The Unofficial Harley-Davidson XA Web Site
A Brief History
Hello and welcome. Just over 1,000 Harley-Davidson Model XAs were built. Very little has been written about the history the Harley-Davidson XA-750. It is my intention to offer as much history and useful information possible all in one spot about this truly one-of-a-kind model built for the United States Army during World War II.
I hope you will enjoy this site and take away some valuable information regarding this legendary motorcycle.
-- Ron Ostarello, Harley-Davidson enthusiast.
First the earth cooled. Then dinosaurs roamed the earth. Then there was an ice age and the dinosaurs got big and fat and died. Then there was oil. Oh, a little too far back? Sorry.
The Other Beginning
Where do we begin? A wise person once said it is always smart to begin at the beginning. Or was that a line from a movie? So, just in case you don't know, here is a very brief history of the Motor Company up to World War II.
In 1903 William Harley and three brothers Arthur, William and Walter Davidson, built the first "Harley-Davidson" motorcycle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Basically, it was just a bicycle with a motor and riders had to help by pedaling up hills. The bike became a big hit. By 1909 the company had upgraded its design to feature a new engine, with two cylinders arranged in a "V" angle. The new "V-twin" engine produced a deep, rumbling sound that became the trademark of the Harley. With this more powerful engine the bike could exceed 60 mph, and the hills were no longer a problem. The success of the new model encouraged other manufacturers to enter the market, and by 1913 Harley and the Davidson brothers had over 150 competitors. These included Thor, Flying Merkel, Henderson, Excelsior and of course, Indian. (Indian was founded in 1901).
By selling to the U.S. military and police, Harley-Davidson maintained a competitive advantage. During World War I (1914-1918), the U.S. armed forces commissioned 20,000 Harley-Davidson bikes. The company developed new technologies during the 1920s, such as the unique teardrop-shaped gas tank and front brakes, which enabled it to outsell many of its competitors. Most other bike manufacturers in the United States were unable to survive Great Depression of the '30s, and by the early '40s the only ones remaining were Harley-Davidson and Indian, a company famous for its Ghost line of motorcycles.
Now, let us go to an era when the dark storm clouds of war were looming for the United States of America. Let us go to 1941.
Harley-Davidson produced the WLA Model 45" for the U.S. Army. It was a great, reliable flat-headed power plant that allowed soldiers to act as messengers, go on the offensive and, in general, cruise where no other vehicle would take them. Even so, it wasn't good enough for the high heat and desert sand that North Africa had.
"We want a shaft drive motorcycle to go up against General Rommel," said
the Army. Harley-Davidson devised the XA-750 to fit the Army's
requirements. They built 1,011 of them and reportedly enough spare parts
to make another 1,000 motorcycles.
When the Army ordered a shaft drive motorcycle for use in North Africa against the German Army, Harley-Davidson built the XA-750 and Indian built the 841. The Harley used a springer front end that was two inches longer than any other springer Harley was using for civilian production.
America is plunged into World War II. Production of civilian motorcycles is almost entirely suspended in favor of military production. The Service School is converted to the Quartermasters School for the training of military mechanics.
Except for a few models the U.S. government "o.k.'d" for civilian use, models produced during the war years were made for the U.S. military. The XA was one of those models. Others included the WLA and WLC.
According to Jerry Hatfield, author of several books about Harley-Davidson, Walter Davidson, William S. Harley and William H. Davidson went to Washington, DC, on February 17, 1941 to submit bids for production of the shaft-drive motorcycle the Army wanted. The Harley-Davidson team told the government they could produce the XA in a quantity of 1,000 for only $870.35 per copy. Or, they said, the Motor Company could produce 1,500 for $731.01 each. Lastly, the Milwaukee team pitched building 3,000 units at a cost of only $569.61 each to the government.
The Army opted for a mere 1,000 XAs with all deliveries to be completed by July 1942.
The Harley-Davidson XA-750 models were pressed into service by the United States Army. Some made their way to, among other places, Ft. Carson, Colorado and Ft. Knox, Kentucky. It was in Kentucky that Private Milton J. Long was chosen by Lt. John Harley, son of Harley-Davidson founder William S. Harley, to ride an XA as an escort for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The United States Army ordered over 1,000 XAs for use in the desert. Unfortunately, none ever saw combat. It is truly unknown how many XA-750s were produced from 1942-1946. Some accounts have exactly 1,011. Others say versions of the basic XA were produced in small quantities as late as 1946.
Some reports have Harley-Davidson making several more units during those years including some just for the engines for use powering a mini version of the Jeep called the "Peep," snowmobiles and outfits with a shaft driven sidecar wheel.
After the war, Harley-Davidson continued to think of ways to use the XA-750 as part of their civilian line up and in 1946 created a prototype Servi-Car with the XA engine as its power plant.
World War II had ended. Harley-Davidson's XA-750 shaft drive never saw the lucrative contract for steady production nor the light of combat. The U.S. Government sold and disposed of their inventory of XA "prototypes" as well as their spare parts as military surplus through their normal channels. It has been said that many were either cut up and sold off in parts or destroyed by the government. It is unknown how many of these still exist, but estimates put the number at fewer than 300 world-wide. Some estimates are as low as 60 complete, working XAs.
Since World War II, Harley-Davidson XA-750s seldomly come up for sale, and it is especially rare to find one that is complete and un-restored.
"I just wanted to take the work out of pedaling to the lake to go fishing." -- William S. Harley