A vintage Harley-Davidson shipped off for World War I has returned to American soil and will be on display for a few days in Mobile before its owner begins an ambitious cross-country journey.
According to information released Wednesday by the Alabama State Port Authority and the GulfQuest National Maritime Museum of the Gulf Coast, the 1918 Harley-Davidson Model J with sidecar was among 20,000 motorcycles that Harley-Davidson built for the American Expeditionary Force that fought in Europe. (Indian and other manufactures also built tens of thousands of motorcycles for the effort.)
According to information released by GulfQuest and ASPA, French citizen Christophe de Goulaine found and purchased the bike about 10 years ago and had it restored by a friend, Pierre Lauvergeat. The two made plans for a repatriation tour; the bike was shipped out of Port Saint Nazaire in May and arrived at the Port of Mobile on Wednesday.
“This is the first time the motorcycle has rolled on U.S. soil since its export to France 100 years ago,” said Jimmy Lyons, director and chief executive officer for the Port Authority.
On Monday, de Goulaine and Lauvergeat will roll out for Jacksonville, Fla. Planned stops after that include a visit to Harley-Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee.
“In all, we plan to complete 9000 kilometers (5600 miles) on a 1918 motorcycle without any special technical assistance,” de Goulaine said in an ASPA/GulfQuest news release.
Before that trip begins, the motorcycle “built to liberate Europe,” in de Goulaine’s words, will be on display at GulfQuest. It’ll be shown on Thursday, Friday, Saturday (aside from a morning visit to Mobile Bay Harley-Davidson) and Sunday.
“We thought it was a rare opportunity for us to showcase a piece of military history that transited seaports 100 years ago, assisted the war effort, and found its way back home through the Port of Mobile,” said Brent Beall, GulfQuest’s interim executive director.
According to the National Motorcycle Museum, Model J production began in 1915 and continued well after the war, when it evolved into a premium civilian model. If featured a three-speed transmission and various versions of V-twin engines making up to 18 horsepower.
For information on GulfQuest, visit www.gulfquest.org. According to the site, museum hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.