The author knows a lot about cars and motorcycles, especially older and more affordable ones.
Recently, new motorcycles made to look vintage have become all the rage. This trend covers everything from cruisers to cafe racers to dirt bikes. While many of these bikes are really cool, they just aren't nearly as cool as the original. Here are the best vintage bikes of American origin.
1. Indian Scout
Before their bankruptcy in 1953, Indian Motorcycle Company was a major player in the American motorcycle industry. Their biggest rival was Harley-Davidson. One of their most important models was the Scout, which was smaller and cheaper than their other popular model, the Chief. The Scout was produced from 1920 to 1949, a ridiculously long production run by today's standards. Engines started out as 596cc but increased to 745cc in 1927. The Scout had some success in racing, winning several Daytona races. Scouts were used by the U.S. Military during World War II. The film The World's Fastest Indian is the story of Burt Munro and his 1920s Scout during his Land Speed Record attempts.
The Ace Motor Corporation was started by William G. Henderson after he sold Henderson Motorcycle to Schwinn. Production started in 1920 but ended in 1924 after a bankruptcy. Eventually Indian bought the rights and tooling for Ace. Ace used an unusual layout of a longitudinal four cylinder with a chain drive, very similar to that of Henderson motorcycles. In my opinion, the Aces look much better than the earlier Hendersons. Because production only lasted for four years on the original run, these are very rare motorcycles.
Crocker started out in 1932 making speedway racing motorcycles with single cylinders. These bikes were successful racers, but in 1936 the company shifted towards larger V-twin-powered road bikes. The Crocker V-Twins were really superbikes compared to their competition, mainly Harley Davidson and Indian. While Indian and Harley had 38 hp-40 hp, Crocker's entry level 61-ci engine was putting out 55 hp-60 hp routinely. Crockers were built to order, and the largest known engine installed at the factory was of 91 ci (around 1,491 cc) displacement, a record for largest-engined production bike which stood for many years until Yamaha broke it with the XV1600A in 1998. Production ended in 1942. Only about 100 of the V-Twin bikes were produced, with 68 known survivors today. This is a very rare bike and fetches huge amounts of cash. The one in the above photo sold at auction in 2007 for $230,000.
4. Harley-Davisdon WLA
Harley-Davidson started producing the WLA for the U.S. Army in 1940, shortly before the U.S. entered World War II. It is basically a militarized version of the WL model. There were several differences from the civilian model. All painted surfaces were olive drab or black, and all chrome or polished surfaces were blued or Parkerized. The fenders were modified by having the sides removed to reduce clogging from mud. Leg guards and windshields were installed on some models. The engine crankcase breather was modified to reduce the risk of water entering during fording. Blackout lights were installed. Many accessories were available, including leather scabbards for Thompson sub machine guns, cargo racks for radio equipment, and skidplates. Unlike the Germans, the U.S. never used the motorcycle as a front line troop transport, so there are very few sidecar models. Production lasted from 1940-1945 and 1949-1952. In total 90,000 WLA's were produced. 30,000 were sent to Russia as part of the Lend-Lease program. These motorcycles are iconic, and in my opinion, the coolest Harley-Davidsons ever built. When somebody says American motorcycle, this is the first bike that pops into my mind.
5. Indian Chief
The Indian Chief was another popular motorcycle built by Indian. It was similar to a Scout but larger. It shared the same 42-degree V-twin layout as the Scout. Chiefs made from 1922-1953. They had 1000cc engines for the first year, then 1200cc engines until 1950 when they increased again to 1300cc. A front brake was added in 1928. In 1940 the famous big fenders appeared, as did a new sprung frame which was leaps and bounds more comfortable than Harley's rigid frame. The chief was a good looking and comfortable bike and was capable of 85mph in stock form. They were known to exceed 100mph when a good tuner got his hands on them.
6. Scripps Booth Bi-Autogo
Many people have been down on this bike for a long time; it has made many "worst cars" lists. I like it because of the ingenuity it represents. When this bike was made in 1913 it had many featured never before seen on a motorcycle. It had a 3-seater body similar to a car. It had a V8 engine, the first vehicle made in Detroit so equipped. It also had two small wheels, similar to training wheels on a child's bike, that could be lowered at slow speeds to stabilize the machine. The main wheels were 37 inches, with wooden spokes. Unfortunately only one prototype was ever built. All in all I think this was a very interesting and innovative bike.
7. Harley-Davidson S-125
Harley-Davidson produced the S-125 from 1947 to 1952. The bike was produced from the plans for the German DKW RT125, which the allies received as part of reparations from Germany after World War II. Harley-Davidson made this as a basic entry level bike. The 125-cc two-stroke engine produced 3 horsepower. Power was sent to the rear wheel by a three-speed foot-shifted transmission. More than 10,000 were sold in the first seven months of 1947. The front fork was suspended by large rubber bands until a telescopic fork was introduced in 1951. In 1953 a larger 165cc engine was introduced and the model name changed to 165.
8. Harley-Davidson Model 7D
The Model 7D was introduced in 1911. It was the first successful V-twin from HD, and started the legacy that has continued unbroken ever since. The 7D lacked a conventional clutch mechanism, instead relying on a lever-operated tensioner pulley to engage and disengage the engine. Due to their use of a muffler and gray paint, these early Harleys were nicknamed "Silent Gray Fellows". They used the F-head IOE engine until 1929. In 1911 the price tag was $300, somewhere near $7000 in today's money.
9. Henderson-Excelsior Streamline "KJ"
When the Streamline was introduced in 1929, Henderson-Excelsior was in a very good position; they were #3, behind only Harley Davidson and Indian. Unfortunately they would be out of the motorcycle business within a couple of years.
In my opinion the Streamline is one of the best-looking American motorcycles of all time. The engine was good for 40 bhp, and marked the company's return to the IOE configuration. It featured down-draft carburetion, improved cooling, and a five main bearing crankshaft. The Streamline was good for an honest 100mph right off the showroom floor. Some unusual and advanced features for its time were an illuminated speedometer, located in the top of the fuel tank, and a leading link fork.
I chose the Ner-a-Car just because it is about the strangest looking bike I've ever seen. They were produced from 1921 to 1927. About 10,000 are believed to have been built in the U.S. with another 6500 in England. This was the first motorcycle to use hub-centered steering. It had an unusual variable-friction-drive transmission as well as an unusual monocoque frame.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
liamhubpages on January 04, 2015:
Motorcycles, bikers, leather - 3 of my favourite things in life! Are you yourself also a biker?
Gerrybag on September 17, 2011:
Harley made a BMW clone during WW 2 The army wanted something as reliable as the german bikes
Brett Brohman on September 08, 2010:
great page...I love the old Bikes...Q: When the U.S. entered WW1, what bikes did they have? (I'm writing a story and need to know)- thanks :)
Brett Brohman on September 08, 2010:
art stone on April 11, 2010:
These are the original bikes, how about an article on the new bikes made to look vintage, something that is affordable, safe and you can get parts for. I would love to have a reproduction Crocker to tool around on.
carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on March 06, 2010:
cool post... I loved the Ace-- saw one at Daytona last year and flipped.
ttravis5446 (author) from U.S. on October 04, 2009:
Thanks for the comment, the Blackhawk is a pretty neat bike. I'm not sure which Indian you are referring to with James Dean, but more than likely it was a Scout or Chief, both of which are on the list. One other possibility is that it was an Indian four, which is essentially an Ace, which is also on the list. The Brough and the Triumph are both British bikes, though the Triumph was designed by an American.
GAWjr on October 04, 2009:
Don't forget the 1912 Black-hawk, almost the same as the Harley 7D, the 1947 Indian (James Dean),1924 Brough Superior, and the 1973 Triumph Hurricane.