20 May 2010

XA 750 showcased firsts for Harley

The summer issue of Hagerty’s magazine features Dennis Gill’s successful search for a Harley-Davidson XA 750. The bike was the American response to the smooth and durable BMW R71 used with such success by Erwin Rommel’s Wehrmacht in North Africa in WWII, and it showcased many firsts for the famed motorcycle manufacturer.

For Harley-Davidson, the 1942 XA 750 was unusual in many ways. It was commissioned by the U.S. Army for the North African desert campaign against Germany’s General Rommel – known as the Desert Fox – and it was heavily influenced by contemporary BMW military motorcycles. The motorcycles the United States had been using in the desert war tended to run hot in desert conditions and experienced frequent chain breakage. The new opposed twin XA was intended to combat the disadvantages of traditional Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles used by the American military.

However, by the time the XA was designed, built and tested, the war in North Africa was ending and the Jeep had been successfully deployed in multiple theaters of combat. As a result, the 1,011 XAs produced never saw duty. It’s estimated that only about 30 running XAs remain. Of those, six complete, running XAs are known in California.

For Harley-Davidson, the XA was a new type of motorcycle intended for use under the most arduous conditions. In paying close attention to the BMW R71 after which it was modeled, the Milwaukee company departed from its own convention with the XA 750 and the machine incorporated many firsts for the company:

  • Opposed two-cylinder, air-cooled engine: Never repeated in a Harley-Davidson
  • Shaft drive: Never repeated in a Harley-Davidson
  • Welded frame: Introduced in larger production bikes about 1973.
  • First direct four-speed shift: Introduced in production bikes in 1955 K model.
  • Centrifugal Advance Distributor: Introduced in production bikes in 1964.
  • Spring and plunger rear suspension: Introduced in production bikes in 1956.
  • 14 millimeter spark plugs: Introduced in production bikes in 1949.
  • Heavy duty Springer front fork: Similar to the 74c.i., but two inches longer for road clearance.
  • Only matched twin Linkert carburetors on a Boxer-style opposed engine other than racing cycles.
  • Left-hand throttle to allow for weapon discharge while riding.
  • Two 2.25 gallon gas tanks with separate shutoff valves. One to get you there and one to get you back!
  • Sealed beam headlight: Introduced on production bikes in 1949.
  • Positive ground electrical wiring

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