INDIAN | THE GOLDEN AGE OF ICONS THE SCOUT, CHIEF, AND THE BIG CHIEF

Great old shot of a 1921 Indian Scout (via)

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The 1920s marked a decade of growth and model expansion for Indian.  The Powerplus-era street bikes, known for their durability and performance, gave birth to the new Scoutin 1920 designed by Charles B. Franklin– featuring a 37 cubic inch (600 cc) V-twin engine.  The low-slung Scout model, with its long wheelbase, innovative semi-monocoque construction, three-speed transmission and helical-gear drive, was an immediate hit with performance riders on the street, dirt tracks, and endurance circuits alike.  The Scout wasn’t the most powerful bike on the market, but it gained a following for its responsiveness and agile handling.  In 1928, Franklin masterfully tweaked the Scout, and in the process created the 101 Scout– with an even stronger frame, superior suspension and steering, longer wheelbase, increased fork rake, lower seat, addition of a front brake. and beefed-up engine putting out 45 cubic inches (750 cc) of displacement.  The result was what many consider to be the best bike Indian ever built.

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The New Indian Scout– Power, Swiftness, Stamina, Economy!

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You can’t wear out an Indian Scout, or its brother the Indian Chief.  They are built like rocks to take hard knocks– it’s the Harleys that cause grief.

Sport riders and racers were drawn to the 101’s performance– and the new Scouts enjoyed a strong run dominating the competitive scene.  Unfortunately, the 101 model lasted a scant four years in the Indian model lineup.  The country’s Great Depression forced Indian to cut production costs– and the 101 Scout was an unfortunate victim of downsizing. In 1932, to cut down production costs, Indian began pairing the Scout engine with the larger Chief frame. The matchup resulted in a motorcycle that was bulkier, heavier, and according to many– not as capable on the performance front.

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The legendary 1929 Indian 101 Scout motorcycle– many would say it’s the finest bike Indian ever made.

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1922 saw the introduction of the Scout’s big brother– the 61 cubic inch (1000 cc) Indian Chief.  Soon to follow was the Big Chief, introduced in 1924 with a 74 cubic inch (1200 cc) that could easily cruise at hit 85 mph fully stock– and in the hands of a masterful motor-head could be tuned to scream at well over 100 mph.  In 1940, all models were fitted with Indian’s signature sweeping skirted fenders, and the Chief was fitted a new soft-tail frame– vastly superior in terms of rider fatigue when compared to rival Harley’s rigid hard-tail. The Indian Chief soon cemented a reputation as being the very best touring motorcycles money could buy for quality, comfort and performance.

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Circa 1946– The new, improved Indian Chief motorcycle, a 74 cubic inch model, which is going into production at the Indian Motorcycle Company plant at Springfield, Massachusetts. A number of new and important features have been added to the “bike”, according to Walter A. Parrish, vice president and general manager, who is shown looking at the new model. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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Tragically, while the 1920s were banner years for Indian in terms of engineering innovation, racing success, brand growth and production milestones (Indian became the first manufacturer in the world to produce over 250,000 motorcycles in 1923), the executive leadership was ineptly burning through the company’s profits and resources at an alarming rate.  Unlike Oscar Hedstrom’s very capable corporate culture that was rooted in Indian’s core strength of engineering and manufacturing– the generation of management that entered on the heels of George Hendee were lacking at best, when it came to vision, passion and ability.  Some say even worse– that they were deeply corrupt, and had their hands in the company till, looking out for their own fortunes over Indian’s long term well-being.

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E. Paul DuPont  on an Indian © 2010, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, All Rights Reserved.

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1930 saw Indian merge with DuPont Motors Company, with E. Paul DuPont bringing focus back to the struggling firm– he actually ceased DuPont’s car manufacturing to focus on Indian alone.  He leveraged his many connections within the paint industry to make available as many as 24 stunning color options on Indian bikes. Models of that DuPont era also proudly featured the company’s iconic Indian head logo on the fuel tank and signature Indian-head ornament on the front fender– created a stunning art-deco style Chief, considered to be among the most beautiful bikes ever made.

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To be continued, enjoy these pics of legendary Indian riders, racers, and record setters…

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E.G. ‘Cannonball’ Baker was an early motorcycling pioneer who set dozens of cross-country records riding a variety of motorcycles and sidecars. He also was known for record-setting runs in automobiles. By the time he retired from his pursuit of records, it was estimated that Baker had ridden or driven more than five million miles. During his exhausting career, Baker made more than 143 attempts at a variety of timed, long-distance records, including his most famous transcontinental and three flags (Canada to Mexico) attempts.

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‘Cannonball’ Baker accumulated his share of scars as well as trophies during his years of setting records. He also had a slew of interesting stories of things that happened to him during his record runs. In one three-flags record attempt in 1916, Baker had to change routes several times to avoid vast forest fires. In another run he came around a curve at a high rate of speed and came upon a herd of cattle in the road. In trying to miss the herd, Baker turned sharply, hit a hole in the road and was thrown off his motorcycle into a fence which in turn bounced him right onto the back of one of the cows. The surprised cow bucked him off and he ultimately landed in a ditch off the side of the road.

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Woodsie Castonguay (95) –Photo by Norman P. Speirs  © 2010, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, All Rights Reserved.  Raoul “Woodsie” Castonguay was an established hillclimb racer who switched his focus to flat-track when the AMA created Class C racing in 1934. Castonguay went on to become the first-ever National Class C Champion in 1935 and continued to be one of the top racers in the sport throughout the 1930s. He was especially dominant in Class A speedway racing, similar to today’s short-track events.

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Woodsie Castonguay © 2010, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, All Rights Reserved.  In 1936 and 1937, Woodsie also took two New England Speedway Championships, the first at Pynchon Park in Springfield, Massachusetts. On October 12, 1937, he nailed down his second at Bulkeley Stadium in Hartford, Connecticut. Because of this win, Woodsie was awarded a silver cup for earning the most points in the 1937 season. This cup, Woodsie’s most prized possession, was crafted by Tiffany, the famed New York City jewelry firm.

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New Zealander Burt Munro was a motorcycle land-speed record-holder of the 1960s. One of his dreams was to run his homebuilt 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle, dubbed the Munro Special, on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He saved for years in spite of limited means to make the trip to America. He finally came over on a shoestring budget in 1962. Munro was 63 at the time with a bad heart, yet he still managed to overcome numerous obstacles to set world records, even as a muffler was burning the flesh on his leg.  © 2010, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, All Rights Reserved.

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(Above) Munro Special Indian, 1953 Beach attempts – 123.831 mph.  © 2010, Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum, All Rights Reserved.

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(Above, Munro’s record-setting Indian.) Munro arrived at Bonneville in 1962 ready to make his runs only to be told he was not pre-entered so he wouldn’t be allowed to compete.  Munro’s American friends, among them Rollie Free and Marty Dickerson, both of them long-time, well-respected members of the Land Speed Record fraternity, talked officials into letting Munro make his runs. Tech officials looked the other way, ignoring many of Munro’s unorthodox means of putting his ancient Indian together.  In his inaugural run at the Salt Flats, Munro set a world record of 288 km/h (178.97 mph) with his engine configured with 850cc of displacement. Munro continued to compete at Bonneville through 1967, when he 68 years old. He survived a crash at top speed in 1967.

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J.C. “Pappy” Hoel was a racer, motorcycle dealer and race promoter, but his lasting legacy is the Black Hills Classic Rally held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota. In 1938, Hoel founded what would become one of America’s most famous motorcycle rallies. While that first rally in 1938 attracted 200 participants, Sturgis would go on to become a mega-rally hosting well over 100,000 riders each year and pumping millions of dollars into the Sturgis area’s economy.

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11 thoughts on “INDIAN | THE GOLDEN AGE OF ICONS THE SCOUT, CHIEF, AND THE BIG CHIEF

  1. JP, curious what the present state of Indian is? Who owns them? I do not see a lot on the road here in Harley country. Would seem some company with a manufacturing platform would buy the brand and re-create these classic designs. Seems like a slam dunk based on everything we see happening with heritage brands. Can you educate me a little on what is happening today?

    E

    • Indian has changed hands several times just in the past couple of decades, and has died and been resurrected at least twice that I know of. The current iteration is a company producing bikes that are visually extremely striking and nostalgic but also heinously expensive (I recall seeing a price of $30k USD for the Chief Bomber.)

  2. Great write up!
    I actually have a Chief, that I ride on Sundays and maybe to local bike shows. Always gets attention, even parked next to a fancy custom chopper!
    Anyway, Indian is up and running, located at King Mountain, NC. Please take a gander at Indianmotorcycle.com
    The new bikes are pricey, but hand built, and superb quality.

  3. That shot of Dupont aboard a bike. It looks like a transverse mount 90 degree V-twin. Like a Moto Guzzi. Did Indian build such a machine?

    • Yes.
      Indian built a military model, the innovative 841, much earlier than Moto Guzzi.
      Rarer than hens teeth.

      Great post JP

      AGE.

  4. The old original Indians are a wonderful, very reliable, low maintenance motorcycle, even today! I`ve owned & ridden my `46 Chief for 34 years, now. I own other motorcycles, but the Chief always amazes me, as to how willing it is to be fired right up, to go for a ride!!! I don`t mean to bad-mouth the new imitation Indians, but that`s what they are! OLD INDIANS NEVER DIE Ross

  5. Great read, I am just about to embark on the restoration of a 1928 101 Scout, which I have had in the shed since my dad brought it when I was a kid. The restoration has been waiting for about 30 years. But it is all complete and reading these posts gives me itchy feet to get stuck into it. Would love to get it to the Sturgis rally one day. Cheers, keep up the good work. Rob (Australia)

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