Indian founder: George M. Hendee Oscar Hedstrom
Indian headquarters: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States
Official website: indianmotorcycle.com
Indian is the first American brand of motorcycles. It was they, like their “namesake” – American Indians, the first among motorcycles that conquered the New World in the far 1901. Maybe that’s why, like many other pioneers, they were the most vulnerable in the brutal competitive market conditions.
The first motorcycles (under the Indian brand) were produced by Hendee Manufacturing Company, a company originally specialized in bicycles and subsequently completely switched to motorcycles, and almost 30 years later, even changed their name to the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company. The production was located in Massachusetts, Springfield, which today is considered the birthplace of American motorcycles.
The Indian brand, the brand that is still present today, is among the top ten US brands that have experienced the largest number of bankruptcies, the change of owners and many other ups and downs in their history. Confrontation with a young motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson can be considered one of those vicissitudes, the battle which Indian lost. But initially Harley-Davidson was technologically a completely failed project, and only a brilliant marketing move (plus a billion advertising budget) allowed the company to become a real leader in motor industry.
However, the Indian motorcycles are back. The largest manufacturer of snowmobiles and ATVs, Polaris, bought the Indian brand and breathed new life into it. In particular, their assortment gained a new member – Chieftain, a custom tourer.
The history of the brand
The first products of Hendee Manufacturing Company were men’s and women’s bicycles Silver King and Silver Queen. However, the low recognition of these brands turned out to be bad for sales, so the brand was renamed to American Indian in 1898 and soon after that -Indian. The manufacturer began the new century with the revolution: thanks to the ingenious idea of the engineer-technologist Carl Hanstrom, they started installing engines on bicycles. The engines were (by today’s standards, of course), very modest – single-cylinder, with a power of only 1.75 horsepower and engine capacity of only 260 cubic centimeters. But it was these new items that seem to have attracted dozens of manufacturers to the market in the following couple of years.
Nevertheless, it is Indian that was first on the market by many indicators. Their bikes were the first ones with a novelty – a chain transmission from the engine to the rear wheel, with the absolute speed record of 1903 – 56 miles/hour set. The same year, Indian motorcycles picked red color for their trademark. And in 1905 the developers presented their next know-how – a two-cylinder V-Twin engine, the volume of which in mass production was 633, and for racing models – exceeded one thousand cubic centimeters. The Indian was first with the turning knob of gas.
Production grew, from 50 examples to 32 000 motorcycles, and the peak of production fell in 1914.
In 1911, the Indian brand was presented with an updated model with an engine whose cylinder head was already four-valve, and in the regular race on the Isle of Man, the Indian team took literally all the medals. Plus, 8 American and British speed records were set for their year. In total, the brand team has won several thousand awards, winning more than a thousand different races around the world. And this record still hasn’t been beaten.
And when the first rider of the Indian team, Jack DeRossier, already driving for the team of another manufacturer, crashed on the road, the production was suspended in the company as a sign of mourning.
One of the most popular models of the brand – Indian Four – originally represented the acquired development of the company-competitor Henderson (Henderson Ace). The technical development of the model was gradual – in 1929 the three-bearing crankshaft was replaced by a five-bearing crankshaft, in 1932 the frame was reinforced, in 1936 the gas distribution system was upgraded (exhaust valve rose above the inlet), in 1938 – the cooling system, engine lubrication and the engine itself were upgraded (it became much more reliable and less overheated at high speeds). The maximum speed of such a technical product was 161 km / h, and this was an absolute record for its time. Until 1942, this model enjoyed immense popularity among motorists and professionals.
Only Indian Four produced more than 12 thousand, which for the first half of the twentieth century was a real record for sales. Even the most perfect model, the Indian Hendee Special, with a three-speed gearbox and engine capacity of 998 cm3, failed to achieve such results.
The Indian Powerplus model owes its existence to the innovative development of the company – the V-shaped Powerplus motor, which was developed by Erwin Baker, a racer and tester of the Indian team, who managed to cross the whole America on a motorcycle of the company in less than 12 days. The new engine was equipped with 18 “horses”, was much quieter than the previous models, and its angle of collapse of the cylinder was 42 degrees, and the volume – one thousand cm3. This motor was ideal for mass production (on average, it made it possible to easily develop a speed of 96 km / h), and for racing models. The period of production of such engines was a record 10 years – from 1914 to 1924.
The Indian Powerplus model was also equipped with a more advanced transmission and improved grip. And it was this bike that showed the undoubted advantage of Indian over all major competitors (including Harley) in the “Three Flag” race in 1915. The race route was 2.670 kilometers, which Erwin Baker crossed in 3 days and 9 hours, a few hours ahead of his competitors.
It was the Indian Powerplus motorcycles that were recognized as the most adapted for the needs of the army and government during the First World War. On the one hand, it allowed the company to improve its business at the expense of large state orders, on the other – it reduced the number of motorcycles on the market, and the young Harley advertisers did not waste time and sharply increased their sales.
However, cooperation with the government and big orders turned out to be a bad joke for the company. Wanting to raise more funds to expand production, the owner of the company faced the issue with shares and as a result of the conflict with the board of directors, he was forced to leave his offspring.
The Indian Scout model was released in mass production in 1919 and was the most successful solution. The model is based on a V-shaped engine with 2 cylinders, 11 “horses” and a volume from 606 to 9350 cm3. But most importantly – this model was exceptionally reliable. The production of this model, with minor improvements, lasted for 30 (!) years – until 1949, and was more than in demand. True, a large volume of the engine in the inter-war period was of less interest to buyers, so in the mid-1930s engines with a volume of 750 cm3 were removed from production. Fans of powerful engines preferred engine capacity of 935 cm3, and most of the ordinary motorcyclists – a classic 606-centimeter volume.
Powerful and reliable, Indian Scout was rightfully considered to be the best model of the brand. In fact, Indian Monoplane, Indian Depression-Special Junior (Pony) and Indian Chief were improvements to the Scout model. Improved lubrication systems, cooling systems, carburetor, engine cylinder diameter, the appearance of motorcycles (in particular, the wings covering the wheel like a skirt) and a number of other parameters, but the base remained the same.
Financial and administrative difficulties of Indian did not go unnoticed by the main customer of the interwar period, and the change of ownership turned to be a backside for the company. Therefore, for their needs, the US army chose to use powerful Harleys, but for the needs of the allies – including the USSR – they willingly offered good-quality Indian.
Nevertheless, both competitors received the order for the development of specialized military motor vehicles, suitable, including military operations in Africa. And if Harley went the simple way, simply creating an insignificantly decorated replica of the BMW R71, then Indian upgraded their own engine, including its turn across the frame. In addition, the new development, called the Indian 841 had suspension on both wheels, as well as drive from the shaft. True, the actual military use of these motorcycles did not last long: the war in Africa was soon over, but the civilian model (though only existed in development) promised a lot. However, the failure with the military order was for Indian another blow for the fate of the company. The owner again resold the company, and the new management found the heavy and powerful motorcycles uninteresting. So, in 1953 production was stopped completely, and the company declared bankruptcy.
The new owner started the production, but only partially – for tuning the imported British motorcycles Royal Enfield, which were later sold under the Indian brand.
The next bankruptcy did not wait: in 1960, production was again stopped.
The postwar period
The 1960s were especially difficult for the brand. Motorcycles with this name were still sold on the market, but neither technical, nor administrative-legal issues were solved. In other words, the new user of the brand (Floyd Clymer) did not redeem it from previous owners, and as for the technical side, then, as in the previous case, the brand was used only as a cover for importing developments from the Old World. Only this time it was the easy Italian Italjet.
Indian Papoose (it was under this name that the Italjet Minarelli were sold in the USA) had a light weight, a modest engine with a volume of 50 cm3, but thanks to the low price enjoyed quite a steady demand. Therefore, Floyd Clymer decided to supply the American market with full-size bikes as well. The basis was to be the Italjet Griffon, with a 750 cc engine, light frame, practical and lightweight transmission and aluminum wheels, a removable fuel tank and a seat.
The assembly and tuning shop of Floyd Clymer was in Taiwan, and after his death in 1970, the widow successfully sold the venture to Alan Newman, a lawyer from Los Angeles. And for some time the company functioned quite successfully, releasing light, 50-175-cubic feet. Until Newman decided to return to the topic of heavy bikes in the best traditions of Indian. However, in 1974, sales fell sharply, and three years later, the company was forced to declare bankruptcy.
The development of the brand after the 70s
In the late 1970s, the fate of the brand was resolved in litigation, which lasted until 1992. The corporation Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Co. Inc., whose lawyers were obviously better prepared than the lawyers of competitors, was recognized as the owner of the rights to the trademark Indian (in the United States)
In 1994, the Indian Century V-Twin Chief was introduced – the first for many years, developed specifically for this brand. However, the series did not come out: the company went bankrupt due to another round of litigation (the owners were accused of tax evasion, money laundering and even fraud), and the rights to the brand were bought out by Eller Industries in 1998 (with far-reaching plans for development and production of sports motorcycles, cruisers and sport cruisers). Even a large-scale press conference was held at which design sketches of bikes were presented, but it did not come to production (and even before the construction of the company). In the same year, the company was declared bankrupt, and the brand was sold to IMCOA Licensing America Inc.
In 1999, the company Indian Motorcycle Company of America became the new owner of the brand. This company previously engaged in the restoration of bikes of this brand, and after obtaining rights, in the same year, began production of the Indian Chief. The model was a stylization of the bikes of the 1940s, but with 1.4 thousand m3 of engine and a number of other technical improvements. Indian Scout and Indian Spirit were also launched, but demand was overestimated. Already three years later the company was declared bankrupt.
The next attempt to revive the brand was made in 2006, when the Indian Motorcycle Company opened a limited-series production of Stellican Indian Chief bikes based on Powerplus engines with electronic injection and a volume of 1700 cm3.
The company has become a profitable investment for a larger corporation, Polaris Industries. The company was moved to another state, and production was resumed. Indian Chief Classic, Indian Chief Vintage and Indian Chieftain were included in their offer. The technical characteristics of these models are quite similar, and therefore, perhaps, those critics who claim that the current models of Indian bikes differ only by design are right. In the end, if a customer is ready to buy just that, why should the manufacturer spend money on developing new products? However, whether the current economic crisis will be prolonged or not, in the next couple of seasons we can see quite independent novelties from Indian. Or we will be witnesses of another round of failures of the owner of this legendary brand.