Mecum is auctioning a rare 1942 Harley-Davidson XA military motorcycle from World War II that boasts many early engineering firsts in the company’s long history. Developed after the U.S. and its allies came up against superior BMW motorcycles during the war, it aimed to beat the Nazis at their own game. Now one newly restored example can be yours.
The XA was an attempt to overcome the Nazis’ all-terrain superiority, particularly in North Africa, and to address issue that American bikes had involving chains in rough terrain. Harley landed on a shaft drive setup, solving that problem. And the most expedient way to engineer a shaft-drive bike was to reverse-engineer an existing one, like the excellent overhead-cam BMW R75M used by the enemy. Perhaps unable to get its hands on an R75M, the XA copied the civilian flathead R71, which wasn’t quite as well-optimized for the task.
Despite being a copycat, be reassured that the XA is still a true Harley-Davidson. Around 1,000 XAs were built in Milwaukee for the U.S. Army during the war, according to the Mecum, and it resulted in many production firsts for the company. It is claimed to be Harley-Davidson’s first shaft-drive, four-speed, foot-shift and hand-clutch motorcycle, and also the first equipped with two carburetors. The motor’s opposed cylinders were positioned “across the frame” for improved cooling in the wind compared to Harley’s longitudinal V-twin designs of the time. It was also the first Harley to feature a rear-suspension plunger, and had a top speed of over 60 MPH back in 1942. The XA Type II (this example is a Type I) got Harley’s first telescopic forks, which didn’t reappear on Harley-Davidson designs again until years after the war.
The XA, innovative as it was relative to Harley’s native bikes, wasn’t a success. Consider that Harley produced over 80,000 units of its V-twin motorcycles during the war, while the XA was only ordered for testing. Ultimately, the Army declined to order any more, and its role fell to the Jeep, far superior for general purpose tactical mobility. You may find it a little more adaptable to suit your interests, which are hopefully more peaceful.
This isn’t the first time this exact motorcycle has been auctioned in recent years. It appears to have previously been auctioned by Mecum in 2015, according to the matching plate numbers in both sets of images, where it failed to meet reserve at a high bid of $30,000. It was expected to go for as much as $50,000, but this time it’s offered with no reserve.
The restoration finished this XA with leather saddle-bags, a beautiful speedometer detail, and according to the listing, the auction lot includes a special mounted case for a period-appropriate “non-firing” Thompson sub-machine gun that is apparently included in the deal. The auction is in Vegas, in case that wasn’t obvious.
Whatever else this XA is, it’s a newly restored WWII Harley-Davidson that’s also particularly rare and interesting, and at least we know the bike should run very cool and catch plenty of attention. The lot is up for auction with no reserve until Jan. 29, according to the Mecum website.
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