Indian is an American brand of motorcycles originally produced from 1901 to 1953 in Springfield, Massachusetts, making it the first motorcycle manufactured in the United States. The “Indian Motocycle Co.” was originally founded as the Hendee Manufacturing Company by George M. Hendee in 1897 to manufacture bicycles.
Oscar Hedstrom joined Hendee in 1900. Both men were former bicycle racers and manufacturers, and they teamed up to produce a motorcycle with 1.75 bhp, single-cylinder engine in Hendee’s home town of Springfield. The name was changed to the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company in 1923. During the 1910’s, Indian became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world.
In 1929, Indian bought the Hartford Outboard Motor Company to utilize more of the Springfield manufacturing capacity. The Indian “Silver Arrow” outboard motors were stylish but, like most of Indian’s non-motorcycling ventures, outboard motors were unprofitable and aborted in 1930.
In 1930, Indian merged with Du Pont Motors. DuPont Motors founder E. Paul DuPont ceased production of duPont automobiles and concentrated the company’s resources on Indian. DuPont’s paint industry connections resulted in 24 color options in 1934.
Indian’s most popular models were the Scout, made from 1920 to 1946, and the Chief, made from 1922 until 1953, when the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company went bankrupt.
The Indian Chief was introduced in 1922 and had a 1,000cc (61 cubic inches) engine. A year later the engine was enlarged to 1,200cc (74 cu in). Numerous improvements were made to the Chief over the years, including the provision of a front brake in 1928.
In 1940, all models sported the large skirted fenders that became an Indian trademark. The Chief was also outfitted with a new sprung frame that was superior to rival Harley’s unsprung rear end. The 1940’s Chiefs were handsome and comfortable machines, capable of 85 mph.
In 1950, the V-twin engine was enlarged to 1,300cc (79 cu in) and telescopic forks were adopted. But Indian’s financial problems meant that few bikes were built. Production of the Chief ended in 1953.
The Indian “Scout” was built from 1920 through 1949. It rivaled the Chief as Indian’s most important model. Over the years, there were several Scout models (starting with a 610cc (37 cu in) engine and a subsequent 740cc (45 cu in) engine. The 101 Scout, made from 1928 to 1931, is considered by many to be the best motorcycle Indian ever made.
In 1916, Indian introduced the 221cc single cylinder two-stroke “Model K Featherweight”. The Model K had an open cradle frame with the engine as a stressed member and a pivoting front fork that had been used earlier on single-cylinder motorcycles but had mostly been replaced on other Indian motorcycles by a leaf-sprung trailing link fork. In 1917, 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.
In 1925, Indian again tried to enter the lightweight motorcycle market by introducing the single-cylinder, side-valve, 350cc (21.35 cu in) “Prince”. It didn’t sell well, especially as an export because a steep increase in motorcycle tariffs virtually eliminated sales to Great Britain. The Prince was
dropped from the lineup in 1926.
In 1927, Indian purchased the Ace Motor Corporation and moved production of the 4-cylinder Ace motorcycle to Springfield. It was marketed as the “Indian Ace”. Despite the low demand for luxury motorcycles during the Great Depression, Indian not only continued production of the “Four”, but continued to develop the motorcycle. One of the less popular versions of the Indian Four was the “upside down” engine on the 1936-37 models. While earlier (and later) Fours had inlet-over-exhaust (IOE) cylinder heads with overhead inlet valves and side exhaust valves, the 1936-1937 Indian Four had a unique EOI cylinder head, with the positions reversed. In theory, this would improve fuel vaporization, and the new engine was more powerful. However, the new system made the cylinder
head, and the rider’s inseam, very hot!
The Indian Four is considered by many to be the most beautiful motorcycle made by Indian. In addition to its design, it was powered by a 1,266cc (77.21ci) air-cooled inline four cylinder engine that rivaled other manufacturers of four cylinder motorcycles such as Henderson and Cleveland. More about the Indian Four may be read here. Due to lagging sales, the Indian Four was discontinued in 1942.
During WW2, the Indian 841 was a motorcycle designed for desert warfare and was influenced by the BMW R71 motorcycle. It pioneered the drive train configuration later popularized by Moto Guzzi, having a longitudinally mounted air-cooled 90-degree V-twin with shaft drive to the rear wheel. Approximately, 1,056 of the 841 were built for military use. The 841 was preceded by the 500cc (31 cu in) 741B, which was not adopted by the US military.
Following the demise of the original Indian Motorcycle Company in 1953, there were a series of attempts to revive the venerable Indian brand.
From the 1960s, entrepreneur Floyd Clymer began using the Indian name, apparently without purchasing it from the last known legitimate trademark holder. He partnered with an Italian firm to manufacture 50cc minibikes under the “Indian Papoose” name. Clymer also developed the “Indian Velo 500”, a limited-production motorcycle using a Velocette single-cylinder engine and gearbox with mainly Italian cycle parts. This chapter in Indian motorcycle ended when Clymer died in 1970.
In 1999, the Indian Motorcycle Company of America was formed from the merger of nine companies, mostly involving California Motorcycle Company (CMC). The new company began manufacturing motorcycles in 1999 at the former CMC’s facilities in Gilroy, California. The first “Gilroy Indian” model was a newly designed “Chief”. “Scout” and “Spirit” models were also manufactured from 2001 until 2003 when the company went bankrupt.
In 2006, the newly formed Indian Motorcycle Company owned largely by Stellican Limited, a London-based private equity firm, moved manufacturing of Indian motorcycles to Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The “Kings Mountain Indian” was a continuation of the “Gilroy Indians” in style and components.
In 2011, Polaris Industries purchased Indian Motorcycles and moved operations from North Carolina and began manufacturing them in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Since August 2013, Polaris has marketed multiple modern Indian motorcycles models that reflect Indian’s traditional styling.