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D-day and the WL Liberators

WL Liberators
ER Classics Desktop 2022

Liberators 75 years after D-day. This is a reflection, not the complete model history of the Harley-Davidsons WL side valves. We know that there are books to write about and written about the WLAs and WLC alone. And later on, most ex army bicycles are back in business.

Low compressed

War models were back-tuned civilian WL Liberators who, because of their low compression, could buy just about anything but ditch water and they were calculated by the military on a battle field life time of 33 minutes. The WL Liberators in combat suits were shipped worldwide. For example, WL Liberators were made for the Dutch, Russian and Japanese (!) Army.


For reasons of PR, the motorcycle manufacturer from Milwaukee has never given much publicity to their 'Japanese Connection. The Rikuos are now even more 'collectable' than the American originals. But seventy-five years after data, such an 750 cc Harley-Davidson side valve remains a wonderful, simply usable classic. And a Rikuo is a museum piece.

No 'real' Liberators

Despite their qualities, the Milwaukee V-twins got their nickname 'Liberator' a bit wrong. The 750 cc V twins were too heavy and had too little ground clearance to play a part in the front line. But as ordonance bikes, they did fine. With all those shipments, there are more WLAs and WLCs here in 'the Old World' than there are left in the States. By the way, the ex-army Harleys in America itself were widely adopted by all those young men who returned to the US from A without work and traumatized by the war when peace had broken out. They sawed and chopped everything that could save weight off the former army bicycles, creating the 'chopper'. (To chop: chopping).

Integration after the war

After the liberation there were huge amounts of WL Liberators everywhere in Europe to recover from the battle. The veterans served helped with motorizing the Netherlands again. But when things got better again, the WLs (The WLAs were the American version, the WLCs - with some more parts of the 1200 cc Big Twins - the engines that had done their job for the Canadians) fell into disgrace.

The WLs that still drove were in the possession of recognized poverty sufferers such as concrete weavers in training and students. She already had one for 150 guilders. In the seventies and eighties, the veterans had now found their lovers and with new paint, lots of chrome and lots of nickel nails and leather fringe on the leather bags they became exuberantly iconic again. Somewhere along the line, parties from Greece, among others, sometimes surfaced. Those sources have since dried up, but the stories about hidden treasures are still very much alive.

Still usable

In the meantime, you can expect a machine reborn as a citizen to be a very reliable companion with the necessary maintenance and respect that matches his age. And with a travel rate of about 80 kilometers per hour, such a WL is excellent transport for secondary roads. WLA and WLC models also had an 1: 5 compression ratio. That low compression of the army models made them less sensitive to gasoline with a low octane number, which often occurred in war zones. With the aluminum cylinder heads you can easily read the compression ratio because it is smashed on the side of the head. Increasing the compression ratio to 1: 6 is an obvious improvement to get more power from the side valve and also gives a good noticeable result.

An upgrade that is tolerated even by hard core originality enthusiasts is the mounting of an electronic ignition. A side valve is no wonder of thermal efficiency, but with the current quality of modern petrol, a moderate to bad spark is really a blow to such an engine.

What is original?

After 75 years, the discussions about what is original and responsible have not been settled. But a WL that has been converted into a civilian machine doesn't suffer much in value. What people appreciate even more is a machine that has an original old Dutch license plate or has never known anything other than a civilian life.

When it comes to machines in combat kits, the case becomes more critical. Of course the bikes in the field were simply kept running with what was available. Repairing according to the correct year of manufacture and factory execution is estimated less in value during wartime than friendly chatting at a competition d'élégance.

When it comes to correct versions, the true believers are put to the test: to our knowledge, "How To Restore Your Military Harley-Davidson" is currently the Bible of Bruce Palmer, or only available for the main prize. But our southern neighbors bring a lot of light into the darkness with the site www.liberators.eu, www.theliberator.be. In the Netherlands there is the site www.bensbikes.nl.

Still loved

In the meantime, 750 cc side valves in civilian coat offered for sale are usually not for sale for long. A good WL costs just like that 14.500 euros. A very good 16.500 euros. Or more Amounts of 25.000 euros have already been paid for completely authentic restored machines in combat uniform. The buyers of the absolute toppers are apparently usually located in Singapore and other Asian high-income countries. Assume that everything under 10 grand is a project.

Very dated

Below the line, such a Harley-Davidson 750 cc is just as classic as it is dated. Someone who steps on it usually gets very confused by the foot clutch and the hand shift. Such a bike does not go really tight on the road under a beginner who does not understand that you have to ride a WL the way you sail a tjalk. The lack of rear suspension does unique things with your back and kidneys and on bumps the ass can kick back like a nasty donkey. When it comes to braking, you have to bear in mind that in the forties it was considerably less busy than it is today. When you talk about 'the power', you are talking about what a WL now costs, not what it supplies to horsepower.

A friendly appearance

It is true that everyone will recognize you as a motorcycle enthusiast and that mothers and children will not be frightened away because they judge you as a Scary Criminal Biker. A Harley side clapper, however tough it is, is endearing. And once you have the mindset to appreciate such a veteran by what he is, then riding on such a machine is addictive.

Funny: A Russian wartime 750 cc side valve is just as classic. And a 'correct' copy in combat kit is considerably rarer than a WL machine. But of course it's not a Harley. It is all a matter of market forces. Such an M72 even has an extra wheel for half the money.

On the other hand: A BMW or Zündapp with a war history is much more expensive than a Harley ...

WL Liberators

WL Liberators

They were 'Liberators' who were well-grounded. But everything has its limits

WL Liberators
With an extra wheel for half the price of a WLA or C

 

WL Liberators

Such a party is soon on 50 mille

3 Comments

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  1. In March 69 I bought my first Harley, a 750 cc from 1950. One mate had just bought his 39er 750cc a week earlier and we knew another one nearby. That was the beginning of Harley-Davidson Club 's-Hertogenbosch. Now 50 years later, and also a few Harley-Davidson motorcycles further we still drive around on those things. and the oldies keep pulling. Even though my current bike is only 10 years old.

  2. I have read that according to US Army requirements a vehicle should be able to withstand 30 days without maintenance.
    The nickname 'Liberator' probably originated in Belgium; the column escort usually drove ahead on the motorbike and so this was the first liberators saw villagers driving into their village.
    And although the Americans have always referred to the bicycle as '45 SOLO ', the WLs in the Red Army rode with a cup of coffee.
    Where the Americans came up with the role of purely traffic-controlling and a shopping bike, the Russians rode with it at the front.
    The restoration projects now come, almost without exception, from behind the former Iron Curtain to Western Europe.
    The sources from Greece, Egypt etc have been dried up for years.
    Do not forget that almost half of WLA production has been shipped to Russia… nearly 27.000 units… more than the Americans themselves got.
    It was their most important engine for the Russians; the M72 production was far from steaming ..
    Despite the fact that Stalin was certainly as big a brute and mass murderer as the German house painter variant, the WL enthusiasts should be glad that after the war he did not 'want to know' that he had material help.
    As a result, many WLs ended up in sheds had they been untouched for years.
    If the madness surrounding 75 years of liberation is back, the prices will undoubtedly stabilize and / or fall (slightly).

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