This 1948 Indian Chief is one of the most important Indian motorcycles on the planet.
Starklite Cycle as shown on American Thunder. They interview Bob Stark about his dedication to keeping the Indian Motorcycle Brand alive for most of his life.
Starklite Cycle as shown on American Thunder. They interview Bob Stark about his dedication to keeping the Indian Motorcycle Brand alive for most of his life.
High on the list of truths universally acknowledged must be the fact that the Indian Motorcycle, as a legend, a logo and a symbol ranks up there with the golden arches and the three-pointed star, with power and value beyond calculation. On the other hand, naming your daughter Baby Ruth doesn’t ensure she will hit 60 homers a season against big-league pitching. To collect on the promise of legend and esteem, you gotta have a product.
We are concerned here with the Indian, originally spelled Motocycle by the founders, as currently offered by Polaris Industries. To fully appreciate this, we’ll have to look back 60 years, to an undisputed tragedy.
At the close of WWII, a prosperous and product-starved public was ready to buy just about anything. The car and motorcycle makers had learned a lot during the war, but they were canny enough to offer the old versions while testing and refining the new. The 1947 Harley-Davidsons, Fords, Chevys, Dodges, etc., were identical to the 1941 models, while the improved models—the ohv Oldsmobile engine and the telescopic-fork Hydra-Glide—didn’t get here until 1949.
But at the Wigwam, as always, things were different. E. Paul DuPont, who owned Indian and kept the brand in business through the Great Depression, sold his shares in the company. The new owners had new ideas—vision, one could say. The firm’s chief engineer had designed a radical line of really new machines, modular in that there would be a Single, a Twin and a Four, all using the same basic design, all overhead valve, foot shift and hand clutch, suspension fore and aft, with the writing on the tank being the only clue as to what was what.
Further, the new president embarked on a revolutionary ad campaign. As the Japanese say, he reckoned to enlarge the pie, rather than fight over slices. The completely different motorcycles were launched in 1945, with a completely different campaign endorsed by baseball, show business and movie stars.
But wait: Doesn’t this sound like Honda in 1959, meeting the nicest people and all that? Yes. But for one thing, Honda’s dealer network was based on new people who mostly ran hardware or sporting-goods stores, and for another, Honda’s engineering raised the bar worldwide.
Indian’s new bikes—the Single and Twin (the inline-Four never got past the prototype stage)—were disasters. When they didn’t blow up, they broke down. The motorcycling community was small, and everybody knew how bad the new models were. Add to that, the old dealer network, the guys who’d raised a stink when the evergreen Scout was abandoned and stormed the boardroom demanding a new one, wasn’t always that happy with the new people.
Suffice it here to say that everything that could go wrong did. The money ran out and Indian’s new owners begged for help. The English brands were doing well, so Indian asked to distribute several makes. A partnership was formed, and before you could say the camel’s nose was in the tent, the Indian visionaries were out, the English owned Indian and production of the new models was immediately stopped. The final production run of the final genuine Indians, the Blackhawk version of the side-valve 80-inch Chief, came in 1953.
There followed a run of Royal Enfields and later, Matchlesses labeled Indian, but fooling nobody. Next, a puzzle and struggle over ownership of the script, name and symbols. There were Matchless-Indians, then a run of Italian Indians backed by entrepreneur Floyd Clymer, first road bikes and then motocross.
Next, a series of failures on a different stage: promoters with big plans and no money, who never made any motorcycles. A serious effort appeared in 1999. There was a major market at the time for full-dress Harleys and look-alike rivals from the major brands. Indian of America had a factory in Gilroy, California, and produced a viable machine, a big Twin styled like the old Chief and powered by a version of a Harley clone. But the funding wasn’t enough, sales did not meet hopes and the firm went bankrupt in 2003. Three years later, another group of investors picked up the baton and began building the same sort of repro-Indian Chief, this time with modern engineering as in EFI and a bigger V-Twin than Indian Motocycle ever dreamed of—all of it just in time for the bottom to drop out of the market.
But the true revival, one can only hope, came in 2011, when Polaris bought the struggling brand. What’s the difference this time? The lesson since the debacle in 1945 is clear: It’s a heap more difficult to produce a viable motorcycle than all those dreamers and promoters realized. They all had the script and the logo and the legend, but not one had a product to match the hype, good intentions or no.
In contrast, Triumph, with a logo and badge nearly as good, was revived and still thrives simply because it had 1) the capital to invest; and 2) a properly engineered machine that created its own market. It didn’t revise the classic Bonneville Twin until the big Triples proved that the product matched the promotion. Knock wood, those Indian dealers who stormed the boardroom demanding a new Scout in 1947, may soon get their wish. Except there is a very good chance it will be a Chief.
I don’t hear anybody complaining.
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.
Ever since Indian Motorcycle was revived by Polaris, the American motorcycle brand’s lineup of products has been growing fast. However, there’s one thing that all Indians have in common, from the entry-level Scout Sixty up to the luxurious Roadmaster Elite: they’re all cruisers. Since the brand is positioned to go toe-to-toe with another century-old name in American motorcycles, the new Indian Motorcycle has been competing exclusively in those segments, and it’s actually done a pretty nice job scraping out a market share for itself.
But for a while now, we’ve been hearing Indian promise that greater product diversity was on the way. Indian Motorcycle marketing and product director Reid Wilson told The Drive a year ago that the company would be “venturing into new categories with new models that push forward and expand Indian’s relevance with a wider range of riders.” A month later, Indian pulled the wraps off of the FTR1200 Custom concept bike, a motorcycle for the street that’s heavily influenced by the dominant FTR750 race bike that’s won that last two American Flat Track titles.
The concept was a hit and got a lot of attention, prompting Indian to confirm a production model in June and unveil the official FTR 1200 and FTR 1200 S production models this month. We went to the massive Intermot motorcycle show in Cologne, Germany where the bike was unveiled and had a chance to talk to a few big shots at Indian Motorcycle about how one of the most important American motorcycles in years went from a dominant flat tracker to a stunning concept to the first non-cruiser in Indian’s modern history.
One of those big shots was Wilson, the same guy who told us a year ago to expect a more diverse lineup from Indian. “You’d like to think it was a really clear and simple path, but we started working on this bike in March of 2016,” he said. “You make compromises and you figure out the best way to express [the spirit of the FTR750] in a way that is relevant for a street rider for something that will work on an everyday basis, but will still maintain the essence of the race bike.”
So it sounds like a production bike was the plan all along ever since Indian got back into flat track racing. It just so happens that Indian built a very good race bike and a concept that was extremely well-received, both of which aided in building hype around a bike that you’ll actually be able to buy.
Flat track champ Jared Mees aboard the FTR 1200 with some very enthusiastic Indian fans behind him.
Wilson went on to talk about how Indian surveyed the globe and spoke with thousands of riders about what they would want to see in a performance-oriented motorcycle from an American brand. Based on that feedback, the FTR1200 Custom concept was born. I asked Wilson about some of the challenges involved in turning the concept bike into a production bike.
“Exhaust is always challenging just due to the regulatory challenges we face. This is a global bike so we have to adhere to a wide array of countries’ standards,” he said, highlighting of one of the most noticeable differences between the concept and the production model. “The FTR1200 Custom is a very pure motorcycle, but it’s not a motorcycle you’d want to ride more than a couple hours at most. But you get on [the production bike] and you could ride this thing cross-country without a lot of compromises in terms of comfort. It’s quite friendly to the customer in terms of comfort and performance.”
Wilson went on to speak of the overall significance the FTR 1200 will hold in the American motorcycle industry. “The significance of this motorcycle is massive. I’m almost 40 and I grew up dreaming about this motorcycle from an American brand my entire life. To be able to work on it is a dream.”
2019 Indian FTR 1200 S
Next up was industrial designer Rich Christoph, the man who designed the FTR750, the FTR1200 Custom, and the FTR 1200 production bike. He detailed the importance of starting with a race bike and designing a street form around it.
“Thank God we went racing to begin with,” he said. “It would be really easy to just keep doing the same basic cruiser stuff and not get involved in flat track racing, but we challenged ourselves to raise the bar. We knew that racing would improve chassis development and powertrain development that got us information we can deliver back to the customers on our street bikes.”
“I was trying to capture the championship lines and the shape of the tank and carry those lines, silhouette, and proportions into the FTR1200 Custom. I had nobody in the way telling me what I could and couldn’t do. There were no restrictions. It was just pure sculpture, pure emotion, and pure mechanics.”
For anyone disappointed that the production FTR doesn’t look more like the concept, Christoph explained to me why they couldn’t just mass-produce the concept. “What I may have done is done it a little too well. Now you’ve gotta take that bike and dissect it. You need to cut a seat and real fuel volumes out of that silhouette. The 1200 Custom had high pipes on it and you’d burn your leg after about 20 km and at about 25 km you’d run out of gas. And it would be about $95,000 to build that and sell it on the street.”
Indian FTR1200 Custom
You hear that, naysayers? If you got a carbon-copy of the production bike in dealers like you wanted, it would almost have a six-digit price tag, not to mention its various practical disadvantages.
“All of those design challenges in making a real motorcycle at a cost that the customer is actually willing to pay for and fall in love with is a very delicate balance and it’s a big challenge,” said Christoph.
That design challenge was completely worth it, Indian’s international product director Ben Lindemann told me, expanding on the importance of the brand exploring segments outside of its bread-and-butter cruisers and diving into racing.
“As a brand, we were always known for racing,” said Lindeman. “When [Polaris] bought [Indian] in 2011 it was important to us from the beginning to get back into racing. Coupled with that, we wanted to grow outside of our traditional segments of cruiser, bagger, and touring bikes. We wanted to get into segments that are growing in the U.S. and are also really big internationally.”
“About four years ago we said ‘okay, let’s do a race bike and then let’s leverage that race bike to build a street bike.’ Once we did the race bike we got a lot of feedback and people loved how it looked so we knew we were on the right path.”
2019 Indian FTR 1200 S
My personal translation: Indian is probably working on an adventure bike with this platform. After seeing it in person, it’s very easy to visualize different styling, suspension, tires, ergonomics, etc to morph this platform into a bona fide ADV. It’s a very hot segment and it’s one that Harley-Davidson is about to get into with the Pan America. For Indian, the platform and engine are already done and the brand might even be able to bring an adventure bike to market sooner than the Pan America shows up, which is supposed to be in 2020. Of course, this is just my own speculation, and time will ultimately tell.
From the styling to the pricing to the spec sheet, it sure seems like Indian knocked it out of the park with the FTR 1200. If this thing’s real-life performance is as good as we hope it is, we think Indian Motorcycle will have a global winner on its hands when this bike hits dealers next spring
Here is a link to the Video I made in 2010 about the Great Indian V Harley Race in Australia. After going on this race I decided to start sponsoring this event in the US. So far we have had 3 events in the states and our next event will be Spring 2016
The Great Race 2010 Indian Vs Harley – 120 motorcycles competing in Australia’s Snowy River for bragging rights. I was invited to the event by Peter Arundel, who loaned me his 53 Chief to ride on the event. I had a great time, meeting and riding with the other participants. It was a real fun weekend of riding! This was my first trip to Australia, and in my 5 days of staying in the country I spent everyday riding, and we rode over 1,000 miles! How can you beat a trip like that! Riding antique bikes every day!
I had so much fun at this event, that I decided we needed to have an event like this in the states. “The Great Indian v Harley Race” is coming to Yosemite CA. May 12-14 2011 – sign up today and see you on the road!
For details on the 2011 event see our website at:
1912 Indian Single is a two-wheeler that Jay Leno just couldn’t pass up. In this episode he highlights the stock 1912 Indian Single and talks to its owner. The motorcycle was part of the Motorcycle Cannonball Ride and given its age, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try it out. Yes, this 1912 Indian Single can still hit the streets. It’s owner Alex Trepanier tells us more about its history.
According to him, the 1912 Indian Single has been in their family since before he was born. His dad bought it for $650, back in 1962. Leno, of course, was pretty quick to offer twice the price. However, in this state, the 500cc bike has a current market value in the $70,000 range. Given the fact that it is unrestored and is still functional, the prize range makes sense.
When it comes to power, the 1912 Indian Single has a 4-horsepower single-speed. It has completed more than 3,000 miles in the Cannonball event. Also, it features a total-loss lubrication system. Thus, an interesting fact is that the engine probably consumed 5 quarts of oil each day.
Nevertheless, what Jay Leno is trying to point out is how much effort was put into making motorcycles in the early days. Not many could do it as Indian’s hand clutch and twist-grip throttle was pretty challenging. That’s why it took several false starts by Leno to make the vintage thumper run along. The 1912 Indian Single motorcycle’s top speed is around 35 mph.
But be that as it may, it surely is an exceptional experience to hop on this machine nowadays. The sound of the engine isn’t as pleasant as you would imagine but, all in all, it’s totally worth it. Check it out!
Friends, every once in a while, a chance comes along to own a piece of motorcycling history, and for those of you who love very old motorcycles and motorcycle racing of every kind, this might be your chance.
Up for sale through Heroes Motors of Los Angeles is a 1919 Indian Power Plus, and not just any (very) old motorcycle. It was a board track racer in its day and raced at the Los Angeles Motor Speedway; there is a chance this very bike is one of the motorcycles in the above video from 1921!
Heroes Motors has limited information on the machine, except that its owner moved from the United States to France with this bike after World War II, and the machine was then sold to, and stored in, a museum in France from the 1970s through the 1990s. The current owner bought the bike from that museum. It remains in unrestored condition (though some of the leather pieces like the seat have been replaced).
There is no price listed on this motorcycle. It definitely falls under the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” clause, but as with every single other motorcycle on the Heroes Motors website, the pictures are amazing and worth a look even if you’re not currently in the market.
The Indian Power Plus, while a throwback now and certainly bearing little resemblance to modern motorcycles, was well ahead of its time. It was truly a marvel of engineering. Indian employed engineers as well as their factory racers to design the engines and frames of these bikes. These were the machines that set speed and distance records in their day.
The oval board track racers regularly saw speeds of 100mph and better, which is pretty impressive for a machine that put out just a hair over 15hp. The demons who rode them did not have the benefit of modern safety gear but instead donned leather helmets, and their clothing sometimes had wooden armor. This didn’t help a whole lot when a crash occurred on the speedway, where riders would sometimes (gird your loins here, friends) end up with twelve-inch splinters from the wooden track.
Fire up your imaginations; can you begin to believe what these races must have been like?