1936 Harley-Davidson 45

1936 Harley-Davidson 45

The engine in this 1936 Harley-Davidson may not look remarkable, but it is. In fact, it ranks among the longest-lasting powerplants in motorcycle history.

Introduced in 1929, the Harley "45" was the company’s first entry into the 45-cubic-inch (750cc) class. And although the model designation changed over the years, this same basic engine design survived in the Harley lineup through 1973. That would be like a company selling a new motorcycle today with an engine design from 1956!

What makes that even more remarkable is that the engine involved wasn’t terribly advanced for its day. It’s a side-valve design with a long stroke that made great torque, but modest horsepower, even by the standards of the 1930s.

The original Harley 45, designated the D model, wasn’t particularly fast, and it had teething problems with the clutch and generator. But its low price of $195 made it the right motorcycle for the Depression era. It also became the basis for Harley’s efforts in the new, production-based, Class C racing in 1934. And by ’36, when this RLD version was built, the 45 had become a strong, reliable, mid-sized motorcycle.

This RLD, which sold for $295, was the sportiest version in the streetbike lineup of 45s that included a total of five machines that year.

"It was the high-performance model, and also very stylish," says Mark Jonas, son of the machine’s owner, Gerald Jonas.

Styling touches include a fishtail muffler, a chrome-plated air filter and a tasteful blue-and-ivory paint scheme on the streamlined tank and fenders.

The next year, the Harley 45, with further enhancements, evolved into the "W" line, which went in four very different directions. The standard streetbike eventually became known as the WL, while the racing version became the WR. Then there was the WLA, the main motorcycle used by the U.S. Army in World War II.

Finally, there was the longest-lasting 45 of them all, the Servi-Car, a three-wheeled utility vehicle introduced in 1932, powered by the side-valve Harley 45 engine. When production of two-wheeled W models ended in 1951, this model, a favorite of police parking-enforcement divisions, soldiered on. In fact, you could buy a Servi-Car with a side-valve 45 engine right through 1973, which made the design older than many of the officers riding it.

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