Can the vintage motorcycle make the 200-mile journey?
If you’re like me, the thought of buying a 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA fills you with absolute glee. Sure, there are faster, sexier newer bikes out there just like there are rarer, more exotic vintage motorcycles to be had. But there’s something attractive about “the motorcycle that won the War.” So much vivid history is enshrined in every inch of such a machine, plus they have that rugged look which some have tried to duplicate but failed to fully encapsulate.
Learn about the Harley-Davidson WLA’s role in the Korean War here.
The video I’ve included with this article helps us all live the dream vicariously. YouTuber Bikes and Beards bought a 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA off a guy who had it stashed in his basement. IOriginally, the purpose of the trip was to look at a Jeep, so it goes to show how tracking down one vehicle can lead to uncovering something even better.
Probably in part to see if he could and in part to produce some interesting content for the channel, he decided to ride the unrestored WLA 200 miles home. That might not sound like a great plan if you’re too logical, but the romance of taking such a machine out on the open road is compelling if you just shut off the left side of your brain. He was smart and put new tires on the thing, because riding on dry rot is just asking for something very bad to happen. Since he’s the one taking the risk and not me, I’m totally okay going along for the trip.
Most people today have no real concept of the grand scope of the war effort in the United States. Just about every factory in the country was churning out weapons, machinery, or other supplies for the troops. This included Harley-Davidson, which supplied the U.S. Army with over 90,000 WLAs. Nicknamed The Liberator by American troops, they were simple and rugged, designed to withstand not only traveling over rugged terrain for miles and miles but also being caught in crossfire.
The maneuverable, practical nature of these iron horses helped with reconnaissance, message running, and other tasks where it was necessary to be quick or not noticed – maybe both. Most people who know about the WLAs realize they were just as instrumental in the European Theater as the jeeps, but they might not realize how important they were in the island-hopping operations for the Pacific Theater.
Many of the Harley-Davidson WLAs didn’t survive the war, just like many of the troops who laid down their lives in defense of freedom. However, many of the survivors were retired to civilian life, but there were some which were used again in the Korean War.
Some military veterans decided to chop their newly acquired WLAs down and customize them to look more menacing. Thankfully, some thought it would be better to preserve the machines which helped stem the tide of authoritarianism in the world. Many of those, like this one featured in the video, were stashed away in sheds, garages, barns, and yes even basements. They sat unridden for decades, but as a testament to their battle-hardened design, these old Harleys have withstood the ravages of time surprisingly well.
Back to the video – it’s believed the WLA hasn’t been ridden in at least 30 years but maybe as long as 50 years. There’s a nice patina on it, the seat looks to be pretty much done, but the real question is how well will all the mechanicals run for such a journey? This is a far cry from taking a newly acquired bike for a spin around the neighborhood, which often leads to pushing it home. Check out the video to see how it all goes down.