by: Gino P. Quintiliani [ ]
The Harley-Davidson WLA was produced to US Army specifications in the years during and around World War II. It was based on an existing civilian model, the WL, and is of the 45 solo type, so called due to its 45-cubic-inch (740 cm3) engine displacement and single-rider design.
The model number breaks down as follows: W for HD’s family of motorcycles mounting the 45-cubic-inch (740 cm3) flathead motor; L was HD’s designation for a “High Compression” engine; A for Army Model. Harley-Davidson began producing the WLA in small numbers in 1940, as part of a general military expansion. The later entry of the United States into World War II saw significantly increased production, with over 90,000 being produced during the war (along with spare parts the equivalent of many more).
The US Army used motorcycles for police and escort work, courier duties, and some scouting, as well as limited use to transport radio and radio suppression equipment. Allied motorcycles were almost never used as combat vehicles or for troop mobility, and so were rarely equipped with sidecars as was common on the German side. Nevertheless, the WLA acquired the nickname "Liberator", since it was seen ridden by soldiers liberating occupied Europe.
The WLA is very similar to the civilian WL models. Among the changes making it a military model were the following. 1) Painted surfaces were generally painted olive drab or black and chrome or nickel-plated parts were generally blued or parkerized. Some parts were also left as unfinished aluminum. 2) A second set of blackout head and tail lights were added in order to reduce nighttime visibility. 3) The sides of the standard fenders were removed to reduce mud clogging. 4) Accessories such as a heavy-duty luggage rack (for radios), ammo box, leather Thompson submachine gun scabbard, skid plate, leg protectors, and windshield could be fitted. Most came with at least these accessories less the windshield or leg protectors. 5) An oil bath air cleaner, originally used for tractors and other vehicles in dusty environments, was fitted to handle the dust of off-road use and to allow easier field maintenance. 6) Changes to the crankcase breather reduced the possibility of water intake into the crankcase.
Many WLAs would be shipped to allies under the Lend-Lease program. The largest recipient was the Soviet Union, which was sold over 30,000 WLAs. Production of the WLA would cease after World War II, but would be revived for the Korean War during the years 1949–1952.
MiniArt continues to bring interesting kits to the market. Their latest kit is the Harley Davidson WLA motorcycle with an MP standing over it as its rider. The kit comes in a sturdy top-opening box. Inside the box you will find one large sprue of gray plastic for the motorcycle, a sprue of clear part that includes windshield and lights, and one medium-sized PE fret that includes spokes for the wheels and supports for the fenders. Also included is one sprue for the rider and a set of decals which includes markings for the bike and rider. The sprues are nicely molded with no flash and crisp details. The box is rounded off with a nice set of 35 step instructions in full color on glossy paper. The instructions also include a paint guide with colors listed in pretty much all the popular hobby brands; seven different brands in all.
The bike build starts with the PE spokes and fender supports. A nice feature in the kit is that there are plastic bending jigs for the spokes and fender supports. These jigs allow you to easily bend the parts into the required shapes. The spokes need to be dished and the jigs are perfect for this. I have heard that the PE spokes are a little hard to get into the tires once assembled, so be careful here. The build continues with the engine and frame. Colors are called out throughout the build as well. There are smaller PE parts throughout to add small details as well, which really bring the detail level up. These parts include a PE shift lever assembly and brackets for the Thompson MG scabbard and front forks storage box. Also included are decals and a clear lens for the speedometer and vehicle placard decals for the tank. A clear lens for the headlight is also included.
The MP figure is very nicely molded on a separate sprue. The figure is broken down into nine parts; torso, left and right legs, left and right arms, head, gloves, hat, and gloves. He is wearing knee-high riding boots and an ascot, with white gloves tucked into his left epilate. He is also wearing a back supporter that was common for motorcycle troops. He is standing over the bike as if at a checkpoint with a watchful eye on his surroundings.
The front page of the instruction booklet has a color drawing of the bike and figure, along with one of just the bike in four views that calls out colors and decal placement clearly. The markings include one set for the bike and MP. These include markings for the 82d Airborne Division, MP #6 for the bike with a division patch and a US flag for the windscreen, and stars for the sides of the tank. The Figure is finished off with MP armband markings (2, 1 extra), 82d Division Patch (2, 1 extra), and 82nd Cap badge (4 and so 3 extras).
This kit looks great and should build up into a nice representation of an MP HD WLA. The details are very crisp and the PE parts really look good. The figure fits perfectly with the bike and looks to be very detailed as well. Another great kit for MiniArt.