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Motorworld’s newspaper №13
Test-drive video

In 1941, Harley-Davidson got a US Government contract for the development of a new motorcycle designated for military operations in North Africa. The WLA model, which was already supplied to the US Army did not have one important feature which was critical in the harsh dust and sand conditions – the shaft drive. Thus, the Harley-Davidson XA was born (XA means “experimental, army-use”), a motorcycle that had little in common with the main Harley-Davidson range, even though it was equipped with a twin-cylinder, ohv engine, that was practically identical to the 739cc engine of the WLA model.

Harley-Davidson XA

BBy 1941, German engineers have already learned that the exposed chain drive gets quickly disabled under desert conditions and that using shaft drives was the only way to achieve reliability. That’s why John Nowak, the designer of the XA model, decided to apply the development of the Wehrmacht, practically copying the XA from the trophy BMW R71 (in some sources BMW R12), which was successfully used in campaigns of the African Corps.

Motor Cycling magazine article of n October 1942 describing a new motorcycle model: Harley-Davidson XA

As an experiment, a variation of Model XA was designed in 1942 that was dubbed Model XS: its main difference from the XA was a sidecar with a drive wheel. The transmission to the sidecar wheel was done by a transverse shaft driven by crown gear and pinion gear. Besides, several modifications of the basic XA model were effected, including using Firestone tractor-type tires, outfitting the motorcycle with a second seat, as well as installing the exhaust system higher than that of XA.

The sidecar was very unusual as compared to standard civilian types: it had an opening on one side in the style of Jeep automobiles plus a mudguard and a locker. A spare wheel was affixed to the back side of the sidecar.

Harley-Davidson XS

By the time the U.S. government was ready to conclude a contract for the supply of motorcycles, the war in North Africa was over. Besides, Jeep was successfully coping with the tasks that the XA model was supposed to perform. Therefore, in 1943, the desert motorcycle project was closed.
The Harley-Davidson XA, presented in the ‘Motorworld by V. Sheyanov’ collection, is one of the hundred motorcycles produced with solid wheels, which should improve the cross-country ability of the vehicle when driving on the sand.

A total of 1,023 copies of the XA model were produced.

Manufacturer Harley-Davidson Motors Co., Milwakee (Wisconsin, USA)
Years of manufacture 1941 – 1943
Quantity produced, units 1023
Today’s value
Type Twin-cylinder, horizontally-opposed
Engine capacity, cc 739
Bore and stroke, mm 78 х 78
Engine rating 23 h.p. at 4600 rpm
Sparking Battery type
Battery 6 V
Clutch Dry, single-plate
Transmission 4-speed
Frame type Tubular duplex
Front suspension Springer
Rear suspension Spring-mounted, telescopic
Brakes Drum type
Wheel size 5,50 х 16
Length, mm
2 300
Width, mm
Height, mm
1 020
Wheelbase, mm
1 500
Ground clearance, mm
Seat height, mm
Mass, kg
Gas tank size, l
Maximum speed, km/h
Range, km

* – Data from the results of the measurement of the “Motorworld by V.Sheyanov” exhibit.