule-condition 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA, has a detailed write up here and LBI invites interested parties to contact them with further questions.
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.