1941 Harley-Davidson WRTT

1941 Harley-Davidson WRTT

In the USA during 1932 Class C racing was established to take the emphasis away from exclusive and expensive factory racers to machines that had to be purchased off the showroom floor in full road trim. This worked well initially with racers buying a Harley RL 750 or an Indian Scout off the dealer floor and modifying to make suitable for either the dirt ovals or TT tracks which were becoming popular at the time. In 1935 Harley decided there was merit in incorporating engine modifications to a standard road model and offering it to dealers that were known to support established racing stars. These bikes left the factory in full road trim. Designated the RLDR, 29 were built in 1935 and 79 in 1936. With the introduction of the W Series in 1937 Harley continued the same formula with the WLDR with engine modifications becoming a bit more aggressive each year. The WLDR’s that won at Daytona Beach in 1938, 1939 and 1940 bore modifications that left them with not too much in common with their showroom siblings.

Although it appears that there had been no relaxation in Class C rules, maybe with the threat of British high performance singles (supplied with full road trim) or that Harley had enough clout to do as it pleased it introduced the purpose built WR and WRTT models for 1941. These were supplied in full race trim and specification included ball bearing camshafts, slipper cam followers, modified valve angles, magneto ignition and racing carburettor. 36 were built with the handful of WRTT’s having brakes (not allowed on dirt ovals) and various other factory options that could include cast aluminium frame mounted oil tanks and up to 5 gallon gas tanks to greatly increase fuel range for races such as the Daytona Beach 200 miler.

The Daytona 200 was the most prestigious race in the US and ironically the WR was destined to never win it. Not to underplay Harleys success in the event in 1941 while Bill Mathews on a Norton won there were no less than 16 Harleys in the top 20 placegetters a testimony to the Milwaukee brands durability in long distance races.

It is believed no more than 10 1941 WR’s exist so to find one and to find one in original condition would indeed be a tall order. Eric Mathieu’s Beauty of Speed website has a very informative register on WLDR and WR models and includes a photo of a blue WRTT named the Beast. Imagine our surprise in 2012 when browsing the dreaded EBay one cool winters evening in Melbourne there it is the ‘Beast” up for auction. The description told of its Daytona race history and how the owner when it’s racing career was over put ‘The Beast” was put into storage until 1975 when a friend of the vendor purchased it and promptly put it into storage for another 25 years? The vendor had purchased it in 2000 and had considered commencing the restoration process but fortunately never got around to it. Yes he left it in storage. We left a bid on it (higher than any sane person would leave we were sure) and went to bed. Turn the computer on next morning to find we have won (ironical that expression) and the bike is available for pick up only south of Los Angeles! Fortunately our good friend Joe Koopersmith was duly despatched from Oregon to go and make the pickup for us. Thanks Joe. 

Eventually “the Beast” arrived in Melbourne. Certainly time had taken its toll on various finishes, tyres were rotted, seat was missing and gas caps had been borrowed many moons ago. What did we do after its arrival? Along with its 3 previous owners put it into storage! Come 2017 we decided it was time for 1941 WRTT 1 of a handful to get some well-deserved attention. The entire bike was given a dunking of Kroil. Those familiar with this wonder liquid are usually entranced by the magical way it gives rusty components a wonderful sheen wiping away what is often years of neglect. New Dunlop K70 tyres our tyre of default for such projects were fitted and the seat was borrowed from our restored WRTT. Its patina matched perfectly. Rear fender was reinstalled and engine was given a rigorous spin over. How does it run? Well that is a story for another day. Stay tuned.

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1928 Harley-Davidson FHAD

1928 Harley-Davidson FHAD

Hillclimbing was a popular sport in the 1920’s and like every other form of competition Harley-Davidson built a machine specifically for it. This 1928 FHAD is a factory built hillclimber based on the 61-in. Two-Cam racing motor, designed to compete with similar motorcycles from Excelsior and Indian. The chained rear tyre is typical for hillclimbers of the era – knobby tyres were still a generation away.

Built on a “Keystone” frame, where the engine is held in by plates for rigidity, the FHAD was a single-purpose machine. Its gas tank held only ¾ gallon, its footboards were sloped forward for frontal weight distribution, its chains and sprockets we quite narrow, its fork was raked for uphill acceleration and only one gear (high), and only one brake (rear) were available.


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1925 Harley-Davidson FHAC OHV

1925 Harley-Davidson FHAC OHV

With the introduction of an expert 750cc class for Hill Climbing in 1926, Harley riders found themselves at a great disadvantage to their Indian and Excelsior rivals. The Milwaukee factory had no 750cc bike of any type in their model range.

Harley Dealer Oscar Lenz from Lansing Michigan solved this problem with this unique machine. Often referred to incorrectly as a Knuth after the specials Milwaukee Harley dealer Knuth built, supposedly in collaboration with the factory. Documentation suggests this machine, ‘The Camel”, was built two years before the Knuth’s appeared on the scene.

Lenz was a first class engineer and went on to develop ‘The Camel’ into a winning machine up to as late as 1929, when on June 23rd he won the 45 inch expert class at Port Huron Michigan. Oscar Lenz was no mean racer and by the mid 1930’s had won 6 Jack Pine Enduro’s.

‘The Camel’ dubbed as such by onlookers because of the unique seat position Lenz installed on the bike giving him a distinctive riding position making him easy to identify. A Harley racing FHAC (25FHAC523) bottom end was used for the power plant to which modified OHV Peashooter cylinders and heads were grafted. It is believed that initially both heads were of dual port configuration but when the front head disintegrated only a single port could be found for replacement. There are alternate theories that with the rear cylinder breathing better, only a single port was needed on the front to make for a smooth running engine. Running gear is an assortment of Harley road and racing parts suitably modified to do one job, get up a hill real fast, as Oscar Lentz invariably did.

Prior Ownership
Oscar Lentz
Unknown
Dick Winger
RL Jones
EJ Cole
Harley City Collection


From the archives

Acknowledgment ‘Classic Harley-Davidson’ by Herbert Wagner.
Photo credit: Allan Reidie


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