Indian Motorcycle History

More than a century of heritage

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The rebirth of Indian Motorcycles under the stewardship of Polaris Industries is the most significant industry development in years. Indian has been an iconic American brand for more than a century, and it still resonates among older motorcyclists.

Now with the weight of a well-capitalized, engineering-based company behind it, the latest Indians are poised for a successful resurrection. And unlike many of the pretenders to Harley-Davidson’s throne, which have a history of being quickly derided by the bar-and-shield crowd, the Indians, at worst, receive grudging respect. More often, they’re quite appreciated, as discussed in my Indian Acceptance editorial.

The Polaris chapter of Indian Motorcycle's history begins with three new models including the Indian Chieftain.

The Polaris chapter of Indian Motorcycle’s history begins with three new models including the Indian Chieftain.

Catch up on the new Indians in the links below:
2014 Indian Motorcycle Review: Chief Classic, Chief Vintage and Chieftain
2014 Indian Chief – Reinventing an icon
2014 Indian Chieftain Review
2014 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special vs. Indian Chieftain – Video

So, with Indian Motorcycles once again becoming prominent, we thought we’d look back at the rich history of the marque to find its notable milestones.

1901: Indian Motocycles (sic) is launched by Oscar Hedstrom and George Hendee in Springfield, MA. Prototype and two production units were built.
1902: First Indian motorcycle sold to public.
1903: Indian’s co-founder and chief engineer Oscar Hedstrom sets world motorcycle speed record at 56 mph.
1906: Indian debuts the first American production V-Twin.
1911: Indian sweeps the top three positions in first Isle of Man Mountain Course Race.
1913: First swingarm and leaf-spring rear suspension in the industry is introduced. Hedstrom resigns “after disagreements with the Board of Directors regarding dubious practices to inflate the company’s stock values,” according to Wikipedia.
1914: Debuts world’s first motorcycle with electric lights and starter.

The ThunderStroke 111 engine may be brand new but Polaris took care to keep classic Indian engine designs.

The ThunderStroke 111 engine may be brand new but Polaris took care to keep classic Indian engine designs.

1916: Hendee resigns from Indian.
1918: Indian unleashes a racing motorcycle powered by an overhead-cam, four-valve-per-cylinder Powerplus V-Twin that exceeds 120 mph.
1920: The Scout makes its introduction with a 42-degree V-Twin.
1922: The first Chief is unveiled, powered by a 61 cubic-inch (1000cc) V-Twin engine.
1923: The Big Chief debuts with a 74 ci (1200cc) V-Twin.
1927: The four-cylinder Ace is introduced, re-launched in 1928 as the Indian 401. Production of four-cylinder models ends in 1942.
1930: Indian merged with Du Pont Motors.
1932: Skirted fenders and saddle tank are added to the Chief.
1934: The Chief gets deeper valanced fenders and additional streamlining.

“American Pickers” TV star, Mike Wolfe owns this 1935 Indian Chief.

“American Pickers” TV star, Mike Wolfe owns this 1935 Indian Chief.

1937: Indian’s familiar enclosed chain guard enters production. “Iron Man” Ed Kretz laps the entire field on a Sport Scout to win the Inaugural Daytona 200.
1939: Wartime production includes an order for 5,000 Chiefs with sidecars for the government of France.
1940: The Chief gets full skirted fenders and introduces “plunger” (spring coupled to an oil-dampened shaft) rear suspension.
1945: Controlling interest of the company is sold and consolidated into the Torque Engineering Company.
1947: Indian-head fender light (“war bonnet”) is introduced. Chrome components make their debut.
1948: Floyd Emde uses a 648 Scout to win the first Daytona 200 held on new beach/road course.

Replica of Emde’s 648 Indian Scout ridden to victory in the 1948 Daytona 200. It’s likely the new Indian will one day launch a new Scout.

Replica of Emde’s 648 Indian Scout ridden to victory in the 1948 Daytona 200. It’s likely the new Indian will one day launch a new Scout.

1950: Telescopic fork is introduced. Engine enlarged to 79 c.i. (1300cc).
1951: Chief re-emerges after a one-year hiatus with a new 80 ci engine.
1953: Indian ceases production after failing to sell many motorcycles in the post-war era.
1955: Brockhouse Engineering buys the rights to Indian and sells rebadged Royal Enfields for five years.
1960: Associated Motor Cycles of England acquires the rights to Indian, but AMC goes into liquidation in 1962.
1963: American businessman Floyd Clymer begins using the Indian name on Italjet-sourced minibikes (the Papoose), apparently without acquiring legal rights to the Indian trademark.
1967: Burt Munro rides his modified 1920 Scout to an under-1000cc land-speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. His 183.586-mph mark remains unbeaten today.
1970: Clymer dies and his wife sells the alleged Indian assets to attorney Alan Newman, who continues selling rebadged Italjet two-stroke motorcycles.
1977: The Newman-era Indian declares bankruptcy.
1992: The Clymer claim to the trademark is transferred to Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Co. Inc. of Berlin, a corporation headed by Philip S. Zanghi.
1994: Indian Century V-Twin Chief prototype is rolled out by Wayne Baughman, president of Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Incorporated, in New Mexico.
1997: Zanghi is convicted of securities fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering
1998: Eller Industries was given permission to purchase the Indian copyright from the receivers of the previous owner. Noted designer James Parker unveils renderings of a cruiser, sport cruiser and a sportbike. The public unveiling of the cruiser is thwarted by a restraining order from the receiver who claimed Eller had failed to meet the terms of the agreement. In December, a Federal bankruptcy court allowed the sale of the trademark to IMCOA Licensing America Inc.
1999: Indian Motorcycle Company of America is born from the merger of nine companies after the trademark-rights battle finally gets sorted. Production begins on a new Chief by California Motorcycle Company in Gilroy, CA, powered by an S&S-sourced Harley-Davidson clone V-Twin.
2002: The 100 c.i. Powerplus V-Twin, a heavily revised clone motor identifiable by new “bottlecap” cylinder-head design, debuts.
2003: Production of Gilroy Indians is halted in September after the company enters bankruptcy proceedings.
2004: Stephen Julius and Steve Heese, successful revivers of the struggling Chris-Craft Boat Company, acquire trademark rights and intellectual properties to Indian under the auspices of Stellican Limited, a private-equity firm.
2006: The newly formed Indian Motorcycle Company announces production in a new facility in King’s Mountain, North Carolina.
2008: Production begins on the 2009 Indian Chiefs based on the CMC-era Indians.

041814-2011-indian-dark-horse-2

The 2011 Indian Dark Horse, one of the final pre-Polaris models produced..

2009: Powerplus V-Twin is enlarged to 105 c.i. (1720cc) and fitted with fuel injection.
2011: Polaris Industries, the company behind Victory Motorcycles, acquires the Indian brand in April. In August, production shifts to Victory’s factory in Spirit Lake, IA.
2012: Production of the King’s Mountain-era Chief continues while development of the all-new Chief gets closer to realization. Facilities in Spirit Lake, IA, and Osceola, WI, are updated to accommodate production of new Chiefs.
2013: Final year of production of the King’s Mountain Chiefs. All-new Thunder Stroke 111 engine is introduced in March during Bike Week at Daytona Beach. The 2014 Chief three-model lineup is introduced on August 3 at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The Classic is the bare-bones cruiser, while the extra-chromed Vintage adds quick-release saddlebags and windshield. The Chieftain, the first-ever Indian hard-bagger with a fairing, tops the lineup. Spirit Lake-era Chiefs hit dealers in September.

The new Indian motorcycles are now made in Polaris' Spirit Lake facilities, alongside Victory Motorcycles.

The new Indian motorcycles are now made in Polaris’ Spirit Lake facilities, alongside Victory Motorcycles.

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