Harley Wanted to Sell Bikes to The Russians?
During WWII, Harley-Davidson was the main supplier of motorcycles to the US Armed Services. Production of their most popular model, the WLA, is thought to have been over 80,000 units.
While the bulk of these were used by American GI’s, large numbers were also sent to US Allies through the Lend Lease Program. These included the more obvious allied countries like Great Britain and France, but also less obvious allies like Russia and China. Surprisingly, the Russians received the majority of the motorcycles made available by the Lend Lease Program. Of the over 38,000 Harley-Davidson WLA’s sent around the globe, Russia received 26,000. That is why in 1944, Harley-Davidson produced a prototype for a Russian specific model, the WSR.
The “W” meant that this model used a W-series engine, the same 45″ flathead used in the WLA. The “S” indicates that it was designed for a sidecar and the “R” presumably means Russian. Although it may look like a WLA with a sidecar, the WSR had a higher frame and longer front forks which gave it more ground clearance. Perhaps it was thought this would make it better suited for riding through deep snow on the Russian front.
The German defeat and the end of WWII meant that the Russians never needed to purchase additional motorcycles including the WSR. It is believed that only one prototype WSR was produced and these may be the only existing photos to prove it.
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