It would seem almost unthinkable that any more could exist given how many incredible tales about the elusive “barn find” have been revealed over the years. One of the many things that time has taught us is that history often repeats itself. Of course, given enough time, anything is conceivable, but it seems unlikely that the tale of this 1942 Harley-Davidson WLC will have a happy ending. A real-life barn discovery makes for an interesting tale, but a WWII Harley covered in Honda parts and hidden in a Devon, England, barn? That does have a nice twist, though.
According to builder Nick Gale, “I discovered it while visiting a cousin ten years ago. I struck up a conversation with a nearby farmer while walking my dog one evening, and he revealed that his father had bought an old bike from a Canadian soldier in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. He said I could purchase it if I wanted to and that he thought it was a Harley. The farmer decided to modify the bike and get it running in 1981 after it had been stored in the barn since 1945.
Looking over the bike, I noticed that it had 18-inch Honda front and rear wheels, a Honda old gas tank, Honda fenders, a Suzuki headlight, leverhead Sportster handlebars, a hand clutch, and a sizable Vincent sprung seat. The bike’s entire frame, including the nuts and bolts, had been painted yellow by the farmer. Nick continues by stating that the bike’s UK registration had long since expired and that he had sealed the deal for the equivalent of $1,200 after verifying the engine, forks, and frame were in good condition.
“Once home, I got the bike going and was happy to see there was no knocking sounds, no smoke, and as with all ’42s, once on the road, there was no breaks either,” Nick continues.
The Harley was reduced to its bare bones and carefully disassembled, bolt by bolt, in order to get it ready for its rebirth. The first issue was experienced after two NOS 16-inch rims were bought to replace the Honda wheels. Although the farmer heated and bent the rear of the WLC frame to make room for the Honda wheel to fit, rolling the front wheel under the springer forks was still a simple process. Nick made the decision to stick with the original frame and just make the build a little funkier despite having more than one friend advise him to scrap it.
He stated, “When we cut the back off, the drop seat idea came about.” All of the original pipework was still in use, and we also chose to shape the backbone. Then the frame was created. Making the seat plunger so we could use a new seat that was significantly lower than standard was the most difficult aspect. The old seat post that had been welded in could only be removed after four hours of club hammering. The narrative sags after this point. After purchasing the cycle in 2001 and restoring the frame, customer demands overrode, and the ancient Harley-Davidson was packed away and put on hold until another time. It took another ten years for that day to arrive. The boxes were opened and made ready for use once more in the beginning of 2011.
Opening the 45-inch engine revealed yet another amazing discovery. Nick was ecstatic to find that the inside was like new and that the grease inside had leaked out because the crank had split. A close inspection revealed internally completely unmarked items with matching numbers. After reassembling the 750cc flathead with every component in its original condition, the Amal carburetor was rebuilt and given a brass velocity stack. All oil and gasoline lines were made with hand-bent copper tubing, and the remainder of the engine got brass accents over new paint. The bike arrived with a clamshell muffler that was damaged and filthy. To hide 70 years of abuse, the pipes were wrapped to hide the blemishes and a bend allows the pipe to kick up a bit for added style.
According to Nick, the mouse trap clutch is still powered by a tiny shifter that we built to change the ratios. The switch gear, levers, and wires are all original, as well as the stop and clutch systems. To accomplish what H-D intended seventy years ago, all parts were sourced as original or new old stock. The bike starts on the first or second kick, and the hill brake even sort of functions.
There are only a few parallels in the bodywork, which has a unique appearance. The rear bumper was originally a triumph component that was modified with a unique set of supports and supported by a taillight from Crime Scene Choppers. Adding some across-the-pond flair, the license tag is designed to look like an old English pub sign. What would you expect from any self-respecting English bike builder? Looking deeper into the gas tank, it becomes clear some extra effort was done.
The unit was created by Nick in two interlocking parts, just like the original, but with a little more style and a curve that better matched the frame modifications. Crime Scene Choppers provides the oil and gas fluid containers. One-of-a-kind leather seating created by Colne Creek Mota is perched atop the intensely rubbed seat hinge. A spring inside the former seat post tube is what causes the seat to sway off the frame mounts. The remaining components are all either fresh old stock or genuine ’42 Harley WLC parts. All of the exposed metals were given a deep black finish with painstakingly hand-applied gold accents.
The ’42 WLC was displayed at the South of England Rally two days after completing its six-week makeover, and it took home its first prize for winning the Best Professional Category. It made an appearance at the Bulldog Custom show’s 25th anniversary, where it won Best Classic, two weeks later. Nick realized that the Harley would likely continue to sit in boxes for another ten years if he didn’t find the time to do something with it. It evolved from a necessary task into a work of love before becoming a fixation. It is a pleasure to ride once you get used to it, as Nick best puts it. I, for one, adore it utterly.
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