Interest in reviving the Indian brand remains strong.
In its short history, the Indian Motorcycle company set the bar high for its competitors. It was the first American motorcycle company, and during the peak of its success, it was the best selling motorcycle brand in the world. It was the first manufacturer to equip its motorcycles with V-twin engines and swing-arm rear suspension. Although it didn’t survive the twentieth century, Indian remains a legend in American motorcycle history.
In 1901, bicycle racer George Hendee teamed with engineer Carl Oscar Hedstrom to manufacture pacer bicycles, motorized two-wheelers designed to set the pace during bicycle races. The bike was obviously enormously enjoyable to ride on its own, and Hendee and Hedstrom christened their new brand of vehicle Indian Motorcycles. By 1916, Indian Motorcycles sold 41,000 bikes annually, more than any other motorcycle manufacturer in the world. Indian also developed racing motorcycles, correctly predicting that the publicity of racing would build enthusiasm for the company’s consumer motorcycles, and Indian’s fan base grew large and loyal.
In the 1920s, the Indian Scout and Chief models were based on the Powerplus V-twin engine with 596-cc in the Scout and 1,100-cc in the Chief. The Powerplus featured a side-valve configuration, and the engine was so successful that competitors such as Harley-Davidson abandoned their overhead-valve designs to emulate Indian’s engine. The Scout and the Chief were good sellers, but as the beginning of the Great Depression threatened Indian’s financial stability, only the company’s acquisition by financier E. Paul DuPont kept Indian afloat.
During the 1940s, Indian motorcycles achieved their classic form, with wide fender skirts and the bold Indianhead logo on the fuel tank. Indian also introduced innovations such as a sprung rear suspension during this era, keeping pressure on its competitors to follow its technological lead. Financial troubles continued to plague the company, however, and production halted in 1953.
Attempts at Revival
In 2006, a newly formed corporation controlled by British equity firm Stellican Limited and called Indian Motorcycle Company announced plans to revive the Indian name and begin building new motorcycles in a North Carolina plant by 2007. That plan did not come to fruition, but in 2011, Polaris, the Minnesota-based snowmobile manufacturer, acquired the Indian nameplate from Stellican. Polaris’ intent was to assemble new Indian motorcycles in Minnesota while having engines built in Wisconsin.