Military Flathead: 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA

This 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA is a hard-to-find military-issue example, one of the flatheads built in support of the U.S.’ efforts in World War II. The WLA is the American model while the WLC went to Canada, and Harley actually produced this wartime bike for multiple other Allied countries. Given how many went into civilian hands and were otherwise converted to street use after being sold off as surplus, finding one with its military decor still intact is truly a find. Check out this patina’d example here on eBay with one bid to $9,500 and no reserve.

What makes the condition of this bike even more impressive is that it is one of those examples that was decommissioned and sold off as surplus, landing in civilian hands. Given the tendency – at the time – for such bikes to be made to look like regular street bikes, it’s particularly impressive that its later owners didn’t change the original look of the bike with its military identification. The seller points out that out of the many thousands of WLs earmarked for military use, relatively few were made for the Air Force, potentially making this example even rarer than most.

The flathead has been part of a museum exhibit up until recently, and is only for sale in order to create more room for future exhibitions. Despite its relatively complete appearance, some parts have gone missing and likely been missing for years. These parts include the carburetor, fuel line, exhaust header pipe, headlight, horn, and a few other items. The Harley does come with some rare parts still attached, including the military-grade ignition switch and speedometer, oil bath air cleaner, crash guards, and speedster-style handlebars. Despite the missing parts, the engine still turns over.

With the durable 45 CI flathead engine and three-speed transmission, this bike should come back to life without too many heavy lifting. Really, the main priority for the next owner will be to preserve that awesome military veneer and ensure the period-correct parts are sourced to put this one back to reliable, running condition. Vintage flatheads have been coming alive as of late, fetching strong bids and lots of action on eBay – and if the seller’s claims that this is one of less than a handful known to exist, it’s sure to find a home at the end of the auction.

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  1. Howard A Member

    Do all these bikes look like this? I never see a nice one,,,wait, I take that back, the Harley museum had a nice one. So, can someone tell me, once and for all, what is the attraction to these? Especially, a ten thousand dollar attraction. Mike Wolfe probably has a dash housing for $1500 bucks. Amazes me what some people spend their money on, while other Americans are cutting their pills in half.

    Like 13
  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    I like this bike! Being somewhat of a neat freak I would want to clean this one up, fix what’s broken and go for lots of rides. Now forgive me for being skeptical here but the US Air Force wasn’t a separate part of the military until 1947. If this bike is a ‘42 model (it has the Cat’s Eye dash which was used until ‘46) then I would think that it would have been labeled ‘US Army Air Force.’ I can’t see a 5 year old bike with that label. Of course all things are possible. This could even be a ‘46 model. Need to see the numbers on the crankcase to verify that…

    Like 14
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      RE: U.S. Army Air Force-that’s exactly right, the USAF was the USAAF until 1947 which makes one wonder why this bike, identified as a 1942 model, would be emblazoned with a post-1946 branch if the cat eye headlight was in production up to just 1946. I don’t recall ever seeing a white background on the sheet metal, just OD green and later AF Blue (as opposed to Navy Blue..).

      Maybe they found the headlight as a replacement?
      Maybe someone found the bits to attach to a WLA motor and/or frame and built a WLA.?
      Maybe we’re being too harsh, but better than being snookered. The plot thickens!
      A complete investigation is warranted here, hopefully before someone is going giving up 10 Benjamin’s for a non-running 45ci 3 spd Harley…

      Like 7
      • tstout

        This bike is owned by the wheels of time museum in Maggie Valley, the owner or curator of the museum is an expert on vintage bikes, so I’m positive he knows what he selling..

        Like 3
    • Skorzeny

      They were called US Army Air Corps. A Corps like the Marines…

      Like 2
      • Jack M.

        Seems like every bike being sold off by this museum is missing one thing or another.

        Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Here’s one in full battle regalia. Literally. I like the lubrication sticker on the side of the tank.

      Like 8
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        This one is decked out identically to every one I’ve ever seen irrespective of the branch of our military, replete with the Thompson in the scabbard!

        On a lighter note, at The Quail one of the displays was of WW2 vehicles: a Ford Jeep, an HD like this one, a BSA (ironically) and several bicycles-including a German Fallschirmjäger‘s bike.(photo wouldn’t download!}
        While at that display my SIL (a good Nevada boy eking a living in northern CA) leaned over to whisper, Soto voce, “I’ll bet that Thompson magazine exceeds the state maximum allowable capacity!”

        Like 8
      • Howard A Member

        That was a great day, my friend, I’ll pay you back someday.

        Like 1
  3. Gene Parmesan

    I remember seeing this one at Wheels Through Time when I was there a few years ago. Seems like they’ve been getting rid of a few bikes as of late to make room for new stuff. Great way to get a super cool and rare old bike if you’re a collector who has the cash.

    Like 2
    • healeydays

      It’s from the Wheels Through Time Museum collection. Dale is selling it.

      Like 1
    • ken tillyUK

      If they haven’t been able to locate the spares needed to complete this bike then what do you think your chances are?

      Like 6
  4. Ken Carney

    My Mom ride one back and forth to highschool in the ’50s. She said that was cheaper to license and much cheaper to operate than a car. I was dumbfounded when she finally told me about it 15 years
    ago. WTF! I thought as she told me the story of how she blought the bike from the Army Surplus store and learned to
    ride it. She said that a tank of gas would
    last her about 2 weeks give or take. Even
    today I still can’t get over the thought of
    my Mom riding one of these. She’ll be 84
    in March and I think she still has pictures
    of her sitting on it. Boy, the things you
    never knew about your parents!

    Like 12
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Yes, as time went on my dad told me many stories about what really happened in the early days. Sometimes friends of his told him what really happened. It seemed that the folks were always afraid if we knew what they were up to when they were kids, we’d be corrupted. But when you know all the facts, things haven’t changed a damn bit…

      Like 7
  5. grant

    That stenciling doesn’t look right. The pics aren’t the best but it almost looks like rust spots are carefully painted around.

    Like 2
  6. Alexander Trujillo Member

    As has been commented previously, the U.S. Air Force did not exist until 1947. There is no way that stenciling can be original.

    Like 1
  7. Dave Garner

    From the ad: ” This machine was acquired by the Army Air Corps in 1945 and when the US Air Force began in 1947, the bike was relocated to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma for use as perimeter control. It was later decommissioned from use and sold as military surplus in June of 1961.”

    Like 5
  8. big mike

    An Uncle of my Wife’s spend 30 years in the US Army Air Corp/Us Air Force, joining in 1942 as a ball turret on B17s. He stayed in after WW II, and Flew in B-29’s during Korea, after that he became a ground flight engineer until retirement in 1972. He loved Harley’s and owned many, still had one when he passed 8 years ago 88. Anyway he had photo’s that I saw of him taken on base in Okinawa, and he was sitting on a White US Air Force 45 WLA Harley. I remember talking about it, he said it used by the Air Force and many others to get around because of the narrow roads, many were still in olive drab, but a lot had been painted white, and had US Air Force painted on them. They were used by the MP, the ground crews, mail runners everybody. So this could be a original military bike that was used by the Air Force later years, he also had a picture of one used while stationed in Korea, but it was B/W, and he could not remember what color it was, but was thinking it was olive drab!

    Like 4
  9. Scuderia

    Says in description in ’47 was relocated to the air force base. Wouldn’t it make sense that it would be rebadged/painted?

    Like 2
  10. healeydays

    I think this and it’s sister bike were found by Dale on an episode of What’s in the barn. The episode was “Home Depot’s Wounded Warrior” Air date: June 17, 2014

    If you have access to Amazon Prime or Motortrend tv, you can probably see that episode Season 2, Episode 3

    Like 1
  11. chrlsful

    nice bike, the public is all the better for it’s release.
    Go w/what’s there, scout prts, massage daily !
    I don’t care where its been – where it goes is my interest

  12. Ward William

    You know I would strip that puppy down and rebuild it back up but not touch the paintwork at fickin all. Clean and clearcoat only but with new shiny bits and seat.

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