Historic Motorcycle Brands
Indian is an American brand of motorcycles originally produced in Springfield, Massachusetts. Indian’s most popular models were the Scout, made from 1920 to 1946, and the Chief, made from 1922 until bankruptcy in 1953. After several false starts, the ‘Indian’ brand was revived in 2006.
The Hendee Manufacturing Company was founded by George M Hendee in 1897, to manufacture bicycles. These were initially badged as ‘Silver King’ and ‘Silver Queen’ brands, but the name ‘American Indian’, shortened to just ‘Indian’, was adopted by Hendee from 1898, because it gave better product recognition in export markets.
Hendee and his bicycle racing colleague Oscar Hedstrom, who joined him in 1900, built a motorcycle with a 1.75bhp, single-cylinder engine, chain drive and streamlined styling. The first Indian prototype was completed on May 25, 1901 and a public demonstration was held on Saturday, June 1, 1901.
The first Indian motorcycles were sold to the public in 1902 and, in 1903, Oscar Hedstrom set a world motorcycle speed record of 56mph. In 1904 the company introduced the deep red colour that became Indian’s trademark.
The engines for the Indian Single were built by Aurora in Illinois, under a licence from Hendee Manufacturing until 1906, after which Indian began manufacturing its own engines.
Indian history at the Springfield Museum
In 1905, Indian built its first V-twin factory racer and in following years made a strong showing in racing and record-breaking. The Indian Motorcycle factory team took the first three places in the 1911 Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.
In 1907, the company introduced the first street version V-twin and a roadster styled after the factory racer.
Annual production of Indian motorcycles ramped up very quickly, rising to a peak of 32,000 in 1913, making Indian the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world.
1911 Indian – Lars-Goran Lindgren
In 1914, Erwin ‘Cannonball’ Baker rode an Indian from San Diego to New York, in a record 11 days, 12 hours and 10 minutes. Baker’s next mount, in 1916, was the Powerplus, side-valve, 61 cubic-inch (1000cc) 42 degree, V-twin. It was more powerful and quieter than previous designs, giving a top speed of 60mph.
1912 Indian Board Track Racer – Cullen 32
The Powerplus was highly successful, both as a roadster and as the basis for racing bikes, and remained in production with few changes until 1924.
Oscar Hedstrom left Indian in 1913 after disagreements with the board and George Hendee resigned in 1916.
1920 Indian Scout 600cc – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
Indian introduced the 221cc single-cylinder, two-stroke Model K ‘Featherweight’ in 1916. The Model K had an open cradle frame with the engine as a stressed member[ and a pivoting front fork that had been replaced on other Indian motorcycles by a leaf-sprung, trailing-link fork.
The Model K was manufactured for one year and was replaced in 1917 by the Model O. The Model O had a four-stroke, flat-twin engine and a new frame, but retained the pivoting fork at the front. The Model O was manufactured until 1919.
As the USA entered World War I, Indian sold most of its Powerplus line in 1917 and 1918 to the United States government, starving its dealers. This blow to domestic availability of Indians led to a loss of dealers to other brands, from which Indian never quite recovered.
Although Indian shared in the business boom of the 1920s, it lost its market leadership to Harley-Davidson. The Hendee Manufacturing Company name was changed to the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company in 1923.
The Scout and Chief V-twins, introduced in the early 1920s, became the Springfield firm’s most successful models. Designed by Charles Franklin, the middleweight Scout and larger Chief shared the 42-degree, V-twin engine layout.
1920 Indian Scout
Introduced in 1922, the Indian Chief had a 61 cubic-inch (1000cc) engine based on the Powerplus and a year later the engine was enlarged 73 cubic inches (1200cc). Many improvements were made to the Chief over the years, including the provision of a front brake in 1928.
The Scout engine originally displaced 37 cubic inches (610cc), then the Scout 45, with a displacement of 45 cubic inches (740cc), became available in 1927 to compete with the Excelsior Super X. A front brake became standard on the Scout early in 1928.
1928 Indian 401 – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
Indian purchased the Ace Motor Corporation in 1927 and marketed its in-line, four-cylinder bike as the Indian Ace Four.
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. The Ace’s leading-link forks and central coil spring were replaced by Indian’s trailing-link forks and quarter-elliptic leaf spring.
In 1929, the Indian 401 was replaced by the Indian 402, which received a stronger twin-down-tube frame, based on the 101 Scout frame and a sturdier five-bearing crankshaft than the Ace’s three-bearing crankshaft.
1928 Indian Big Chief 1200cc
In 1930, Indian merged with Du Pont Motors, which concentrated the company’s resources on Indian. DuPont’s paint industry connections resulted in 24 colour options in 1934 and native American imagery was much used in advertising.
Models of that era had Indian’s famous war bonnet logo on the fuel tank.
A second line of Scouts was introduced for 1933. Based on the frame of the discontinued Indian Prince, single-cylinder motorcycle, the Motoplane used the 45 cubic-inch engine from the Standard Scout while the Pony Scout had a reduced displacement of 30.5 cubic inches (500cc).
In 1934 the Motoplane was replaced by the Sport Scout with a heavier but stiffer frame better able to withstand the power of the 45 cubic inch engine, while the Pony Scout, later renamed the Junior Scout, was continued with the Prince/Motoplane frame.
In 1937 renowned racer Ed Kretz won the first Daytona 200 race on an Indian Sport Scout.
Between the introduction of the Sport Scout in 1934 and the discontinuation of the Standard Scout in 1937 there were three Scout models – Pony/Junior, Standard and Sport – with three different frames.
During the Great Depression, Indian continued production of the Four and experimented with ‘upside down’ heads on the 1936-37 models, replacing the inlet-over-exhaust (IOE) cylinder heads with overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves.
In theory, this would improve fuel vaporisation and increase output, but the layout made the cylinder head very hot and the exhaust valve train required frequent adjustment. The addition of dual carburettors in 1937 did not revive buyer interest and the design 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, its 18-inch wheels were replaced by 16-inch wheels with balloon tyres, but the Indian Four was discontinued in 1942.
In 1940, Indian sold nearly as many motorcycles as its major rival, Harley-Davidson. During this time, Indian also manufactured other products such as aircraft engines, bicycles, boat motors and air conditioners.
1939 Indian Dispatch Tow – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
The Sport Scout and the Junior Scout were continued until civilian production was interrupted in early 1942.
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 capable of 85mph in standard form and over 100mph when tuned.
1942 Indian Scout 500cc V-Twin – Terry Whalebone
During World War II, Chiefs, Scouts and Junior Scouts were used in small numbers for various purposes by the United States Army and were also used by British and other Commonwealth military services, under Lend Lease programs.
However, none of these Indian models could unseat the Harley-Davidson WLA as the motorcycle mainly used by the US military.
In 1945, a group headed by Ralph B Rogers purchased a controlling interest of the company. Under Rogers’ control, Indian resumed production with only one model, the Chief, for 1946 and 1947. The Indian-head fender light was introduced.
In 1948, Indian launched two rebadged import models: the Czech-built CZ125b, and the Brockhouse Engineering Corgi Scooter. The Scooter, a novel 100cc vehicle developed for paratroopers during World War II, was rebadged the Papoose.
Indian also produced a limited number of Scouts for racing. The 1948 Chief had a 74 cubic-inch engine, hand-shift and foot-clutch. While one handlebar grip controlled the throttle the other was a manual spark advance.
In 1949, Indian began selling two lightweight motorcycles: the single-cylinder 220cc 149 Arrow and the twin-cylinder 440cc 249 Scout.
1950 Indian Chief Black Hawk 80 cubic-inch – Yesterdays Antique Motorcyles
In 1950, the V-twin Chief engine was enlarged to 79 cubic inches (1300cc) and telescopic forks were adopted. The same year saw the introduction of the twin-cylinder 500cc Warrior model, which received both a standard and high-pipe, sporting TT trim.
Rogers stepped down as CEO of Indian to take employment at Texas Instruments. Replacing Rogers was hand-picked successor John Brockhouse, President and owner of Brockhouse Engineering.
Unfortunately, new management did not bring new fortune and production of all models wound down in 1952, with most 1953 Chiefs built from remaining parts. All product manufacturing ended in 1953.
Brockhouse Engineering acquired the rights to the Indian name. The Indian Sales Corp (ISC) continued to support the rebranded Papoose Scooter and the Brave. The Brave was a European-styled 125cc lightweight bike that was produced by an English subsidiary owned by Brockhouse.
ISC also sold a variety of rebadged imports, including Vincent, AJS and Matchless from various dates until solidifying their import models line-up to a single manufacturer.
From 1955 until 1960, they imported English Royal Enfield motorcycles, mildly customised them and sold them under Indian branding.
In 1960, the Indian brand was bought by AMC of the UK. With Royal Enfield being their competition, they abruptly stopped all Enfield-based Indian models, except the 700cc Chief.
In 1962 AMC, facing financial issues, withdrew from all marketing of the Indian Brand name.
From the 1960s, entrepreneur Floyd Clymer began using the Indian name, attached it to imported Minarelli-engined 50cc minibikes under the Indian Papoose name.
How the mighty had fallen – 1972 Indian MM 5A – Michael Hicks
After Clymer’s death in 1970 his widow sold the alleged Indian trademark to Los Angeles attorney Alan Newman, who planned to revive large-capacity machines as the Indian 900, using a Ducati 860cc engine. The project failed, leaving the prototype as the only survivor.
The Indian Trademark was purchased from bankruptcy court in late 1977, by American Moped Associates, who imported a Taiwanese moped using licensed patents from Honda’s discontinued PC50-K1 and branded it Indian AMI-50 Chief. This moped was offered from 1978 until late 1983.
The rights to the brand name then passed through a succession of owners and became a subject of competing claims and manufacturing efforts until 1999.
Indian (Springfield) – Doronik
The Indian Motorcycle Company of America was formed from the merger of nine companies and began manufacturing motorcycles in 1999 in Gilroy, California.
The first ‘Gilroy Indian’ model was a new design called the Chief. Scout and Spirit models were also manufactured from 2001. These bikes were initially powered by 88 cubic-inch S&S engines, but later used the 100-cubic-inch (1600cc) Powerplus engine design. The Indian Motorcycle Corporation went into bankruptcy and ceased all production operations in Gilroy on September 19, 2003.
Indian (Stellican) – MeridenTriumph
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 restarted manufacturing Indian Chief motorcycles in limited numbers, with a focus on exclusivity rather than performance.
Starting out where the defunct Gilroy IMC operation left off, the ‘Kings Mountain’ models were continuation models, based on the series of motorcycles developed in 1999.
Indian Scout – Bob Adams
The 2009 Indian Chief incorporated a redesigned 105 cubic-inch (1720cc) Powerplus V-twin powertrain.
In 2011, Polaris Industries purchased Indian Motorcycles and since August 2013, Polaris has marketed multiple modern Indian motorcycles that reflect Indian Motorcycle’s traditional styling.
2014 Indian Chief – Vintage Noop