Indian is a company that manufactured motorcycles from 1901-1953. Indian motorcycles are considered the quintessential American motorcycle.
In 1901, the company Hendee Manufacturing (the forefather of Indian) was established. The Indian was the first American motorcyle. Another of the “firsts” of Indian was when they introduced the then groundbreaking twin V motorcyle in 1907.
Their manufacturing facility, nicknamed the “Wigwam”, was located in Springfield, Massachusetts. At the helm of the company were George Hendee, a biker famed for winning 302 out of 309 races he had joined; and Carl Oscar Hedstrom, a brilliant engineer who manually built the revolutionary prototype in less than half a year's time.
The very first Indian would be the Camelback. It takes its name from the way the oil and fuel tank forms a lump at the rear. It is essentially a bicycle that was motorized. The Camelback can reach a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and was said to cover a distance of 70 miles on a gallon of fuel. In 1902, the bike sold 140 units.
By 1905, ignition and throttle controls were placed to the handlebars from the engine. Spring forks were also supplied. In 1908, the company presented the V-twin engine which offered superior power. A year later, there was an overhaul in the design of the Indians when the loop frame was introduced and the gas tank positioned midway between the seat and the handlebars.
More improvements made the Indian resemble the motorcycles that most of us are familiar with. In 1913 and 1916, the rear suspension and the Powerplus were added respectively. The latter allowed the motorbikes to attain speeds of over 60 miles per hour. Indian also produced the lighter Model O and Model K motorcyles from 1910.
In the 1920s, the company produced the commercially successful models- Scout, Prince Chief, and Big Chief. The Chief, in particular, was promoted as a motorcycle powerful enough to pull a sidecar. Its 1000cc engine proved the company's words true.
Hendee became Indian Motocycles in 1923. The very first motorbike that carried the Indian brand was the lightweight Model L Indian Prince. They continued producing this bike up until 1928, the year when the 101 Scout was unveiled to the public.
Many considered the 101 Scout as the finest Indian because of its power and beauty. It looked more sleek than the 101 Scout before it and at the same time, it was able to achieve top speeds beyond 70 miles per hour. The only drawback was its short lifespan. The company discontinued its production in 1931.
In 1926, the company acquired the motorbike maker, Ace. The 4-cylinder Aces bikes were marketed as “Indian Fours” but people remembered it more for the double-branding Indiana and Aces on the side of the fuel tank.
Even with The Great Depression, the company remained profitable in the 1930s. The Sport Scout, the Dispatch-tow, and a few 4-cylinder bike models were released during this period. Another notable development during this time was the change in logo from the long-time red paint jobs to that of a American Indian Chief complete with a headdress. In the 1940s, the Indian Fours became lucrative among state troopers. The company discontinued producing the costly machines when the contracts with the police were terminated.
When the Second World War broke out, Indians produced military motorbikes. One such bike, the Indian 841 was especially built for desert battle. It is one of the most sought-after by collectors of Indians. For the general public, the company produced more Chiefs that had a striking streamlined appearance.
The 1950s was the decade when the company gave the public its Arrows, Scouts, TT Indian Warrior and the Brave. However, the company's involvement with military contracts became its own bane. Its image to the motorcycling public had sank low by 1945. There had been several attempts to reorganize management and ownership but by 1953, the company reached the end of its road. From 2006, motorbikes that bear the name Indian are no longer made by the original company.
As with many pioneers of early motoring, George Hendee wanted to go faster on his bicycles. He created the first Indian motorcycles in 1902 but collectors can’t have any of them because they were dismantled for use as parts in 1903.
Pre 1910 motorcycles are almost impossible to find, despite there having been many manufacturers besides Indian.
Air flow and Art Deco bikes are particularly coveted amongst collectors - anything pre-1940 is where the money is, according to serious collector Mike Wolfe.
2013 Indian models cost between $26,499 and $37,899. These contemporary models can be purchased at Indian dealerships, which also sell replacement parts and bike accessories.
Indians can be professionally repaired, restoring a great deal of their value.
Fully restored vintage Indian motorcycles are valuable. They are generally worth between $20,000-30,000 in good condition.