The recent resurrection of Indian Motorcycle by Polaris conjures memories of the originals and engenders comparisons of the classics to the new generation.
Larry Van Horn’s 1947 Indian Chief Roadmaster is subtly better than the originals.
The recent resurrection of the Indian motorcycle name by Polaris conjures memories of the originals and engenders comparisons of the classic Indians to the new generation.
At the top of the original Indian product line in its closing years from 1947 to 1953 was the Indian Chief Roadmaster.
It was the model that out-accessorized the base Clubman and mid-range Sportsman variants offered that year. Since the Chief was the only model offered that year, and total production was only 11,849 units, finding a serviceable example can be difficult these days.
But, once found, if you know what you’re doing, as Larry Van Horn of Monroe, Wis., does, you can not only save that great bike, you may be able to make it better than the original.
Larry Van Horn is a former Suzuki Motorcycle dealership owner and also has many years of experience with automotive body and paint work. His love for classic motorcycles and skill in making machines look beautiful combined when he saw an Indian Chief still in action earning its keep on farm.
Van Horn checked into acquiring the bike and when the deal was done in 2006, he went to work getting it back to its original glory—and a little more.
Original Indians — even the top-of-the-line Roadmaster — lacked a few things that modern motorcycles have. Some affect safety, such as turn signals; some affect rideability like an electric starter; some affect bike longevity and operating status like a tachometer and engine oil temperature gauge.
With some careful reengineering during the bike’s restoration process, Van Horn managed to add all these things, and did so skillfully in a subtle way, so the bike did not lose its original character.
Adding the electric starter was more than just a convenience upgrade; Van Horn explained that he was getting to the age where using the kickstarter made getting the bike going for a ride was more of a challenge than he wanted. Tucked down low and working through the transmission, the electric starter is barely noticeable.
Adding a tachometer was a matter of personal preference. “I don’t push the bike all that hard, but I’m used to having a tachometer, so I added one,” he explained. Again, a Drag Specialties model with a small case tucked down behind the windshield makes the modern upgrade something you have to look for to notice.
“Having to rely on hand signals bothers me. I wanted turn signals, but they had to be consistent with the bike’s design and not overly noticeable,” he said. Again, using vintage style units, sized to blend with the bike’s lines filled the bill.
While those upgrades were carefully melded into the bike’s restoration to go virtually unnoticed to preserve its authenticity, the aesthetic restoration was done to be full-on gorgeous.
The bike was stripped to the frame and all the painted surfaces stripped smoothed and completely re-done with the help of friends and local artisans. A stunning two-tone paint job with hand-painted pin striping, script and graphics makes this Indian a piece of rolling classical art.
Period fringed leather bags and seat are complemented by amazing hand-made studded leather fender skirts front and rear, taking the hallmark deeply valenced fenders one step further.
The 80 cubic-inch, flat-head 42-degree V-twin motor was tuned and thoroughly cleaned, but did not require major mechanical overhaul. The major mechanical components, carburetor and ignition system were cleaned, lubed and tuned to spec, but not replaced with electronic ignition or other modern components.
Van Horn has named his breathtaking Chief Roadmaster “Indian Summer,” a name befitting not only it origins, but its late-blooming beauty and staying power.
Mike Wolfe is known as an American picker. He’s a TV star, author and entrepreneur.
But mostly, he’d tell you, he’s an Indian Motorcycle® enthusiast. He loves them for their history and heritage, and for their ride. His “best pick – ever” (and what got him in the business full-time) was when he scored a treasure trove of Indian® motorcycles at a Pennsylvania farm.
Mike called the farmer about his classified ad, then drove 800 miles and slept in his van in the farmer’s driveway. The next day, the farmer opened two barns, revealing 10 vintage Indian® motorcycles and tons of parts. Mike Wolfe discovered heaven on earth.
In his picking business, Mike encounters antiques of every kind. But his greatest picking passion is Indian® motorcycles. He collects them. Gets them running. And mostly, he rides. He loves dings, dents, scratches and rust. Forget cosmetics or fresh paint. Just ride. After all, it’s an Indian®.
Indian Motorcycle is excited to be working and riding with Mike Wolfe. He’s helping us bring back the passion this iconic brand deserves, and is energized to ride with us into the exciting next chapter of Indian Motorcycle® history.
Indian's marketing director shares with us the secret to the iconic brand's renaissance.
It’s hard to talk about the motorcycle industry in 2017 without talking about Indian Motorcycles. Sales for the Polaris-owned brand have been soaring with double-digit growth while another American cruiser brand which will remain nameless is struggling. Motorcycle sales in the States are down overall but that hasn’t stopped Indian from growing its market share in big bikes from three percent to ten percent in just one year. The boys in Milwaukee still have a comfortable lead in the segment, but the gap is closing faster than anyone could have predicted.
So what’s the secret? What’s the special sauce behind Indian’s success? We reached out to Indian’s marketing director Reid Wilson to find out.
“There are a variety of factors that we believe have played a role in our ability to outperform the industry throughout 2017, no less of which is momentum,” said Reid. “We’ve been able to sustain and build upon the significant momentum we established with key product line introductions in recent years, including Scout and Chieftain, both of which remain consistent performers for us.”
Indeed, the Scout has become a segment leader in entry-level cruisers terms of power, engineering, and style at a competitive price. The Chieftain does everything a touring bike is supposed to do. It’s big on long-distance comfort, modern technology, retro/modern style, and enough special editions to keep it interesting.
“We’ve built on that momentum with a careful balance of commitment to our heritage, coupled with a focus on modern design and performance,” said Reid speaking further to the brand’s momentum. To me, this statement hits the nail on the head for Indian. The brand has found the perfect blend of looking back to its heritage and looking forward to its future. Indian injects just enough “heritage” into its bikes without getting too hung up on it while giving the bikes enough new-school flair and class-leading performance to stay truly modern and competitive. Nobody would mistake a 2017 Indian for a model from 30 years ago, which is something not all American cruiser brands can claim.
That’s a great ethos, so how does it play out in practice? “Examples of this would be successful modifications to some of our popular models, such as injecting the Chieftain platform with a heightened level of attitude through the introduction of the 19-inch wheel and open fender, or the limited edition ‘Elite’ series models for Chieftain and Roadmaster, as well as our popular limited-edition collaborations with Jack Daniel’s,” said Reid. “At the same time, the new Scout Bobber was designed to appeal to a younger consumer that’s seeking a more nimble, aggressive type of cruiser. For that reason, we launched the bike at X-Games in Minneapolis at a huge party we hosted for the top action sports athletes and, overall, the launch has been extremely successful for us.”
Another thing about Indian that’s impossible to ignore is its dominant success in flat track racing having recently won the grand national title. “The investment and commitment we’ve poured into Indian Motorcycle Racing in the American Flat Track series is paying off, reminding riders that our brand remains one grounded in the highest levels of innovation and performance,” said Reid.
We asked Indian what the brand is planning on doing to continue this momentum. “First, and foremost, we will be maintaining our steadfast dedication to the customer, providing a product that consistently delivers in terms of timeless style, unmatched quality, and performance. These characteristics will remain the cornerstone of the Indian brand,” said Reid. “We will also honor the spirit of innovation and exploration that the Indian brand was founded upon more than a century ago, venturing into new categories with new models that push forward and expand Indian’s relevance with a wider range of riders.” To put it simply, Indian figured out a winning formula and it’s sticking to it.
Any brand that’s old enough can hang its hat on “heritage” and “character” and call it a day. But that isn’t cutting it anymore. Indian is proving that it takes more than a “Since 1901” inscription on the engine to sell bikes. The motorcycles have to be truly new and innovative while proving their performance, sometimes by becoming flat track champions. If the competition can’t keep up, it will continue losing relevance until Indian is king again for the first time in about century.
Source: Here’s Why Indian Motorcycles Is Growing While the Competition Struggles
FOX TOWNSHIP, Pa. — A short film about a Sullivan County man’s love for racing motorcycles was recently released on YouTube.
“Fast Eddie” tells the story of what motorcycle racing life was like in the 1950s.
Ed Fisher, also known as Fast Eddie, began racing motorcycles when he was 16 years old. Now at 94, the former racing legend still enjoys riding, just at a slower pace.
Fisher was born in Lancaster County in 1925, and he loves to ride motorcycles. If you give Fisher two wheels, handlebars, and an open road, he will fly right on by. Fisher brought his first motorcycle, an Indian Scout Pony, in 1941 and hasn’t looked back.
After just celebrating his 94th birthday, the man from Shunk still loves to ride his bike in Sullivan County and beyond.
“You are out in the open. You see your surroundings much better, and normally it is nice fresh air,” said Fisher.
“Fast Eddie” is a documentary on YouTube that focuses on Fisher’s racing days in the 1950s. One of biggest wins of Fisher’s career was the 1953 Laconia 100-mile National Championship in New Hampshire.
“And you went off blacktop onto the sand, then sand onto the blacktop onto a 90-degree turn which got pretty slippery. If you learned to maneuver that good, that is how you make good time.”
Fisher eventually stopped racing professionally in 1957 and was voted into the American Motorcyclist Assocation Hall of Fame in 2002.
“You can’t say I think I have done something better than everybody else, but just being recognized as being one of the top competitors in your day. (It means a lot?) Yeah, yeah.”
Fisher says he will continue to ride his motorcycles until he can’t.
BOULDER (AP) — A growing band of once nearly extinct Indians is being resurrected in Boulder, some restored from rusting graveyards while others quietly survived the decades until their time had come again.
Not the red-blooded variety of hostiles these, but iron and steel Indian motorcycles built at the old Wigwam factory in Springfield, Mass., before the firm went bankrupt in 1953, leaving Harley Davidson as America’s lone motorcycle manufacturer.
“Save a piece of America — restore something,” is how machinist and tool-and-die maker Jeff Grigsby explains why he got into his growing business of restoring the old Indians to better-than-new condition.
Grigsby, born the year Indian went broke, says his customers are a “well-to-do crowd” since his inside-out restoration jobs run $7,000 to $9,000 on the Chiefs, the big 74-to-80 cubic inch V-twin Indians.
Back in the 1950s after Indian went broke, a dollar-short generation of young riders bought up those big, graceful but distressed Chiefs for $150 to $300. They hacksawed the full-skirted fenders into bobtails and destroyed them in street-drag duels with the quicker, lighter British bikes then flooding the market.
Only a few Indians survived.
Grigsby says there are more than 20 of the Indians running around the Boulder area now, ranging from well-worn to concourse condition. They include the rare Indian 4-cylinder machines, mostly the big V-twin Chiefs, and even a 1915 Power Plus twin.
One of those Indian riders is Eldon Arnold, 58, who bought his 1950 80-inch Chief 23 years ago and now has about 60,000 miles on it.
“You can’t wear them out. With a little extra care they’ll run forever. As the years went by, the Indian got more valuable and I hated to go out on the road with it. And at one time, parts were hard to come by. But they’re being duplicated again now,” Arnold said, summing up the nearly three decades since Indian went broke.
Ninety percent of American motorcycling today is done on Japanese bikes. Grigsby thinks increasing interest in the old Indian bikes is because they were American-made and represent a vibrant, classic era in motorcycling.
“It’s a study of history, of American engineering,” Grigsby said of the Indian bikes who battled Harley, Excelsior, Henderson, Pope and Cyclone for race track and sales supremacy during the golden age of American motorcycle production.
Indian began production in 1901, won the nation’s first motorcycle race (a 10-miler at Brooklyn, N.Y.) in 1902, then entered international Gran Prix racing and swept Britain’s Isle of Man 1-2-3 in 1911.
Every U.S. national motorcycle championship in 1928 and 1929 was won by an Indian.
“A Harley rider looked on an Indian rider like a racist thing. It was blood for blood back then and Indian still held all the speed records — and that determined the sales of a lot of motorcycles,” Grigsby said.
“The Indian is a rarer breed (than Harleys a desirable unit. People that rode these bikes when they were young now realize they can get one in better than new condition.
“I guess it’s a compensation to give up a gas-eatin’ hog for a piece of classic transportation that gets 60 to 65 miles to the gallon on regular,” Grigsby added.
At 27, Grigsby is an 11-year veteran of motorcycle mechanics. He dropped out of school at age 16 to attend a Harley Davidson factory mechanics school and then took a job at a Los Angeles Harley shop.
He took his four-year machinist’s apprenticeship in Boulder with Ed Gitlin at the shop where Grigsby still does his machining trade.Grigsby had balanced, tuned and blue-printed Harley V-twins for several years before “I fell into a large investment of close to 40 Indian motorcycles three years ago.”
Since then he has restored five of the Indians, with three more underway for completion in March. He hopes to expand to 12 at a time for the next batch. “Everybody that sees ‘em, wants ‘em.”
Partner in the effort is Jim Arnold, Eldon’s son, who restores the Indians’
instruments, speedometers, switches and does all detail work.
Grigsby says his Indians go through five stages of complete dismantling and reassembly. The final finish and fit is more like that of a hand-built Italian Ferrari than the original, production Springfield Indians.
Grigsby replaces plain bronze bushings with needle bearings wherever possible, Teflon-coats engine parts, mirror polishes combustion chambers and improves on the original lubrication system.
If the Indian was such a classic, why did the firm go belly up?
Cycling historians say loss of World War II government contracts when the military opted for the Jeep instead of courier motorcycles and a fatally flawed new British-style engine marketed after the war — it consistently blew main bearings — led to Indian’s defeat.
Now, 27 years later, restorers like Grigsby and Arnold at shops scattered across the country are bringing the last remnants of the old Indian line back to showroom condition as America’s nostalgia kick moves into the motorcycling arena.
And after so many moons, the end of the trail for Indian has become a new beginning.
Editors Note:This reprint is from 1980. Jeff is still active with building musem quality Indian Motorcycles. He is one of many rebuilders who have kept the brand alive!
It was 1949 and Indian Motorcycle was struggling. It was so bad that the company could not fulfill the orders it had from, all-important police and other commercial entities. West Coast distributor Hap Alzina got the news and selflessly shipped huge stocks of parts he had in his West Coast warehouse, just so Indian could build bikes to fulfill its orders. Then, not long after that, Alzina learned that Indian was to the point of being so cash strapped, it wasn’t going to be able to meet payroll. Again, Alzina went into action to try to save the manufacturer, by placing a massive advance order, well over his normal allotment, just so Indian would have an instant cash infusion and be able to pay its employees.
Alzina’s ardent devotion to Indian motorcycles went back to the early years of America’s first major motorcycle company. When he was just 15 years old, he bought he first Indian and he loved it. So much so that when he was 17, he took a job as a mechanic for an Indian dealership in San Francisco and quickly worked his way up to service manager.
Born on September 14, 1894, Loris Alzina’s interest in motorcycling began early in life. As a boy he bought his first motorcycle, a Reading-Standard, for $50. In 1909, Alzina’s family moved from Santa Cruz, California, to San Francisco. There, he bought his first Indian from C.C. Hopkins, who was the Indian distributor for Northern California at the time. It was for Hopkins’ agency that Alzina began working for Indian.
Alzina spent 56 years devoting himself to motorcycling. Involved in motorcycling from its infancy, he is best known for being the western states distributor for Indian and, later, BSA. He oversaw the sales of those brands during the height of their popularity. Alzina — who earned the nickname “Hap” from his good-natured attitude — also sponsored many of the top AMA professional racers.
In the early 1910s, racing was becoming increasing popular and Alzina tried his hand in competition. He did some flat-track racing, but his primary interest was endurance runs. Alzina raced in many of the early desert city-to-city runs that were popular at the time. In 1919, Alzina edged well known racers Wells Bennett and Cannonball Baker to win the prestigious San Francisco Motorcycle Club Two-Day Endurance Run. That was a huge upset victory over two very popular racers. Of the 30 starters in the 680-mile endurance event, only seven riders managed to finish. Competitors had to battle against rain, hail, snow and even a landslide during the February contest. One rider slid off a muddy wooden bridge and was injured when he fell into the creek below. Alzina overcame those obstacles to earn a perfect score, riding an Indian sidecar outfit. Bennett, riding an Excelsior and Baker, on a factory-backed Indian, were on solo machines.
Alzina’s 1919 endurance victory was his biggest achievement as a competitor and it made him a popular name by way of win ads in motorcycle magazines across the country.
A few years before his big race win, Alzina opened his own dealership, selling Reading-Standard and Cleveland motorcycles. That enterprise was short-lived due to the onset on World War I. After closing his shop, Alzina again worked as sales manager for San Francisco’s Indian distributor. In 1922, Alzina saw a golden opportunity across the Bay in Oakland and bought out the dealership of E.S. Rose. Alzina turned the struggling franchise into a very successful business.
Alzina’s business expertise was recognized by Indian. In 1925, the company assigned him all of Northern California’s distribution. The next year, he was given the entire state, and by 1927 his territory expanded to include Nevada, Arizona and Washington. By 1948, Indian sales in Alzina’s territory represented over 20 percent of Indian’s total worldwide volume.
At the age of 54, moved on to another business venture and bought the western states distribution rights for BSA motorcycles from Alf “Rich” Child in 1949. The growth in motorcycling over the next 15 years was explosive. Under Alzina’s direction, BSA’s western distribution went from three dealerships to 265 dealers in 20 states. The move to BSA helped keep him in the motorcycle business even after his beloved Indian failed in the mid-1950s.
Alzina was an enthusiastic supporter of racing. Many racing stars such as Ed Kretz, Gene Thiessen, Al Gunter, Dick Mann, Kenny Eggers and Sammy Tanner credited Alzina for being a big part of their success. Several of those riders worked in Alzina’s shop and were allowed generous time away to travel to races.
At one point, Alzina also served as Vice President of the AMA.
Famous for his practical jokes, Alzina once walked a horse through a plush New York hotel lobby, pushing the horse into an elevator and taking him up to a room where a party was going on. He also enjoyed marking “Private & Confidential” on the address side of post cards so that everyone would be sure to read the card.
Alzina retired in 1965. He and his wife, Lillian, enjoyed traveling together, visiting friends across the country during their retirement years. He was given an Award of Merit from the AMA on behalf of its 70,000 members upon his retirement.
He was by a journalist if he viewed motorcycling as more business or pleasure.
“Motorcycles are a business,” he said. “But now, as you’re asking questions and I look back over the years, I call it 40 years of fun.”
Alzina died on July 21, 1970 at the age of 75. He will always be remembered as a man of integrity, honesty, loyalty, foresight, common sense and hard work. He was also a one of Indian’s most passionate supporters. He was inducted into the first class of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1998.
Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor – Cycle World In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.
The 1906 Indian Camelback, one of the first ever two-wheeled motorized machines, is hugely desirable despite its rusty appearance and could fetch £50,000.
This weekend Las Vegas will be hosting two prominent Vintage Motorcycle Auctions. Bonhams Auction on Thursday January 8th and Mecum’s Auctions on January 8-10, 2015. It will be an interesting weekend to see where prices go with our improving economy!
It was owned by the du Pont family, which bought the ‘Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company’ that built it, and this cycle was last ridden in the Seventies.
Whoever buys the machine will probably use minimum efforts to restore it to a working condition, but complete restoration would see its value reduce.
The Indian cycles were the great rivals of Harley-Davidson, but the company eventually went bankrupt in 1953.
It had a rudimentary braking system and a hobnail boot on the ground would have been needed to help it stop.
The motorcycle is going under the hammer at Bonhams in Las Vegas, U.S., on January 12.
Ben Walker from Bonhams said: ‘This motorcycle is in such demand because of its condition and to restore it would actually take value off.
‘The motorcycle will probably be ‘oily-ragged’, which means wiping it down with oil to preserve it as it is.
‘It will probably be rebuilt mechanically but with as little change to its condition.
Experts believe that cleaning the bike or restoring it to a better condition could actually be detrimental to its value
‘India were the great rivals of Harley-Davidson and were at the forefront of motorcycles when they evolved from bicycles.
‘It would have been a quick machine with a fair turn of speed and no brakes on early motorcycles were much good – the were the same design as bicycle brakes.
‘This is an extremely rare thing and hs come from the du Pont family that owned the company.
‘It was a pedal assisted bike and it still has its original registration number on the rear mud guard.
‘These motorcycles have never really reduced in value – if I filled a whole sale with them they would all go for good prices.’
As it was: Only 1,698 Camel Backs were made in 1906