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Indian Motorcycle History

The "Indian Motocycle Co." was founded as the Hendee Manufacturing Company by George M. Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedström. Both Hendee and Hedström were former bicycle racers who teamed up to produce a motorcycle with a 1.75 bhp, single cylinder engine in Hendee's home town of Springfield. The bike was successful and sales increased dramatically during the next decade.

1901, Prototype and two production units successfully designed, built and tested. Work began on these in previous years. 1902, First Indian motorcycles, featuring innovative belt-drives and streamlined styling, sold to public. 1903 Indian co-founder and chief engineer Oscar Hedstrom sets world motorcycle speed record (56mph).

In 1904, the so-called diamond framed Indian Single, whose engine was built by the Aurora Firm in Illinois, was made available in the deep red color that would become Indian's trademark. By now, the production was up to over 500 bikes annually and would rise to its best ever 32,000 in 1913.

In 1907, Indian built its first V-twin, and in following years made a strong showing in racing and record-breaking. One of the firm's most famous riders was Erwin "Cannonball" Baker, who set many long-distance records. In 1914, he rode an Indian across America, from San Diego to New York, in a record 11 days, 12 hours and ten minutes. Baker's mount in subsequent years was the Powerplus, a side-valve V-Twin, which was introduced in 1916. Its 61ci (1000 cc), 42 degree V-twin engine was more powerful and quieter than previous designs, giving a top speed of 60 mph (96 km/h). The Powerplus was highly successful, both as a roadster and as the basis for racing bikes. It remained in production with few changes until 1924.

Competition success played a big part in Indian's rapid growth and spurred technical innovation, as well. One of the American firm's best early results came in the Isle of Man TT in 1911, when Indian riders Godfrey, Franklin and Moorehouse finished first, second and third. Indian star Jake De Rosier set several speed records both in America and at Brooklands in England, and won an estimated 900 races on dirt and board track racing. He left Indian for Excelsior and died in 1913, aged 33, of injuries sustained in a board track race crash with Charles "Fearless" Balke, who later became Indian's top rider. Work at the Indian factory was stopped while De Rosier's funeral procession passed.

Oscar Hedstrom left Indian in 1913 after disagreements with the Board of Directors regarding dubious practices to inflate the company's stock values. George Hendee resigned in 1916.

Inter-war era - Scouts, Chiefs, and Fours

The Scout and Chief V-twins, introduced in the early 1920s, became the Springfield firm's most successful models. Designed by Charles B. Franklin, the middleweight Scout and larger Chief shared a 42 degree V twin engine layout. Both models gained a reputation for strength and reliability, which led to the old Indian saying: "You can't wear out an Indian Scout, or its brother the Indian Chief. They are built like rocks to take hard knocks; it's the Harleys that cause grief."

In 1930 Indian merged with duPont Motors. duPont Motors founder E. Paul DuPont ceased production of duPont automobiles and concentrated the company's resources on Indian.duPont's paint industry connections resulted in no fewer than 24 color options being offered in 1934. Models of that era featured Indian's famous head-dress logo on the gas tank. Indian's huge Springfield factory was known as the Wigwam, and native American imagery was much used in advertising.

In 1940, Indian sold nearly as many motorcycles as its major rival, Harley-Davidson. At the time, Indian represented the only true American-made heavyweight cruiser alternative to Harley-Davidson.

During this time, the company also manufactured other products such as aircraft engines, bicycles, boat motors and air conditioners.

Indian Chief

The first 1922 model Chief had a 1000 cc (61ci) engine based on that of the Powerplus; a year later the engine was enlarged to 1200 cc (73ci). Numerous improvements were made over the years, including adoption of a front brake in 1928.

In 1940, all models were fitted with the large skirted fenders that became an Indian trademark, and the Chief gained a new sprung frame that was superior to rival Harley's unsprung rear end. The 1940s Chiefs were handsome and comfortable machines, capable of 85 mph(136 km/h) in standard form and over 100 mph (160 km/h) when tuned, although their increased weight hampered acceleration.

In 1950, the V-Twin engine was enlarged to 1300 cc (80ci) and telescopic forks were adopted. But Indian's financial problems meant that few bikes were built, and production of the Chief ended in 1953.

Indian Scout

The Indian Scout rivaled the Chief as Indian's most important model. The Scout was introduced in 1920 with a 596 cc (37ci) engine. The engine size was increased to 745 cc (45ci) in 1927 in response to the popularity of the Excelsior Super X. The most famous version was the 101 Scout of 1928, which featured improved handling from a new, lower frame.

In 1932, cost cutting led to the Scout's using the heavier Chief frame, which was less successful.The negative reaction to this Scout led to the creation of the Sport Scout of 1934, with a light frame, Girder forks, improved carburation and alloy cylinder heads.The Sport Scout won the first Daytona 200 in 1937.

Many Scouts were used in the Second World War, but the model was dropped when the civilian production restarted in 1946. In 1948, Indian built just 50 units of the Daytona Sports Scout, one of which took Floyd Emde to victory in that year's Daytona 200 mile (322 km) race.

Smaller 500 cc (30.5ci) Scouts were also built between 1932 and 1941, known as the Scout Pony, Junior Scout and Thirty-Fifty.

Indian Four

Indian purchased the ownership of the name, rights, and production facilities of the Ace Motor Corporation in 1927. Production was moved to Springfield and the motorcycle was marketed as the Indian Ace for one year.

In 1928, the Indian Ace was replaced by the Indian 401, a development of the Ace designed by Arthur O. Lemon, former Chief Engineer at Ace, who was employed by Indian when they bought Ace. The Ace's leading-link forks and central coil spring were replaced by Indian's trailing-link forks and quarter-elliptic leaf spring.

By 1929, the Indian 402 would have a stronger twin-downtube frame based on that of the 101 Scout and a sturdier five-bearing crankshaft than the Ace, which had a three-bearing crankshaft.

Despite the low demand for luxury motorcycles during the Depression, Indian not only continued production of the Four, but continued to develop the motorcycle. One of the less popular versions of the Four was the "upside down" engine on the 1936-37 models. While earlier (and later) Fours had IOE (inlet over exhaust) cylinder heads with overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves, the 1936-37 Indian Four had a unique EOI cylinder head, with the positions reversed. In theory, this would improve fuel vaporization. In practice, it made the cylinder head, and the rider's inseam, very hot. Dual carburetors, fitted in 1937, did not help. The design was returned to the original configuration in 1938.

Like the Chief, the Four was given large, skirted fenders and plunger rear suspension in 1940. In 1941, the 18" wheels of previous models were replaced with 16" wheels with balloon tires.

The Indian Four was discontinued in 1943.

World War II

Chiefs, Scouts, and Junior Scouts were all used for various purposes by the United States Army in World War II. However, none of these could unseat the Harley-Davidson WLA as the motorcycle mainly used by the Army.

Indian 841

During World War II, the US Army requested experimental motorcycle designs suitable for desert fighting. In response to this request, Indian designed and built the 841.

The Indian 841 was heavily inspired by the BMW R71 motorcycle used by the German Army at the time, as was its competitor, the Harley-Davidson XA. However, unlike the XA, the 841 was not a copy of the R71. Although its tubular frame, plunger rear suspension, and shaft drive were similar to the BMW's, the 841 was different from the BMW in several aspects, most noticeably so with its 90-degree longitudinal-crankshaft V-twin engine and girder fork.

The Indian 841 and the Harley-Davidson XA were both tested by the Army, but neither motorcycle was adopted for wider military use. It was determined that the Jeep was more suitable for the roles and missions for which these motorcycles had been intended.

Post-war - decline and demise

In 1945, a group headed by Ralph B. Rogers purchased a controlling interest of the company. On November 1, 1945, duPont formally turned the operations of Indian over to Rogers.

Under Rogers' control, Indian discontinued the Scout and began to manufacture lightweight motorcycles such as the 149 Arrow, the Super Scout 249, both introduced in 1949, and the 250 Warrior, introduced in 1950.These bikes suffered from poor quality and a lack of development.

Production of traditional Indians was extremely limited in 1949, and no 1949 Chiefs are known to exist.

Manufacture of all products was halted in 1953. Brockhouse Engineering and Royal Enfield bikes were imported from England and badged and sold as Indians through the rest of the 1950s. After this the Indian name passed to the company that imported Matchless motorcycles into the US, however it did not attach the name to any motorcycles, and it went into liquidation in 1962.

From the 1960s entrepreneur Floyd Clymer began using the Indian name, apparently without purchasing it from the last known legitimate trademark holder. He attached it to imported motorcycles, commissioned to Italian ex-pilot and engineer Leopoldo Tartarini, owner of Italjet Moto , to manufacture Minarelli-engined 50cc minibikes under the Indian Papoose name. These were so successful that Clymer also commissioned Tartarini to build full-size Indian motorcycles based on the Italjet Grifon design, but fitted firstly with Royal Enfield Interceptor 750cc parallel-twin engines, then with Velocette 500cc single-cylinder engines.

After Clymer's death in 1970 his widow sold the alleged Indian trademark to Los Angeles attorney Alan Newman, who continued to import minicycles made by ItalJet, and later manufactured in a wholly owned assembly plant located in Taipei (Taiwan). Several models with engine displacement between 50cc and 175cc were produced, mostly fitted with Italian two-stroke engines made either by Italjet or Franco Morini, but the fortunes of this venture didn't last long. By 1975 sales were dwindling, and in January 1977 the company was declared bankrupt. The right to the brand name passed through a succession of owners and became a subject of competing claims in the 1980s, finally decided in December 1998 by a Federal bankruptcy court in Denver, Colorado.

Gilroy Indian Motorcycle (1999-2003)

A new company with facilities in Gilroy, California began manufacturing motorcycles badged under the famous "Indian" name in 1999 after purchase of the Indian trademark. These motorcycles are often referred to as "Gilroy Indian" motorcycles. The model was based around a newer version of the Chief. Scout and Spirit models were also manufactured starting in 2001. These bikes were made from off-the-shelf S&S engines, after the completion of an all-new engine design that ran from 2002 to 2003, the 100ci Powerplus, the company succumbed to bankruptcy again in late 2003, after a major investor backed out.

New Indian Motorcycle Company

On July 20, 2006, the newly formed Indian Motorcycle Company, owned largely by Stellican Limited, a London-based private equity firm, announced its new home in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where it plans to resurrect the iconic Indian Motorcycle Brand (refer to the "July 20, 2006 - Press Release - Indian Motorcycle Company Announces New Home"on the official website). New Indian has goals of producing a new Chief using a modern fuel-injected 100ci V-Twin engine which they are building in-house. The new Chief will have the classic valanced fenders. However, New Indian plans to offer several variations of the Chief including a more modern style without the valanced fenders. New Indian also plans on offering an accessory line for both the New Indian and the Gilroy Indian motorcycles built from 1999 to 2003.