The XLA Sportster, Harley’s Last Military V-Twin

Originally posted on Riding Vintage

XLA01

During WWII, Harley-Davidson produced thousands of WLA motorcycles for the United States and it’s Allies.  Some sources estimate the total number of motorcycles at 70,000 units and enough spare parts to build 30,000 more.  Other sources are more conservative, but the fact is, Harley-Davidson produced a lot of motorcycles for the military in the 1940’s.  This left a huge surplus of motorcycles after the war and with the motorcycle being phased out in favor of the Jeep 4×4, it wasn’t until 1957 that the military placed another order for motorcycles with Harley-Davidson.  This time they weren’t interested in an combat ready machine, but instead a patrol vehicle to use on base.  Harley’s answer was the Sportster XLA.

Built for the US Army and Military Police, the XLA began production in 1957.

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Except for it’s olive drab paint scheme, the XLA was very similar to the civilian XL model.  It was powered by the same OHV 883cc v-twin engine with 2-into-1 exhaust and mated to a 4-speed transmission.  Like the XL, the XLA also had rear shocks, which were not available on Big Twins until the following model year in 1958.  Some of the earlier XLA used a “oilbath aircleaner” like the WLA, but this was eventually replaced by the standard round model.

XLA04

Only 418 XLA’s were made for the US military during the period from 1957-1965.  After the XLA, Harley-Davidson would never produce another v-twin powered motorcycle for the US military.  They did make one more attempt at a military motorcycle in the 1990’s, but it was a Rotax powered dirt bike.

Other militarized Sportsters were built during the same time period for export as are shown in this picture taken somewhere in Portugal.

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