1946 Harley-Davidson WR
August 9, 2009 9:05 PM
Jay bought his WR nearly 30 years ago, from a man who bought it new from the factory in 1946.
Less than two decades after first building their first motor-bicycle, Harley-Davidson had become the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world by 1920, with dealers in 67 countries. Back in the day, the proof was in the putting on the racetrack, where H-D was deadlocked into fierce competition with arch-rival Indian. Throughout the 1930s, Harley motorcycles would dominate American racing, thanks primarily to record-breaking star Joe Petrali, who won every race on the national schedule in 1935. Hoping to shake things up and lure private motorcycle owners back into competition, the AMA developed a new racing category, Class C, in 1937. Class C required racing machines to originate as production stock, and limited the field to 45 cubic inch 750cc side valve engines or 30.5 cubic inch 500cc OHV engines, effectively sidelining many higher performance European marques. Unwilling to share the track with the Class C mob, Petrali retired from racing in 1938, clearing the way for a brand new era in American motorcycle racing.
Despite the onset of the war, which severely curtailed the production of civilian vehicles, Harley-Davidson introduced its legendary WR in 1941, designed specifically for Class C competition. Based on the W series, the WR's iron-barreled 738cc V-twin featured a stronger, lighter frame; larger, polished valves and ports; and three-speed transmission with foot clutch and hand gearshift. In order to save the cost of designing a proprietary magneto, H-D used a Wico magneto originally designed for a four-cylinder tractor.
Sold without lights or brakes, the WR was a lean, stripped-down racing machine. Rather than build their own team, Harley-Davidson opened a racing department, designed to assist private owners to modify their individual machines, utilizing the company's thick catalogue of performance parts and accessories. Most importantly, anyone could buy one, from any Harley-Davidson dealership, which effectively leveled the playing field on the race track. By 1948, the WR had won 19 of 23 national championship races, including seven out of the top ten places at Daytona. As sales boomed, the WR earned its worldwide reputation as one of the most beautiful and legendary motorcycles of all time.