The Oldest Motorcycle Company in the U.S.
The Indian Motorcycle Company, located in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, is the oldest motorcycle company in the United States. At one time, it was also the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world. The company’s most popular models were the Scout—a pre–World War II design—and the Chief, which was hugely popular from 1922 to 1953. Indian was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1901. The headquarters is also stationed in Springfield.
Former bicycle riders and founders of Indian Motorcycle Co. George M. Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedström teamed up to make a motorcycle together. The first one had a 1.75 bhp and a single cylinder engine. Sales of these motorcycles increased in large numbers over the next decade. In 1902, the two men designed streamlined motorcycles that they set the world's fastest motorcycle record with—56 mph. They started selling these “Diamond Framed” motorcycles to the public. In 1904, the production of the bikes went from over 500 made per year up to a record-breaking 32,000 in 1913! Indian's first V-Twin motor was built in 1907 and set even more speed records. A man named Erwin “Cannonball” Baker rode an Indian motorcycle from San Diego to New York in a record-breaking 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes.
The Scout and Chief came out in the early 1920s and quickly became Indian's most popular models. The reputation for Indian Scouts and Chiefs was strength and reliability. In 1930, Indian joined forces with duPont Motors, at which point duPont stopped making their automobiles in order to concentrate on Indians. Since duPont had connections in the paint industry, Indians became available in more than 24 colors. The motorcycles made during this time had the head-dress logo on the gas tank, which led to most of the company’s Native American–themed advertising. Also, Indian and duPont manufactured bicycles, boat and aircraft engines, and air conditioners.
The Indian Scout: 1920
The Scout debuted in 1920. Scouts originally had a 596 cc, 37 cubic inch engine, but were later upgraded to a 745 cc, 45 cubic inch engine in 1927. The most popular Scout model was the 101 Scout made in 1928. The 101 Scout had improved handling due to its lower body frame. Cost cuts led to the Scout using the bigger, heavier frame made for Indian Chiefs. This led to the creation of the Sport Scout in 1934. The Sport Scout included a lighter frame, Girder forks, alloy parts, and more improvements. Different variations of the Scout made from 1932 and 1941 include the Scout Pony, Junior Scout, and the Thirty-Fifty. Scouts also helped the United States Army get around during World War II.
The Indian Chief: 1922
Introduced two years after the Scout, the 1922 Chief started out with a 1000 cc, 61 cubic inch engine. However, in a later year, the Chief came equipped with a fully featured 1200 cc, 73 cubic inch engine. With a motor this big, Indian added a front brake to the Chief in 1928. Chiefs started dozens of Indian trademarks, such as large skirted fenders which made the chief visually appealing, and a sprung frame which increased smoothness while riding the motorcycle. A well tuned Chief in 1940 could reach speeds of up to 100 mph, and 85 mph stock. If not for the somewhat heavy weight of the Chief, the acceleration would have been greater. In 1950, the Chief was fitted with a whopping 1300 cc, 80 cubic inch engine for even more power. Unfortunately, these Chiefs were too expensive to build, and the Chief was discontinued in 1953. The Indian Chief was such a great historic motorcycle that it was featured on a special edition set of U.S. 39-cent stamps; part of a four historic motorcycle set.
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Indian Four: 1928
In 1927, Indian purchased Ace Motor Corporation. Indian received Ace’s name, facilities, and rights. For one year, Indian had a motorcycle called the Ace, but the name was changed to the Indian 401 in 1928. The 401 replaced the Ace’s leading-linked forks and central coil springs were all updated to Indian’s trailing-link forks and quarter-elliptic leaf spring. In 1929, the 402 had even stronger frame bases like the ones on 101 Scout, and sturdier five-bearing crankshafts than the previous three-bearing found on the Ace. Eventually, the demand for luxury motorcycles declined, but Indian kept improving on the Four series. The Fours, like the Chiefs, were given large skirted fenders and improved suspensions in 1940. Also as in addition in 1941, the old-style 18-inch wheels were replaced with 16-inch wheels with balloon tires. The Indian Four was eventually discontinued in 1943.
Indian's Role in World War II
Indian During World War II
Chiefs, Scouts, and Junior Scouts were all used in the U.S. Army, but not as much as the Harley-Davidson WLA. The Army did, however, request many experimental motorcycles specifically for desert combat. Indian responded with the 841. It was based off the BMW R71 which was the motorcycle used by the German Army. The Harley-Davidson XA was also based on the BMW R71. The Indian 841 was not a copy of the R71, but it was similar in that they both had a tubular frame, the same rear suspensions, and drive shafts. They were different because the 841 had A 90-degree longitudinal crankshaft, and V-Twin engine. After all of the hard work by both Indian and Harley-Davidson, the U.S. Army decided that Jeeps were better suited for use on the battlefield.
The End of Indian
Ralph B. Rogers purchased a part of Indian in 1945, and on November 1 of that year, duPont gave Rogers control over Indian. Rogers cancelled the Scout, and made cheap, lightweight motorcycles like the 149 Arrow, Super Scout 249 IN 1949, and the Warrior 250 in 1950. These motorcycles made Indian suffer from poor quality and lack of development. Indian stopped manufacturing in 1953.
Floyd Clymer bought the Indian name in the 1960s. He put the Indian name on imported minibikes made by Minarelli under the Papoose name. These featured a 50 cc engine and were unbelievably successful. Clymer told them to build full-sized Indian motorcycles, with a Italjet Griffon design and a Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 cc parallel-twin engine. Some were made with a Velocette 500 cc single-cylinder engine. Clymer died in 1970, and his wife sold the Indian name to a Los Angeles attorney Alan Newman. Newman continued to import Italjet minibikes made in Taiwan. The greatness did not last forever, and in 1975 sales dropped dramatically. In January 1977, Indian was officially declared bankrupt.
A new company in 1999 began making motorcycles under the Indian name in Gilroy, California. The motorcycles were basically newer versions of the Chief and Scout, and one called the Spirit. The engines were stock S&S engines and the bikes made then are often called Gilroy Indians. After a major investor turned out in 2003, Indian went bankrupt yet again.
Indian Motorcyles Today
A Future for Indian?
In July of 2006, Indian Motorcycle Company announced its new home in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Indian is now trying to restore the old Indian Motorcycle Company to what it used to be. Focusing on quality, performance, and craftsmanship, the new Chiefs are produced in small numbers. The new 2009 Chief features a new Powerplus V-Twin, 105 cubic inch engine. Everything about the new Indians is new and updated. Technology has improved so much that the motorcycles produced today are near perfection on every level. Indian plans to have 50 dealerships open across the United States by the end of 2011.