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World War II was pivotal in the history of and development of not only the automotive industry – be it General Motors, Ford, Studebaker or Chrysler but also in the American motorcycle industry and industries. True today when we think of motorcycles the brand names involved – Honda or whatever usually is tinged with the Orient along with California design and engineering support. Yet most of all goes back to good old fashioned solid American motorcycles original designs and development, time and race tested back here in the USA and Canada. Yet much of the durability, reliability and innovative product development of Harley-Davidson’s themselves came from the war years and the battlefield. What then happened at Harley-Davidson after the war years ended, both for owners and at the Milwaukee head office plant?
With apparent and obvious reductions in government orders for military bikes on the way Harley-Davidson management began the process of converting for “civilian “production. It must be remembered that it was not only to American troops that these American fast and reliable transportation products went to – but also worldwide exports for allies – be it to the British Isles for British , British colonial & Canadian troops but also to such diverse areas as the Far East and Russia . Russia and the “eastern front” was a major, major product export delivery location. Most of the 88,000 motorcycles built for the war effort were “WL Forty-fives”. As told in addition to the thousands and thousands of machines sent to the British Isles, Europe and the Soviet Union. Yet a sizable inventory of the automotive transportation vehicle products remained back home in the USA at Milwaukee Harley Davidson automotive manufacturing head office. Hence to solve this oversupply problem at the automotive factory these “surplus” war models were sold in large lots at substantial discounts. It was akin to one giant auto dealer’s auction. Harley-Davidson dealers as well as assorted and varied automobile dealers and dealerships across the land – both home grown in the USA as well as the Canadian provinces and even Mexico.
Luckily the post-war demand for motorcycles and reliable transportation products was exceptionally high and thus Milwaukee resumed its emphasis on the “big twins”. The first model for a full scale civilian production was 1946 and the following year Harley-Davidson manufactured more than 20,000 , the highest output they had reached since 1929 (excluding the years of strict military production models and output).
Yet what about racing and the intertwining of race track on product design, development and strict motorcycle devotees? It did not take long for “Class C Racing” to resume at Daytona Beach in 1947. And although Indian compared to Harley-Davidson had fared poorly during the war years, the long-standing battle between the two would still be more than hotly contested on the race tracks themselves. Also and in addition as a fair number of young men returning from the war theaters looked forwards eagerly to peacetime prosperity and the freedom of the open road.
There was and continues to be no doubt about that what so ever. The legendary domestic American made and manufactured Harley-Davidson an automotive product lives on.
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