Nearly 100 Exceptional Motorcycles Covering 60 Years of History

Complete. Thorough. Representative. Connoisseurs might possess such goals when building a collection, but in truth most vehicles are purchased with desire, emotion, and impulse rather than single-mindedness.  The Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection is exceptional, though, in the sheer breadth of the timeline it represents, from the earliest years of H-D production to the end of the company’s classic era.  They’re all heading to Mecum’s blockbuster Las Vegas auction in January 2022, and will surely be the center of attention in the arena, with nearly 100 beautifully restored models covering every year of the Motor Co.’s history from 1910 to 1969.  That timeline includes two World Wars and several ‘difficult’ years when production was extremely limited, and rare models that have nearly been forgotten to history. And as most of the collection’s motorcycles were restored by one person to an extremely high standard, it’s remarkably consistent in quality and universal appeal: they’re all beauties, even the military bikes.


Parsing out digestible segments from the Heritage Collection is made easier by the interruptions of military service over its 60-year timeline.  Before WW1, Harley-Davidson offered a Fordian choice of color options: you could have any color you liked, as long as it was Renault Grey.  Those early machine are discretely lovely with their blue pinstripes, but everything changed as it became clear the USA was headed to war in Europe.  At least, it was clear to the William Harley and the Davidson brothers, who were men of great ambition, but whose factory was far from being #1 in the marketplace, that spot had being held by rival Indian. Indian expected that, as the top manufacturer in the country, they would naturally be chosen first for military contracts in the event of war.

While most of the H-D Heritage Collection is accurately restored, a few are barn find original, like this remarkably complete 1914 Model F. [Mecum]
The clever gents at Harley-Davidson had in mind to leapfrog their way to the top, and indeed they did, by offering free rider training and repair schools to the military, plus guarantees for a robust spares supply. Thus H-D’s representatives were literally on base with soldiers all over the USA, developing relationships that would last for years after the war, regardless repair instructions covered all motorcycles in the military arsenal.  The generosity of the Harley-Davidson offer was not lost on the military, and the success of Harley-Davidson’s strategy was the beginning of the company’s long focus on military, police, and institutional clients as a stable source of revenue.  And in case anyone missed the message that H-D were 100% behind the US military, they changed their monochromatic color scheme from Renault Grey to a military Olive Green in 1917, for all models, and for the next decade.

The 1920 Harley-Davidson WF Sport Twin was their first flat-twin and their first sidevalve motorcycle. There would be more of both! This one is rare and what a restoration! [Mecum]
The pre-WW1 1910-1916 Harley-Davidsons in the Heritage Collection include both the original single-cylinder models, and the later V-twins that would become the hallmark of the company for the next 100+ years.  The single-cylinder models include both belt drive and chain drive examples, of the type that have recently won the cross-USA Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, twice. Clearly, the original H-D single was a robust machine, and set the pattern for all models to come.

A mainstay of the 1920s, a 1923 H-D JD in Brewster Green, a two-year color option, and a break from 14 years of Olive Green! [Mecum]
The Collection’s inter-war models from 1919-1941 include a multitude of interesting and rare machines from a period of experimentation by the factory.  After WW1, Harley-Davidson had few rivals, but Indian and Excelsior built popular motorcycles in a variety of configurations and capacities, which forced H-D to respond. Indian’s small-capacity Scout V-twins were big sellers, and Excelsior also built a 750cc (45ci) model, the Super X, that opened up a whole new sales category.  Harley-Davidson responded with new single-cylinder models for the road, and the Collection includes several, including a very rare overhead valve 1929 Model B with lights and fenders.  The Collection also includes one of only two flat-twin models in H-D history, the 1920 Sport Twin Model 20WF, which was proven be sporting indeed, but was not popular, and quickly dropped.  The Sport Twin is thus scarce, and increasingly collectible for its technical fascination and obscurity. The rest of the 1920s was dominated by the J series V-twin, which had a 15-year production run in various iterations, and proved a very reliable and robust motorcycle with good performance. The Collection includes 16 examples of the J series, from the prototypical 1915 Model 11F with the factory’s first 3-speed gearbox, to a 1929 JD model, the mainstay of the decade, with full electrics and classic lines.

The Art Deco style of mid-1930s H-Ds is undeniably elegant: this hot 1936 VLH looks superb in it two-tone paint. [Mecum]
Everything changed for Harley-Davidson in 1930, which was unrelated to the Depression: radical model changes for that year had been in development for years. The factory foresaw the end of the line for the F-head engine configuration, which Count DeDion had popularized in 1898, which established the motorcycle industry worldwide.  The F-head was less reliable than the sidevalve engine both on the road and in racing, so from 1930-36 H-D made the switch for all its roadsters.  The Heritage Collection includes many examples from the era.  Two examples of the original 45ci Model D series from 1930/31 are important rarities, being the factory’s answer to the Indian Scout and Super X, which became the foundation of their future racing program all the way through 1968!  There are also several classic, beautifully restored Big Twin sidevalve models from the era, including several from the V and U series, which were produced all the way up to 1948, and are increasingly sought after for their clean lines and stone reliability.

The ‘Liberator’ as it was known, the prosaic 1943 WLA sidevalve, with 80,000 or so built, and few original survivors. [Mecum]
Of course, the big news in 1936 was the introduction of Harley-Davidson’s first overhead valve Big Twin, the EL ‘Knucklehead’, with an all-new chassis and 4-speed gearbox, adopted across the whole range.  Pre-War Knuckleheads are among the most hotly collected Harley-Davidsons, and the Heritage Collection includes beautiful examples from 1937, ’38, ’39, and ’40.  Moving to the war years, several military machines in the Collection are real standouts for rarity: a Model XA, one of only 1000 produced in response to a War Dep’t request for a machine suitable for North African desert fighting, much like a BMW R71.  A captured BMW was sent to Milwaukee, and voilá, the XA was born, incidentally with the Motor Co’s first use of rear suspension, and shaft drive.  Other WW2-era rarities in the Collection include an unusual military UL Big Twin, and a beautiful civilian Model 44F Knucklehead from 1944, when ‘no’ civilian models were produced.  The bulk of the War years in the Collection are classic WLA military machines as supplied in their tens of thousands, which became known as ‘the Liberator’ for their role in winning WW2.  All six of the Collection’s WLAs are perfectly restored and include decommissioned Thompson sub-machine guns in their leather scabbards.

Post-war Big Daddy: a 1948 FL Panhead, a first-year model with springer forks, and the most collectible Panhead of all. [Mecum]
Postwar treasures include an ultra-collectable, first-year 1948 FL ‘Panhead’ model with springer forks and a rigid frame, plus every significant iteration of the Panhead afterwards, with the transition to full suspension from the first-year Hydra-Glide telescopic forks and a rigid rear end, to the Duo-Glide with rear shocks, and finally the Electra Glide with an electric start.   A few Sprint, Topper, and Sportster models are interspersed with the full 22 years of the Panhead represented, plus ten years’ worth of the new Shovelhead after that model was introduced in 1968.

Rare in original condition, this 1972 FX Super Glide Night Train was Willie G. Davidson’s answer to the chopper craze of the 1960s and 70s. [Mecum]
If you have any interest in owning a true classic, the Harley-Davidson Heritage Collection represents a veritable supermarket of delectable, appropriately restored machines.  It is truly a remarkable collection, and will make for sensational viewing in Las Vegas, as such a display of Harley history has never been seen in such a complete and expansive timeline. Buy one, or buy them all to make an instant museum!

A masterpiece of design, marred by an ordinary motor, the 1978 XLCR was H-D’s first cafe racer, and a bold step to answer a global challenge in the 1970s. [Mecum]




Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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