Following the Harley-Davidson R Model, the 45 cubic inch WL made a long successful run as a universal motorcycle starting in 1937. The WL was replaced by the Harley-Davidson K Model in 1952, and the middle-weight side-valve Harley-Davidson continued.

While using a slightly lower tech design than the 61 cubic inch OHV EL, the “flathead” WL 45 was the backbone of Harley’s lineup. Not only did it serve well as a courier machine with tens of thousands manufactured for World War II, but also in numerous two and three-wheeled versions. And it was the mount of choice for many police departments. The WL series also enjoyed great commercial service and was the basis of a machine for the 750cc, 45 cubic inch Class C racing series which AMA launched in 1934; the Harley-Davidson WR.

For comparison, the WL is the basic model, with the sportier WLD, which used a higher compression ratio, referred to as the Special Sport Solo. Wheel sizes, styling and trim were nearly identical to the “big twin” EL and later FL, but the scaled down WL’s have a shorter wheelbase and less weight which offered more nimble handling. This machine has been painted a special non-stock color, treated to chrome wheels and light bar, a windshield, crash bar, fender guard and a later buddy seat with grab rail.

Ending a long and venerable heritage, the WL model was discontinued, though WL engine production continued through 1973 for the three-wheeled Servi-Car. Competing better with British offerings, the 1952 K Model was Harley’s first production machine with rear suspension with the big twins following in 1958.

When you visit the National Motorcycle Museum you can see this personalized 1949 WL on loan to the National Motorcycle Museum from Clyde Zedick. But there is also a second 1949 WL in red on loan from the Antique Motorcycle Foundation that’s a bit closer to stock trim. There are also 65-plus other machines helping to tell the history of Harley-Davidson. Harleys on display range from a 1909 single to a great 2003 100th Anniversary CVO Road King donated by Bill Philben. In addition there are hundreds of posters, prints, photographs and advertising materials, plus apparel, signage, parts and packaging all giving you a tremendous review of Harley-Davidson history.


    • Engine: 45 Degree Side Valve V-Twin
    • Displacement: 45 Cubic Inches / 750 cc’s
    • Bore & Stroke: 2.75″ x 3.81″
    • Carburetor: Linkert
    • Ignition: 6V Battery, Points & Coils
    • Primary: Duplex Chain
    • Starting: Kick Only
    • Clutch: Dry, Multi-disk
    • Transmission: 3-Speed, Hand Shift
    • Frame: Single Down Tube
    • Suspension: Springer Fork / Rigid Rear, Sprung Seat
    • Brakes: Drum, Internal Expanding
    • Wheels/Tires: 5.00 x 16 / 5.00 x 16
    • Wheelbase: 57.5″
    • Weight: 530 Pounds
6 replies
  1. Mark
    Mark says:

    Yes and no. Given all the different models including military, three-wheelers and racing versions, there would be a variety of tire / wheel options. Earlier RLs were 4.00 x 18s, WLAs used 4.00 x 18 per military spec and I believe that’s what most race versions like the WLDR or WR would use. And of course within limits, you could order a bike as you wanted it. Earlier Harleys used 18″ wheels and many traditionalists would ask for that rim size even after 16″ wheels became the norm. And recall that part of the reason for a 16″ rear wheel was a bit of cushion given a sprung seat was your only rear suspension until 1958 on FLs, 1952 for the K model.

  2. James
    James says:

    Owned and drove one ; 1947 model , back in 1980 did some customizing to her had the cats eye dash, took off the springer front and added a later model hydraulic front with a slight ape hanger bar and a disc brake to help out the stopping ability , kept stock exhaust with the fish tail, see this one featured does not have that ; the linkert was not a desirable carb , my opinion , she would run and get on down the road I could hear those valves seating when I would get her up to 60 MPH , LOL they would be clanking . Durable and reliable though , besides that carb never know when that float was going to stick. Took a little practice before I conquered the foot clutch / hand shift , always good to find neutral before stopping . Great bar hopper 45 miles an hour was a good speed for it ; use to call her 45 MPH – 45 . Gave her up for a shovelhead, the 45 couldn’t keep up with the boys on the shovel’s back then .

  3. Rick
    Rick says:

    I owned one in the 60’s. It sure didn’t look as nice asthis. Can’t tell you haw many times it almost killed me.

  4. Steve Tolmie
    Steve Tolmie says:

    Hi guys, I have just heard of a factory 45 harley frame with twin down tubes, was a very limited production of just a few , do you have any information at all of these special bikes

  5. Dwight Wilkins
    Dwight Wilkins says:

    I had a red one in the late 1960’s it was a 1949 45 CI, looked just like this one posted except it had white saddle bags and some different handle bars. 3 speed , foot clutch. It had an odd green engine painted silver.i sold it before I married in 1969 , never saw it again.


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