The 1941 Indian Four is revered as “the Duesenberg of motorcyles”.
It was a four-cylinder masterpiece at a time dominated by V-twins.
For much more about this spectacular motorcycle, read on…
1941 Indian Four 441
For half a century the Indian Motorcycle Company produced some of the world’s most distinctive and desirable two-
wheeled machines, making the Springfield, Massachusetts-based motorcycle manufacturer the largest in the world, at
one point. Perhaps none of their machines was quite as distinctive as the Indian Four, with its inline four-
cylinder engine nestled in the frame tubes.
More commonly known for its V-twin models, Indian also can lay claim to being one of the most famous producers of
four-cylinder motorcycles, manufacturing the Four from 1928 through 1942. Unlike those twins, Indian didn’t
develop the Four in house. By buying the remains of the Ace Motor Corporation in 1927, it acquired the designs,
tooling and name of a well-known four-cylinder bike.
Brothers William and Tom Henderson founded the Henderson Motorcycle Company in 1911, rolling out a powerful and
rapid four-cylinder machine that quickly became the choice of competitors and law enforcement alike. The brothers
sold out to Schwinn, the bicycle maker, in 1917, the Henderson name becoming part of Schwinn’s Excelsior
motorcycle brand. Though he had agreed to stay on at first, William Henderson left Excelsior in 1919 and formed a
new company in Philadelphia, the Ace Motor Corporation.
Quickly getting back in the saddle, Henderson engineered a new four-cylinder model, a design that he had to
develop carefully so as not to infringe on the patents he had sold to Schwinn and Excelsior. His new bike featured
an engine with an F-head design, where the intake valves were overhead and the exhaust valves located on the side
of the cylinders, as in a flathead engine (referred to as an IOE–intake over exhaust–layout). In 1922,
“Cannonball” Baker set a new coast-to-coast record on an Ace just as production was getting into full swing.
Unfortunately, 1922 proved a tragic year for Ace, as William Henderson was killed in a road accident when a motor
vehicle struck him while he was road testing a bike.
Arthur Lemon, who had succeeded Henderson as chief engineer at Excelsior, also succeeded his boss at Ace, where he
had eventually followed him. But Ace flamed out by 1924, despite some racers winning trophies on Ace motorcycles.
Following a couple of unsuccessful attempts at restarting the company, the assets ended up in the hands of Indian,
with Arthur Lemon continuing to engineer the big bike.
Without changing too much other than moving production to Springfield, Indian started selling its new-to-them
motorcycle as the Indian Ace Four in 1928 and then quickly dropped the Ace name the next year. Throughout the
model’s existence under the Indian banner, it featured constant changes and upgrades, though never straying from
its original character.
Indian engineered a major change from three main bearings to five and also improved the all-aluminum engine’s
internal lubrication. A double downtube chassis supplanted the single main tube inherited from Ace. Indian also
implemented its quarter-leaf-spring front suspension in place of Ace’s covered front coil spring. Later, Indian
upgraded its hardtail rear, to a double-plunger rear suspension with coil springs and shocks on both sides. A
front brake found its way to the Four as well.
In the powerplant department, Indian at first continued to manufacture the intake-over-exhaust valve gear with a
single cylinder head covering all four air-cooled cylinders, with each jug a separate, bolted-on component. In
1936, in an attempt to develop more power, they inverted the F-head to an exhaust-over-intake arrangement in hopes
of getting more performance out of the engine. Unfortunately, this “upside-down engine” not only upset buyers who
didn’t like the aesthetics, but also resulted in significantly more heat under the rider and no more performance.
When Indian reverted to the IOE valvetrain in 1938, they modified the design to cast the cylinders in pairs,
resulting in the look of the 1941 model 441 Four shown here.
Owned by Roland Houde, of Massachusetts, who restored this machine some 15 years ago, the 441 also shows the
Indian’s iconic valanced fenders, a feature incorporated on Four and Chief V-twin models from 1940 on. With a
displacement of just over 77-cubic inches, the Indian Four was one of the biggest engines of its day, and offered
a very different feeling for its riders, something Roland has experienced firsthand as he also owns a Chief V-
twin. “The four cylinder is a lot smoother,” says Roland. “It’s not the fastest motorcycle in the world, but it’s
very smooth. And it sounds like an early MG when it starts and runs.” With its hand-shifted three-speed and foot
clutch, it also represents a challenge to any modern rider not familiar with such features. Likewise, starting on
hills, Roland points out, can “take a while to get used to.”
When nearly the whole of American industry shifted into Arsenal of Democracy mode in 1942, Indian stopped
producing the Four, after having made some 10,000 examples, even as it continued to produce V-twin models for the
Army, along with other war materiel. When Indian resumed production after the war, it never returned to the Four.
Harley had already begun its long period of market dominance with the introduction of the overhead-valve
“Knucklehead” engine with the EL in 1936, and Indian simply couldn’t catch up with its limited resources.
Though a production Four never reemerged, the company did build a prototype based on an overhead-valve four-
cylinder developed by an ex-Indian engineer at the Torque Manufacturing Company of Plainville, Connecticut. Indian
assembled a sub-300-pound motorcycle around the 52-cubic-inch Torque engine, complete with shaft drive and a
foot-shifted four-speed transmission in 1947. Finding it too expensive a task to truly develop the bike, Indian
soldiered on with the Chief and other, less-expensive singles and twins until finally closing its doors for good
But the Four’s reputation remains strong, with Roland sharing this thought: “The best term I heard for an Indian
four-cylinder was when they called it ‘the Duesenberg of motorcycles.'”
Engine: Air-cooled, all-aluminum inline-four
Power: 40 hp
Displacement: 77.2-cu.in. (1,265 cc)
Bore x stroke: 2.75 in. x 3.25 in.
Fuel: Single-barrel carburetor
Valve gear: Overhead intake valves and side (flathead-style) exhaust valves
Dry weight: 568 pounds
Suspension: Front trailing link with quarter-leaf springs; Rear dual plunger with coil springs
Top speed: 90 MPH
Price new: N/A
This article by Terry Shea originally appeared in the April, 2016 issue of Hemmings Motor News.