Reviving the 1942 Harley WLC
So many wonderful stories have been uncovered as decades gone by, chronicling the elusive“barn find” appears almost impossible that any more could exist. The years have taught uslots of stories and none are prevalent than the fact that old stories are retold. Certainly, givenplenty of time, anything is possible, however the story behind this ‘42 Harley-Davidson WLCappears to be a one time episode. A genuine barn find makes for a good story, but a WWIIHarley covered in Honda parts and hidden away in a barn in a rural region in England? Well that would make a great story.
Custom builder Nick Gale tells us, “I found it whilst visiting a loved one 10 years/ten years ago. I got to talk to a local farmer when I was strolling my dog one evening and the man said to mehe has a vintage motorbike his father had bought in 1945 from a soldier following the Second World War. The local farmer told me he knows it was a Harley, and that it is for sale. The bikehad stayed in his barn from 1945 until1981 he made a decision to customize it and make it work.”
Looking over the motorcycle, it had 18-inch front and rear wheels from Honda, an old Hondagas tank, Honda fenders, a Suzuki headlight, handlebars from an lronhead Sportster, a hand clutch, and a huge Vincent sprung seat. The farmer had coated the entire bike yellow, includingall the nuts and bolts. Nick goes on to say that the motorcycle had an expired registration and after checking the engine, forks, and frame making sure they were complete, he made the offerfor $1,200.
Nick said, “Once home, I got the motorcycle running and was glad to see there was nocrackling sounds, no smoke, and like all ’42s, once on the road, there are no breaks.”
To prep the Harley for its resurrection, it was stripped down and thoroughly gone through bolt by bolt. New 16-inch wheels were purchased to exchange the Honda wheels and the very firstsnafu started. Running the front rim under the springer forks was easy enough, but the farmer had heated and bent the rear of the WLC’s body to make room for the Honda wheel to match.With most of his friends telling him its junk, Nick decided to keep up the classic framework and just get a little funkier with the build.
Nick said, “The drop seat idea came about when we cut the rear off. We used most of theoriginal muffler and chose to shape the backbone too. So, the framework was born. The most difficult aspect was having the seat plunger to enable us to use a new seat cut down by couple of inches from what it had before. It took four hours using a hammer to remove the existingseat post that had been fused together.”
From here the story goes stagnant. Right after owning the bike in 2001 and getting the frameredone, “customer wants” have prevailed and the old Harley Davidson was boxed and shelvedfor yet another day. That day did not come for another 10 years. At the beginning of 2011 thebins were opened up and readied for work once again.
Breaking open the 45-inch engine unveiled another big find. To Nick’s pleasure, the interiorwas almost new and with the crank split, the World War II oil spilled out. Examiningthoroughly unveiled completely unmarked interiors with matching numbers. After bringing thecomplete stock 750cc flathead together again, the Amal carburetor was refurbished and toppedwith a brass velocity stack. The rest of the engine decorated with brass over fresh paint and all oil and fuel pipes were created with manually bent copper tubing. The bike was included with abattered and soiled clamshell exhaust. To hide 70 years of abuse, the pipes were wrapped to hide the imperfections plus a bend allows the pipe to boast a bit for added style.
Nick said, “The gears are changed by a compact shifter we put together which still runs clutch. All brakes and clutch mechanisms are authentic as are all the switch gear, levers, and cables.All the parts were acquired as authentic or refurbished stock wich would likely be the same asHarley might have done decades ago. The motorcycle ignites on the 1st or 2nd kick not to mention the hill brake is working, well, sort of.”
Body-work was not overdone and bears an original overall look, but that is when thesimilarities stop. The rear fender began life as a winning piece that had been adapted with acustom-made set of struts and supported with a tail light. Adding some across-the-pond look, the license plate is meant to look like an old English pub sign. What would you expect from anytenured British bike builder? Peeking deep into the bike’s tank, it becomes clear a little bit morework was done.
Nick designed and built the unit into two parts that interlock just as the original but with a bit more style and a bend more in line with the frame tweaks. The seat moves from the frameworksupports to a spring within the classic seat post tube. The rest of the components are genuine’42 Harley WLC or new old stock. A deep black coating was applied to all the exposed metalswith gold highlights painstakingly applied by hand. One last thing is a vintage motorcycle helmet to carry out the WW II look of the bike.
Within two days of its six-week conversion process, the ’42 WLC was presented at the South of England Rally and hooked its first trophy as winner of the Best Professional Category. A couple weeks later it made an appearance and won Best Classic at the annual Bulldog Custom Show. After sitting in boxes for 10 years, Nick clearly understood that if he didn’t spare the time to sit and work with the Harley, it would be subject to another 10 years of sitting there. It went from a must-do project into a labor of love, then developed into an obsession. Nick sums it up best,“It is a joy to drive a bike once you get used to it. I, for one, love it to death.”
This season, motorcycle rallies are going to kick off from various states. A multitude of motorcyclists will be congregating for a week of celebration all expressing their love for bikes. You’ll encounter a lot of stories and building ideas to talk about with new friends while you spend the time in while in the rally. Remember to travel protected and wear the necessary protective equipment like carbon fiber helmets. Have a great time and have a great ride.