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The original Indian motorycle company was founded in 1901 in Springfield Massachusetts USA, by bicycle racer George Hendee and Swedish immigrant Oscar Hedstrom. Some people wonder why it was called the Indian Motocycle Company instead of Indian Motorcycle Company. In Italy, all motorcycles have names beginning with "moto" e.g. Moto-Guzzi, Moto-Ducati, Moto-Laverda, so perhaps Hedstrom was familiar with that. The earliest Indian models looked like mopeds (bicycles with small single cylinder engines) and only 3 were made in 1901. Indian made 143 motorcycles in 1902. Interestingly, Triumph began production in 1902 and Harley-Davidson the year after (1903). So the order was Indian, Triumph, Harley. This "Big Three" are still around a century later, while many other brands which started later died off years ago.
A note on internal combustion engine terminology: Flatheads are also known as
L heads, side-valve or for cars and trucks, "valve-in-block". (Overhead valves or OHV is a misnomer, best
term is "valve-in-head".)
Site reader Buddy Ault
kindly submitted this photo of his grandfather E. D. Snodgrass on what looks
like an Indian "Camelback" (gasoline tank over rear fender) doing
some "off roading". Buddy does not know when the photo was taken.
I think that model of Indian came out in 1906 and it looks new here, and Buddy
does know the shot was taken no later than 1910. The Trev Deeley museum in Vancouver
BC Canada kindly emailed me and said they also thought it was a 1906 as they have one
on display. The Camelback was advanced in that the engine also served as the
seat post (instead of a frame tube there, to save weight) and because it was
an F head (inlet over exhaust valving). Sort of ironic that their first mass
produced model was more advanced in that regard than their last Chiefs which
were just L (flat) heads. Those very early Indians only produced a bit over two (2)
The V-twin model of Indian
engine came out in 1907. Below is a photo from 1910 showing a couple in a 1907-10 Indian sidear outfit. In 1914 Indian had been the first with both electric
lighting and an electric starter. All very advanced but they did not continue with the electric starters longer than six years. Indian was also very advanced with a swinging arm rear suspension (albeit with leaf springs, not coils) from 1913 to at least 1918. The early "Big Twins" as they were called had F heads.
The First V-twins
Indian's next major development came in 1916 when Hedstrom's former assistant Charles Gustafson developed the 1 litre "Powerplus". It had two side valves instead of one (full flathead instead of F head). It made a mere 7 horsepower.
The middle of WW I (1916) was the first year for the Power Plus, and the first engine not designed by Oscar Hedstrom. Both Hedstrom and Hendee had left the company by 1916, being unable to agree.
The V-twin model of Indian
engine came out in 1907. Below is a photo from 1910 showing a couple in a 1907-10 Indian sidear outfit.
In 1914 Indian had been the first with both electric
lighting and an electric starter. All very advanced but they did not continue with the electric starters longer than six years. Indian was also very advanced with a swinging arm rear suspension (albeit with leaf springs, not coils) from 1913 to at least 1918. The early "Big Twins" as they were called had F heads.
Some Big Twins and Powerpluses were built in Toronto Canada from 1912 and through World War I (up to 1918) and were featured on Canadian postage stamps in summer of 2013. About eight decades later, around the turn of the century, the building was used as an upscale tavern for downtown office workers having lunch, who seemed to know and care nothing about motorcycles let alone old Indians, (judging from the response I got from customers and staff when I went there to have a look). It was called the Indian Motorcycle Cafe and at least had a small display of Indian material in the waiting area and some Indian paraphernalia such as photos and banners on the walls . Sadly the building was demolished in 2014. Apparently the tavern continues at a new location (4 Temperance St. very near Yonge and Richmond) and online reviews tend to praise the food (especially hamburgers and sweet potatoe fries) and prices, except for one poor soul who got food poisoning from a pear and cheese salad. No real biker is going to order such a food item.
Below photos from EBay as recent as July 2013 showing a perfectly restored 1913 Power Plus (seven images), an unrestored 1914 engine (3 views: Left, Right and Top looking down), a 1914 frame, and four shots of a 1915 Powerplus motorcycle from Blenheim Ontario (first two shots show engine closeup). Finally from an earlier time on Ebay a 1918 Powerplus lacking lights, exhaust and some other parts, and its engine.
In 1918 the company offered
for sale to the public its own new factory racer featuring OHV and 4 VPC (valves
per cylinder). This was many years ahead of the competition. Considering that
3 or 4 VPC only began to show up on a few street V twins bikes in the late 1980's
and mid 1990's, and Harleys are still built with only 2 VPC, it can be said
that this V twin was 70 years ahead of its time. Top speed was 120 mph, but
the racers were very light and had no brakes, lights, fenders, suspension etc.
The high price of this racer resulted in very few sales and it did not last
In 1919 the very advanced opposed twin came out. See photo below.
In 1920, the Power Plus street model was offered in a 74 CID (1200 c.c.) version for sidecar owners.
1920 was also an important year as the Scout was "born" then. Originally it was only 600 cc. (37 CID) but was enlarged in 1928 to 45 CID (750 c.c.) and called the Scout 101.
The 1920 Scout was the brainchild of one Charles B. Franklin. When European sales collapsed after WW I, Charles Franklin, who had ridden for Indian's winning 1911 Isle of Man team, emigrated from Ireland to join Indian's engineering department in Massachusetts. Working with Gustafson's 1000cc Powerplus design, Franklin developed the Scout. Like the Powerplus, it was a side-valve design, but it featured semi-unit construction, with the transmission bolted to the engine (like the Royal Enfields of the 1950's up until around 2010) and driven by an efficient helical gear drive. The Scout became the basis for other bigger V-twins. In 1922, it was enlarged to 1000 cc (1 liter or 61 cubic inches) to become the Chief and to 1200 cc or 74 cubic inches in 1924 to become the Big Chief engine. These early Chiefs had gear driven primary in aluminium casings, in oil bath. (English and Harley motorcycles were still using leaky pressed steel primary cases decades later.) The 1928 Scout 101 (750 cc.) was and is regarded as Indian's best handling if not best-ever motorcycle. It won many races (in its early day its main competition was Excelsior-Henderson) and it and the later Sport Scout was often hopped up for racing and street-fighting with Chief 74 CID flywheels and connecting rods. Ironically, Soichiro Honda rode a 101 Scout for a number of years and it inspired him to build motorcycles, and later the Honda company built cars.
To summarize from 1918, the end of WW I, Indian was in a weak financial condition but continued to produce great models. First the 600 cc Scout in 1920, then the Chief (1 liter or 61 CID) in 1921, the Big Chief (1.2 liters or 74 CID) in 1923 and the 101 Scout (45 cubic inches) in 1928. In 1923 the 250,000th Indian rolled off the line. Below are two shots of a 1924 Big Chief.
In 1927 Indian purchased the Ace Four, the brainchild of W.G. Henderson, which became the Indian Four. (The first year it was called "Indian Ace".) The first improvement Indian did was to add two more main bearings (5 v. 3). Meanwhile Mr. Henderson hooked up wth the Excelsior company. Neither the Ace nor Indian fours should be confused with the Henderson-Excelsior Four, although all three derived from the same design by Mr. Henderson and thus look similar. On the left is a four (circa 1940) owned by Canadian Tom Wilcoks, which he racks up huge mileages on annually, and is basically stock. Next to it is a photo of a blue 1940 or '41 Four. Note how the skirted ("valenced") fenders which came out in 1940 completely change the look of the Fours. The large shot of a pre-1940 Four at Daytona Beach is courtesy of Canadian Biker magazine.
Mr. Henderson designed the Four with an F head and this configuration was also used in Jeeps a few years later. The exhaust valves were below the head and off to the side as in any old flathead design but the inlet valves were in the head as in later OHV designs. This made sense as getting the fuel-air mixture into the heads is more important for power and efficiency than getting the burned mixture out. OHV inlet and exhaust is best, plus allows much higher compression ratios. But the F head was at least a significant improvement over the L head. In 1936 and 1937 only, Indian engineers must have been drunk because the F head was reversed. This "upside down" engine (side valve inlet, valve-in-head for exhaust is considered a mistake by all. As already noted, the inlet port and valve is much more crucial than the exhaust for breathing and power. If they were going to go to the trouble and expense of redesigning they should have made it a full OHV. The only rationale I can think of is they must have been aiming for cooler exhaust valves as flathead engines, even liquid cooled car ones, are known to overheat especially in the exhaust area, and flathead Indian Chiefs get 10 mph slower top speed as they get hot. The F head was reverted to in 1938. Someone must have said "What were we thinking?" At least the Sport model of the 1937 Four had two carburetors, which was a very good idea. (see photo attached courtesy of former owner Tom "Landshark" - a very cool looking motorcycle.)
With a Four, the more carbs
the better. Most Indian Fours had one carb at the very back to cool the rear
cylinder. (Same was used on the Ariel Square Four.) The downside is that the
front cylinders get a tiny bit less fuel and air mixture. In 1938 the company
did a major redesign of the Four, generally considered a big improvement, but
they perversely still did not take the opportunity to go to full OHV (it was an
F head) nor to offer multiple carbs as standard, nor to increase the displacement. Displacement
of the Four was always just over 77 CID or 1260 c.c. Nevertheless, the price of well restored
Fours has become amazing; over US$65,000!
Famous cowboy singer/actor Roy Rogers rode a 1940 or '41 Indian Four with the valenced fenders. (Roy owned many bikes over the years, including several Indians.) If anyone can provide non-copyright photos of Roy on his Injuns please submit. Next we see two images of a 1934 Indian Four. (Photo courtesy of Cycle World magazine.)
Despite mismanagement Indian survived the Great Depression. Mr. E. Paul Du Pont of paint company fame became President of Indian in 1929 and this was the beginning of a period of good management, profits and the beginning of multi-tone paint jobs of high quality on Indians. Meanwhile Indian and Harley riders continued to compete on the race tracks so in 1934 the Sport Scout came out as a replacement for the 101 Scout (really just an improved 101 in a heavy frame). For more photos of Scouts visit www.indianscoutmotorcycles.com by clicking the link on the handlebar image at the top of this page. Shown below is a 1930's Indian Chief, seen at the Paris Ontario rally of the Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group circa 2003. Also next to it another restored 1930's Chief, in dark red and cream, seen at Oley PA AMCA meet May 2012. Then several shots of a funky 1938 orange colored Chief that was offered on Ebay in 2012 or '13.
As mentioned earlier in
1918 Indian brought out racing models with OHV and 4 VPC (valves per cylinder),
and about 15 years later (early 1930's) they built some OHV hillclimber engines.
They also tried the 1930's OHV engine in a car of their own design but hardly
any were sold. Had Indian kept using electric starters, OHVs and 4 VPC, they
might well have been far ahead of their competition in the 1930's, 40's and fifties.
In 1940 Indian came out with its plunger rear frame on the Chief and Four, and the famous skirted or valanced fenders (for both Scout and Chief and Fours). 1941 was the last year for the civilian Sport Scout, so valenced fender Scouts are only 1940 and '41. The Four was basically out of production after 1941 but a handful of 1942 or even '43 models seem to surface occasionally, probably were "Essential Use" ex-police. The V twin Scouts never got the Chief's plunger rear suspension, which was very heavy. The Sport Scout engine got a lot more finning. I have never owned or ridden a Scout and have received conflicting answers on whether the Sport Scout used the Chief gearbox. I think they were similar and shared some parts, but were not identical.
Here are some prewar Chiefs that I shot at Paris (Ontario, Canada) at the annual CVMG rally June 2014. Note how the dull green pre 1940 one (with chromed front end, and alternator instead of generator) looks so long and low compared to the early 1980's Yamaha XS650 behind it.
The yellow and black Chief appears to be a 1940 or '41, denoted by the valanced fenders.
Then here are some 1946 to 1948 Chiefs I shot at the CVMG Paris Ontario annual rally June 1014. These are typical of Chiefs one would have seen back in the day, not over restored or accessorized.
Next is a tastey 1948 "peaches and cream" colored Chief from Ebay July 2013; with a lot of chrome and polishing and two tone paint and white leather seat that is slightly over-restored but gorgeous.
Then we move ahead to 1950-53 Chiefs: the black and yellow 52-53 was on Ebay recently and the blue one I shot at Campbell River circa Y2K when Charlie Mahoney was still alive and hosting that meet.
During WW II Indian made a detuned Sport Scout for the Allied armies called the 640. (Six refers to the model Scout and 40 to the year of manufacture, Three refers to Chiefs, e.g. a 341 is a 1941 Chief.) Bikes below are 643 and 644 models. Indian also made many model 741's (30.5 CID or 500 cc, made in 1941), slow as molasses but reliable. During the war Indian made about 33,000 military cycles compared to about 50,000 or 90,000 by Harley (depending on who you read). Harley not only sold more but their contract provided that they earned more per unit. Instead of profiting by the war like so many big manufacturing companies in the US, Indian lost money! Typical US Army models shown below - more photos in the Indian Scout website (access via Handlebar at page top).
Next we have a You Tube video of a US army Chief called a 340B by the army, which is just like the last bike in the still photos above (probably a 341, photo taken by me at Oley PA in 2012).
Many 30.5 CID and 45 CID Scouts (740's and 640's) and some 74 CID Chiefs were sold to the American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and British military during the war. (I once saw an ex-French Chief in the 1960's North of Toronto Canada.) Last photo above shows a U.S. Army Indian Chief with rifle, photographed by me at Oley PA in 2012. My Dad rode a very similar bike in the Canadian Army when those machines were new. Many of the smaller 500 and 750 c.c. models remain in the UK, Europe and Australia and New Zealand. In civilian terminology, the smaller 500cc models were called "thirty-fifties" or "Junior Scouts" or "Pony Scouts". If you are interested in the similar Harley-Davidson military and civilian 750 flatheads, see the Scout page of this site for info on them.
No Indian history is complete without mention of the advanced military 841 model. Sadly only 1000 were made and barely a handful saw combat action before the US Army decided to order huge numbers of Jeeps instead. The 841 (and similar Harley XLA which suffered the same fate) copied the successful German BMW army motorcycles including shaft drive and 4 speed hand clutch/foot shift. (The Harley looks a lot like a 1940's military BMW, while the Indian 841 looks more like a late 1960's and up Moto-Guzzi because it was a 90 degree V instead of a 180 degree flat or "boxer" engine layout.) Why Indian and Harley did not use these advanced (for 1941) bikes as postwar civilian models is a big mystery. The ad below from Dec. 1943 issue of Popular Mechanics suggest that at least some folks at the Indian factory were thinking along these lines.
In the "Modified" page of this site are photos of custom civilianized 841's.
After the war the Indian Motocycle Company had a surplus of unsold army machines and sold them to the public for $1,000. Since they were new, and of an advanced design, it seems to me they should have sold them for more, but maybe that was a fairly high price back then.
The US War Dept circa 1943 held a competition for a mini-jeep, a lighter one 4' wide and 9' long that could carry soldiers and other equipment and supplies after being parachuted down behind enemy lines. A few companies applied. One competitor Willys (who made the original Jeep) used the Harley XA (BMW copy) engine and Chevrolet's version (see illustration below) used the Indian 841 engine. However it apparently could not handle the weight (a little over 1000 pounds unloaded) of the rig and carry it at 50 mph for extended periods. The engine reportedly failed after only 3,200 miles. (To pass it should have lasted over 10,000 miles.) The Harley powered Willys also broke down as did the other entries so the competition was cancelled. Today's huge V-twin engines would easily pass, but would need to be liquid cooled.
In one of the main North American aboriginal tribes the word "papoose" was a kind of back pack mothers used to carry thie babies around in. Probably the frame was made of branches and it was covered in hide and blankets to keep the child warm. An appropriate word for the WWII Indian mini-bike which was so small a soldier could almost carry it around on his back if it ran out of fuel or he had to stop the engine as the noise would alert the enemy. It was built and designed in the UK by Brockhouse, there called "Wellbike" (for the military) and "Corgi" when released to the public after the war. (A Corgi is a small breed of dog, popular in the UK.). The idea was that Allied paratroopers would use it to be more mobile after landing. After landing and hiding their parachute, they would rush over to the nearest Wellbike, unfold the handlebars, pull up the seat post, turn on the ignition and start the bike and ride off into enemy territory. Presumably not good for sneaking up in a Commando raid as the engine noise would give one away and your hands would be on the handlebars instead of your weapon. Recently (Fall 2012) a 1947 Papoose came up for sale on EBay, along with a WWII publicity photo of how it would appear (as a Wellbike) on the battlefield. The soldiers here appear to be wearing American helmets and uniforms. Notice the motorbike is so small it could almost fit in the sidecar of the black Chief outfit shown below. Just like a mother carrying a Papoose the big Chief could carry a Papoose in it's sidecar to use in case of a breakdown, accident or running out of fuel. The Corgis and Papooses came with 98 c.c. Villiers engines. If anyone knows if these ever saw actual combat service or were just an experiment, please let me know. I see no reason why they would not work just as well today. (B&W photos courtesy of Classic Bike magazine, always a great "read" for vintage motorycles.)
Even rarer (and much faster) than the 841's was a secret factory experimental four
built supposedly in 1941 but probably around 1949 since based on the Arrow and postwar Scout (later called Warrior) engines.
Front end also looks Warrior as does rear suspension. Shaft drive probably taken from the Model 841 and probably the 4
speed foot shift used on the 841. If it has four Arrow OHV cylinders inline, displacement would have been 854 cc. but the posters and other authors list it as having 880 c.c.
The postwar Scout was marketed as a 440 so this job would have been listed as an 880, but postwar Scout was really only 426 so this would have been 854,
still lots of power for a four and who cares about 26 cc? This lean machine looks like it would have
been fast and had good handling. This was far more advanced than anything Harley
produced until their recent V-Rod. Another "too bad/what if?"
I was thrilled to see the actual machine at the Rhinebeck AMCA meet in 2007, and have loaded my photos into this website - the More Oldies page. The bike is owned by the AMCA but members are not allowed to touch it let alone ride it. I guess the club directors are afraid someone will drop it and damage it, over-rev it and harm the engine, or ride off with it. The value is literally priceless.
You may have heard of the Hollister California 1947 event (see my song about it on the Music page of this site) where rival outlaw gangs supposedly battled, raped, pillaged and took over the town. (The reality was not that bad, but the media of the time, and the later 1953 "Wild One" movie exaggerated and dramatized.) Actually there were serious AMA races going on in Hollister each year but in 1947 the drunken outlaws came mainly to entertain themselves and the local townsfolk with shenanigans on the main streets, and contribute a lot of money to the local economy, mainly the bars, some of which allowed these two-wheeled customers to ride right inside. In the movie gang leader "Johnny" (Marlon Brando) steals the main race trophy and straps it to his Triumph without having even participated in the race. Below left is a photo from the website of 13 Rebels MC (one of the clubs who attended Hollister and still exist) showing club member Arden van Syckle (could that really have been his surname ?) posing with the actual trophy from the main 1947 race. I guess unlike "Johnny" he rode hard and won it, but certainly not on that 1946 or '47 Chief which must have been his daily rider. Note the 18" diameter front wheel which back then was as common as the 15". Nearly all modern restorations use the fat front wheel. Incidentally, the character "Chino" as played by Lee Marvin in the movie was based on "Wino Willie" of the Boozefighters who had been a member of the 13 Rebels but somewhat ironically got kicked out for his rebellious antics in 1946, which type of drunken behavior he continued at Hollister the next year. So this is a case of art (the movie) imitating life, but then life imitating art as countless individual riders and outlaw clubs sprouted up modeling their behavior on what they had seen on the silver screen. Here is a link to www.13rebelsmc.com When I recorded the song "Hollister, 1947" (go to BIKER MUSIC page of this site) I had never heard of the 13 Rebels (sorry guys), so the song only mentions the Boozefighters and another club which became the Hells Angels in 1948.
Below right is a shot of the now famous Sturgis North Dakota annual rally (now mainly a Harley event) showing a 1946-48 Chief in the foreground. Judging by the Chrysler to the right, the photo dates from about 1952.
In 1948 and for a couple of years after, Indian imported 3 speed bicycles from Britain and called them Indians. Evidently this venture was a failure as these bicycles were and are rarely seen. However this may make them valuable nowadays to collectors.
Many Indian riders were irate that there was no V-twin flathead Scout for sale after the war, and privately owned Scouts continued to win races for many years after the war. Some privateers put Chief flywheels in to get 950 c.c. (57 CID) and a lot more power out of their racing or souped up street Scouts. As mentioned above, the factory did relent slightly in 1948, and produced 25 - 50 racing Scouts stamped FDH, but commonly known as the Big Base Scout or the "648 Daytona" as Daytona was where most were raced. They performed extremely well in their class (Class C) and continued to win races for the next six years! In fact at various other types of races across the USA, racing Scouts continued to do well and even win up to the 1970s! But what was the point if no mass produced versions were made for sale to the general public? (Yet another lost sales opportunity and management blunder.) Visit www.indianscoutmotorcycles.com to see a photo of a 648 racer.
A much more expensive venture, making and selling an outboard boat motor (called
the Arrow) sank in red ink not because there was anything unreliable or unattractive
about the engine, but it was a planning and marketing error because it
was too big and heavy for fishermen who wanted to troll and too small a displacement for people who wanted to tow skiers or just zoom around. Here is a photo of
an Arrow outboard motor courtesy of Allan "Zippy" Lowson.
The series of blunders continued when Indian also tried making suspension dampers for cars (shock absorbers) but somehow that flopped too. (One is reminded of Harley's failure with golf karts and recreational trailers some years later.) One might have thought that with experience in shock absorbers Indian would have come out with a Swingarm rear frame. Maybe because their shocks were no good they did not pursue it? Most likely it was never thought about, as swingarms did not even come on most British bikes until the early 1950's. The then-new Indian Warrior and postwar Scout bikes used non-hydraulically dampened plunger rear suspension (like on the Chiefs but longer thinner springs, copied from the model 841) which was cruder than the typical oil dampened British plungers of the day. Harley did not come out with a swinging arm rear suspension setup for its Big Twin until 1958 (although it had it as early as 1952 on the K model, it's version of an English sports bike.)
Continuing the saga around 1948, Indian
was in such bad straights that Paul DuPont sold it to a manufacturing
group headed by one Ralph Rogers. Rogers was so dedicated he put a lot of his
own money (like, millions) into Indian. He had the right ideas - fresh modern
designs, get away from the oily outlaws and police market into selling motorycles
for the whole family (just like the "You meet the nicest people on a Honda"
ad campaign of the 1960's and '70's). This resulted in the "Torque series"
inspired by English designs similar to Edward Turner's vertical twin Triumph.
But the resultant 213 c.c single Arrow and 426 c.c.twin Scout (two Arrow cylinders side by side)
were rushed into production without proper testing and assembly and were junk.
(wheel rims so narrow tubes and tires would not fit, and so thin they collapsed,
main bearings failed, magnetos failed, gears would not shift, the valve gears
failed.) Also they were too small to compete with Triumph, BSA, Norton, Matchless and Royal Enfield (500 and later 650 c.c. by the end of the decade). Then the
British government devalued the pound sterling making the English imports a
lot cheaper than the Indians. By the time Indian had enlarged the twin engine to 500 cc.
and gotten some of the bugs out (1950 and 1951), and renamed the Scout the Warrior,
it was too late and 1952 was its last year.
Below are some photos I took of a maroon 426 c.c. Scout at the Paris rally, plus an exploded view of the engine showing it to be similar to a Triumph twin of that era, but with the timing side on the left and primary and final drive on the right (maybe because the Chief and Scout had final drives on the right?). Following are two shots of a blue 1950 500 cc. Warrior, then a 1950 Arrow 250 in teal. Then some shots of postwar Scouts or Warriors including a black Warrrior or Scout that was on display at the AMCA Rhinebeck meet in 2007, then a blue Scout or Warrior seen at Oley PA 2012 with solo seat and chromed horns, then another black one seen in a trailer at Oley. Check out the "More Oldies" page of this site for police Chiefs and trikes.
|Although the Warrior was a mechanical and sales flop it did have one moment of shining glory. It won the 1962 Greenhorn Enduro - a 500 mile desert race. The bike was at least ten years old by 1962, and the race was so tough that of 170 entrants only 23 finished. A large part of this success was the famous rider: Max Bubeck. However he did have an aftermarket swingarm rear suspension kit (sold to update British bikes) attached to the Warrior. Here is a photo of Max after he won the 1947 Greenhorn Enduro using - incredibly - an Indian Four (the last type of machine anyone would want for an enduro)!|
With losses instead of profits, the proposed 854 cc. shaft-drive Four (consisting of four 213 cc. Arrow cylinders) had to be abandoned. Another sales failure was the 250 cc. single cylinder, 3-speed flathead Brave. It was cheap but very slow and some were unreliable due to bad batches of metal. However other experts say it sold fairly well and the bad batch was small in number. I am not sure but I think these were made in the UK (it had a British gearbox). I do know they were only sold in the US from 1950- 53 inclusive and then in the UK from 1954 on. As for the noble Chief. there wasn't enough money to create a replacement for it or even make serious improvements. An attempt to create a foot shift failed, despite dealers being told it existed! (Indian started trying to make a foot shift conversion as early as late 1948 aiming for the 1950 model, but gave up about three years later.)
Actually Indian had a very inexpensive solution to the big V-twin problem literally in their hands in 1949 but with their usual tendency to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory they failed to follow though with it. In 1948 they had sent a stock Chief to the Vincent company in England to see if the super powerful (for its day) ultra-modern (for 1948) Vincent V twin engine and gearbox would fit in the Chief rolling chassis. The Vincent engineers got to work and accomplished the task in very short order. The OHV engine and its 4 speed footshift gearbox barely fit, but they did fit with no major frame changes. Even the stock generator drive setup with its belt and tin cover fit! The exhaust routing was not at all unfaithful to the overall Chief styling. In fact having a pipe on each side really helped the Chief's "bad side" (the left side). At a glance you would not know that the Vincent engine did not always belong in the Chief. Although the fastest Vincent engines - the Black Shadow and the rare Black Lightning racer - were not reliable for ordinary use and American mileages, the Rapide version was. Although mild compared to a Black Shadow it was peppier than a Chief mill. Both the English and US companies tested the prototype and found it satisfactory, but sadly nothing more was followed through with. In my opinion, this was a huge mistake for Indian, as the poor sales of the old fashioned 1950-53 Chief showed, and also a huge mistake for the Vincent company which also died two years after Indian. If the Vindian had gone into production both companies might have done well for years thereafter. There would not have been a lot of extra cost involved in producing the Vindian since everything except engine mounts and exhausts and brackets were already being produced by either company.
The blue Vindian is a re-creation of the original, painstakingly done by Wigwam Engineering of Australia, who now provide an OHV conversion for the side valved Chiefs. The photo was originally published as part of a larger article on the Vindian in the Oct. 1997 issue of Classic Bike magazine, England and this shot is reproduced with their kind permission.
Around 1949 (according to author Harry Sucher) the Indian company split into two parts. One part (mainly the dealer network and goodwill) was wholly purchased by Brockhouse, an English engineering conglomerate who exported Matchless/AJS, Norton, Royal Enfield, Vincent and also made trailers, springs and tools. This was called the Indian Sales Corp. The other part was bought by a US firm called Titeflex who would keep manufacturing Indians until 1953. However according to an article in Classic Bike (June 1987) Brockhouse called all the shots by late 1951 and soon cancelled production of the US made Indians as they were losing money. During its last four years (1950-53 inclusive) the only bikes Indian had for sale were the Warrior (which although improved had a bad reputation), the crude and puny flathead 250 Brave, and the Chief with its antiquated side valves and 3 speed "crashbox" transmission. These were no match for the competition from Harley and the Brits.
Indian cancelled the flathead Scout after WWII, considering it obsolete. (But it stupidly offered nothing to replace it for over three and a half years until the new Scout/Warrior came on to the market .) The fans were outraged. The only significant changes to the 1946 Chiefs compared to the 1941 models (which were identical to the handful of 1945 Chiefs) were a new front end copied from the military 841 model. There were tiny improvements in the fork for 1947 and '48. The 1947 ammeter was installed at a 45 degree angle. For 1948 sadly the ammeter was replaced by an idiot bulb so the instrument panel was more oval than triangular. Alos in 1948 a plate was installed at the bottom inside of the crank to splash the oil around better, the ratchet dogs on the kicker crank axle were changed to ball bearings to reduce the noise and maybe save some money - they do not last as long though - and the oil pump gears became made of aluminium instead of iron (a change BSA also made in the late 1960's and nowadays owners of both brands are trying to convert back to iron gears). Also for 1948 the speedometer drive was moved from the rear wheel axle to the front brake plate. Teeth were made in the brake drum and the drive was much more reliable (assuming the drum does not get heat warped). The shorter cable routed into the speedometer from the front rather than the rear, requiring minute frame changes. So the "gocnescenti" prefer a combination of 1947 and 1948 parts. By the end of 1948, 1949 Indian decided that the Chief was obsolete, and were putting all their money and efforts into the Torque series of English style lightweights, so there were less than a hundred Chiefs built in 1949 and production ceased. Again the fans were outraged. Unlike with the Scout, however, Indian responded to public demand and brought back the Chief in 1950. The two big improvements were teledraulic forks on the front, which required more ground clearance which the Chief needed anyway, plus increasing he enigine size by 100 cc or 6 cubic inches. (via stroking). Many connaisseurs prefer the 1950 and '51 Chiefs over the 1952-53 as the earlier ones have the front-wheel drive speedometer (introduced in 1948 and dropped in mid 1951 to save money - requiring an ugly plug for the drive hole in the front brake cover) and the earlier upswept exhaust and the earlier American carburettor, (inferior in performance to the Amals used on 1952-53, but more reliable for high mileages) plus bigger swoopier front fenders compared to 1952-53. Also some do not like the "bench" seat on the 1952-53 models (solo seats and the earlier type dual Chum-Me-Seat were available as options, the New York police models had solo seats). So although the factory made some changes in the last two years (slightly cut down front fender, relocated horn, exhaust, seat, sheet metal around headlight, Amal carb) it regressively had to drop the front wheel drive speedometer and some say the new exhaust was a way to use up Warrior mufflers. (Some say it creates a serious cornering problem on right turns.) Indian did not have the money to seriously update the Chiefs with OHV or a 4 speed synchro-mesh gearbox, both of which it really need to compete with Harley in the early fifties, and few Chiefs were sold. Many 1952 models sat in the showrooms and had to be renumbered as 1953's to make them seem new, and some were sold at cost or less by dealers just to get rid of them. The Titeflex or Brockhouse company (whoever you believe controlled things in the last few months) ordered production of Indians to cease in the Spring of 1953 after a few years of huge losses.
Ironic that nowadays a good restored 1950-53 Chief sells for $30,000, and one company makes brand new replicas for about double that.
(In retrospect Indian would have been
smarter and saved a lot of money updating the Chief instead of blowing millions
on the ill-fated Torque series.)
Below is a rear view of a 1948 orange Chief done by Indian Motor Works, then a red 1953 Chief, owned by Lloyd Becker (at least when I took the photo in June 2000). It is stock except for the earlier style dual seat instead of the bench seat. Then a couple of postwar Chiefs, a red 1946-48 and a blue 1952-3. Finally a 1953 New York City Police Dept. Chief.
Below is a video of famous California restorer / collector Bob Stark's collection.
Next in the vertical Black and White photo is restorer Bob Stark back in the 1970's with a trio of Chiefs: a 1950 at the top, a '53 in the middle and a '47 at the bottom closest to the camera.
Owner Bob Murray of the 1941 Chief shown earlier also had a 1941 H-D UL (1200 c.c. sidevalve) so was in an ideal position to decide which 74 CID flathead was better. He chose the Hog, hands down. However I had a '47 Chief (same as the '41 Chief except for better and lighter forks) and a 1941 H-D U, and I say the Chief is the smoother, lighter, better bike. The Indian had a plunger rear frame while Harleys were rigid up until 1958. According to Murray and Bob Stark, a stock Chief was slower than a stock Hog, but a slightly souped up Chief was a lot faster than a stock Hog. It seems to me this is missing out on the fact that flathead Harley 74's came stock in 3 stages of tune: U, UL and ULH. So would all three beat a stock Chief or just one or two of the Harley models? And was the Chief a standard or faster Bonneville model? My model U was a real slug, perhaps even slower than my worn out '47 Chief. I did not own them at the same time, about three years apart, so hard to compare. You might think that Harley's having a 4th gear would give every Hog an edge over every Indian but in my experience the Hog's 4th gear was no advantage over the Chief's 3 speed because the 4th gear was only a tiny bit higher (about 500 rpm) than 3rd. Also it took longer to change gears on the Hog. Brakes on both bikes were equally pathetic, and going around tight corners at any speed was equally a challenge on both. I agree with Mr. Murray that the old sidevalved Harleys were easier to work on.
After the factory closed in 1953 according to one rumour it briefly re-opened a few months later to assemble 50 Chiefs ordered by the New York City police department, which favored Indians over Harleys. (You can see some early fifties NYPD Chiefs in the Frank Sinatra movie "New York, New York". Note they are red, but are not Fire Department. Elsewhere in this site is a photo of an unrestored one. The NYPD insisted on Indian Red paint on its motorcycles). According to the rumour a small crew under the Bankruptcy Receiver's approval assembled 50 Chiefs for the police and an extra five for dealers. People who were at the factory and warehouses in 1953 including Emmett Moore deny the story, and according to a reliable source known to this author one of the allegedly 1955 Chiefs (not the one described below) has an engine number dating well before the 1953 Chiefs. Moore in a 1994 interview with Jerry Hatfield said that the factory ran right out of parts early in 1953 and despite demand from dealers simply did not have enough parts to make any more than five hundred 1953 Chiefs. They couldn't get the Linkert Company to build 500 more of the old carburetors so had to use (actually more modern and efficient) English Amal carbs. (Since Harley was still using Linkerts this could have been due to Harley pressuring its suppliers not to sell their products to Indian.) Little bits like a chuck that holds the helper spring on the spring-post mounted dual saddles had to be purchased at very high prices. (Note that Police models use solo seats and would not need helper springs or chucks). Walter Brown, a manager during the 1950's confirmed with Emmett Moore that the last Chiefs were assembled in early 1953. Among the last were those made for the NYPD, although he puts the number at 75. One may suppose there is a chance that Moore and Brown were unaware of the small crew working for the Receiver two or more years later and that the crew could have used unsold stock retrieved from dealers, but this sounds like an expensive and time consuming operation and since a Receiver's job is to make as much money as possible (with minimal expenses) in a short time, this seems unlikely. I wrote to the NYPD about this several years ago and their reply (posted in a much earlier version of this website) indicated they simply had no knowledge or records of events so long ago. However early in 2013, I received info from a reader of this site that there really were a few Chiefs made circa 1955. His grandfather was a dealer and told him so, and he actually owned one of those bikes and they still have it! (He sent me photos of the bike when nearly new, and now).
Here is what he wrote:
Greetings. I stumbled upon your website today and explored it with great interest. I was particularly interested in the “Myth?” section regarding the last of the Chiefs and the fabled final order for the NY State Police. My grandfather had been a long-time Indian dealer (from 1926 on) in [location deleted for security reasons - no use contacting me to ask as bike is not for sale and I will not reveal the writer's name or location unless he gives me permission] and had a very close relationship with the Indian factory guys in Springfield. In his shop, throughout my life (and my older brother’s life) there sat a Chief Eighty in the corner that had always remained covered and unridden (although we’d kick it through regularly and start it every few years). I can attest to the fact that the bike was never touched, never modified and never molested. The story, from the time I was a kid until my grandfather died in 1998, always remained the same as my grandfather told it. We, along with dozens and dozens of other folks whom granddad trusted, were familiar with bike and with the story. He indicated that after production had ceased, there had been an order placed for a run of Chiefs for the New York police. When those machines were produced, the story was always that a friend of his at the Indian factory had contacted him, told him that they had enough parts remaining to build about a dozen Chiefs and asked him if he wanted one of them. He was told that his choices of equipment were limited due to depleted supplies (i.e., I remember him saying that he could only get black painted handlebars). He always preferred police equipment so he was able to get much of what he wanted anyway — including the oversize police generator and battery, solo seat, and he was able to get the Linkert carb and the traditional Indian handlebar controls/internal cables instead of the Amal stuff. In essence, the bike is a police model in civilian paint. It was painted tangerine, a color my grandfather always disliked. At the same time, he bought a spare frame and engine. The spare engine had never been started and was still mounted on the shipping pallet that came from the factory. He created a tool that would allow us to turn the engine over by hand just to keep things lubricated and moving. Regrettably, he allowed someone to talk him into selling them that engine back in the early 1990s. Supposedly it was destined for a museum somewhere in Ohio, but I have no idea if it actually wound up there.
As for the Chief, it resides in my home (I’ve attached a picture of it today and one of the shots of the same bike in the shop back in the mid 1950s). The bike has less than 3,000 original miles and still sports the original Dunlop Gold Cup Universal rear and Gold Cub ribbed front tires (not available anywhere as reproductions to my knowledge). The only thing not original on the bike are the spark plugs, spark plug wires and the header pipes. ....
I have pictures of the bike that extend back to the mid 1950s, showing that the bike has remained unchanged since then. I also have a picture of another virtually identical Chief that was taken in the mid 1970s when my grandfather and I were at an antique motorcycle event together and saw the virtual twin of my grandfather’s bike — even down to the tangerine color.
Most folks who see this bike or who we’ve approached to assess the value claim that the bike is “not a ‘53.” They insist that the bike has been modified or is simply “incorrect.” The fact is, it is not incorrect — although it is admittedly different than typical ‘53 models. I have no reason to fabricate a story and no reason to pass this bike off as something it is not since our family has no interest in selling the bike.
For more on the 1955 on phase of the Indian history go to the web page for the 1955-85 Era via the navigation handlebar at top of your monitor. Suffice it to say here that in 1955 Brockhouse began selling (via Indian dealers) English "Royal Enfield" motorcycles done up with Indian badges and accessories and using the old Indian names. This went on until 1960 when the last of the badged Indians were sold, and the remaining Indian dealers (many had abandoned Indian) were told to sell the popular English "Matchless" motorycles (without any "Indian" marks on them) in 1961.
Finally is a tribute photo to Ontario Indian guru, the late Charley Mahoney.
This site is not the official site of the makers of the current lines of Indian motorcycles, POLARIS INDUSTRIES (V twins in the USA) nor INDIAN MOTORCYCLE LTD. of Edinburgh, Scotland (4 cylinder)