Americans and Motorcycles…
It’s a love affair that goes back in time past 1896– when Sylvester Roper died in the saddle of his coal-fired, steam-powered velocipede on a test track.
And today, when most folks hear the expression “American Made Motorcycle”, think Harley-Davidson.
It’s natural, I guess, since Milwaukee based Harley-Davidson has precious little American made competition since the early 1950’s.
One competitor that has appeared and disappeared in several incarnations is “Indian“.
Originally established in 1901, it was called the Hendee Manufacturing Company, after founder George Hendee, before changing it’s name to Indian Moto-cycles in 1928.
Some of Indian’s bikes were extremely popular, and at one time, Indians even outsold Harley-Davidsons.
The original company went bankrupt in 1953, although bikes with the Indian name have been manufactured at various periods since then by other companies….
For instance: England’s Royal Enfield-made bikes badged “Indian” for the American market between 1955 and 1960… including a 700cc Chief, Trailblazer, and Apache.
In the later sixties, Floyd Clymer had the Italian company ItalJet produce 750 cc ItalJet Grifons with Royal Enfield engines and Indian badging ( they also made 50 cc mini bikes called a Indian Papoose ) .
The bike died out in the 70’s and 80’s, becoming more germaine to the court system relative to licensing rights than anything else.
In the late 1990’s another effort was made to revive the brand by the California Motorcycle Company of Gilroy, California, originally using stock S&S engines, and afterwards a 1600 cc (1000 cubic inches) Powerplus engine design from the original Indian company, but this went belly up in 2003.
Still more recently, in 2004-2009, Stellican Company attempted to make Indians as a limited edition ‘snob appeal’ bike with a 1720 cc engine right here in North Carolina — in a factory in Kings Mountain.
And even more recently, Polaris – the parent company of Victory Motorcycles, started producing Indians at a plant in Spirit Lake, Iowa — the first ones should be showing up on the market any day now…. the 2013 Indian Chief Vintage LE will list for about $38,000.
But the real heart of the Indian motorcycle heritage lies with the iconic Indian Chief model, made between 1922 and 1953.
The first Indian Chief motorcycle was produced in 1922, with a Powerplus, side valve, 42 degree V-Twin, 61 cubic inch ( 1000 cc ) engine– upgraded to 73 ci’s (1200 cc’s) for 1923…… in 1948, 74ci’s, and by 1950, the engine size had increased to 79 ci’s (1300 cc’s).
With it’s power and suitability for customizing, the Chief was ideal for road-touring, and was one of Indian’s most comfortable and adaptable machines…. the 1940 model, for instance, had large springs in the frame, while the strongest competing models did not.
In 1947, you could expect to pay about 800 dollars for a nicely appointed Chief… the ’47 Chief had a 2.4 gallon gas tank, a 1212 cc air cooled V-Twin capable of about 100 miles per hour.
It was available in three colors, Indian Red, Jet Black, or Seafoam Blue.
There were three trim levels from which to choose, the Clubman, the Sportsman, and the Roadmaster.
The Clubman was the least expensive, and came stock with painted crash bars and wheel rims, and a standard saddle.
The highest level, the Roadmaster, had everything an Indian could come with from the factory, including fancy “Chum-Me” adjustable springer double seat, twin spotlights, windshield, and everything in chrome.
The Indian Chiefs’ oversized skirted fenders are instantly recognizable by motorcycle affectionados the world ’round, along with the Indian headress badges, and the Indian head fender light ….
…. and certain Indian styling cues continue to define the looks of cruising bikes to this day.