Can the first American motorcycle company be restored to its former glory? We don’t know, but the new Indian motorcycles sure are pretty…
For anyone familiar with motorcycles, the name “Indian” should conjure up a host of emotions. As America’s first motorcycle company, Indian lived strong for five decades, consistently raising the bar that all others—including a certain company that goes by the initials HD—aspired to reach. Poor management, poor market conditions and fate itself conspired to bring the original Indian Motocycle (no “r” in Motocycle, thank you) down in 1953, but the spirit of the marque has endured. Today, the most recent in a long line of would-be champions is trying to once again resurrect the iconic brand. Will Indian ride again for the long-term? Only time will tell. From our view, the new motorcycles are beautiful, the guy in charge has the right attitude and there’s a lot of highway out there to ride. Here’s a look at the latest Indian motorcycles.
If you think you’ve seen the Indian name around since the 1950s, you wouldn’t be wrong. There was the Anthony Hopkins movie about Burt Munro, “The World’s Fastest Indian,” vintage Indian clothing is for sale in numerous Hollywood boutiques and there’s even an Indian Motorcycle-themed Gibson guitar floating around. Since the original Indian halted production, quite a few companies have attempted to negotiate a tangle of trademark rights and grab the brand. Some wanted to capitalize on the name and only produced clothing with the Indian logo; others came forward with drawings that never left the page. Recent among the sincere was a relatively short-lived group that based its new Indian Motorcycle (“r” now included) in Gilroy, Calif., in 1998. A handful of bikes resembling the Indians of yore was produced with third-party engines until, in 2002, the group premiered the Powerplus 100, the first original motor associated with Indian since 1953. Two years later, the company closed.
The same year Gilroy Indian went down, another would-be champion emerged. Stellican Ltd., a London-based company headed by resurrection artist Stephen Julius (who brought Chris-Craft back to life) acquired the trademark and dug in for the long fight to make Indian a success. Over the last four years, the group set up a plant in Kings Mountain, NC (not far from some Palmer golf courses), hired a team that includes a couple of guys from that other American motorcycle company, and set to work building what they hope will be the definitive statement on our country’s legacy of two-wheeled motoring.
Reaction among fans of the brand has been mixed. Even when Gilroy Indians were rolling, there were always a few keepers of the faith rumbling around on original Indian Fours or Scouts, sporting T-shirts with slogans like, “Indian: 1901–1953, R.I.P.”
But with the new company has come a new bout of enthusiasm among Indian lovers. Online chat rooms are lit up with cautiously anticipatory comments like, “I hope they make it!” and “I hope this time it lasts.” Maybe it’s the fact that this time the people behind the chrome seem to be taking their time. As Julius asserts on the company’s Web site: “What Indian needs is to be treated right… Its past needs to be respected, its future recognized… For me this is a ten-, fifteen-, twenty-year project. Brands such as Indian were not created overnight and they can’t be re-created overnight.”
Of course, it takes more than good leadership and an able team to re-build a brand; it takes a solid product. Indian is (intelligently, we think) starting with just one model—the Chief—offered in several different trims. The motorcycles are big, just over 100 inches long (six inches longer than a HD Fatboy), and at 773 pounds running weight they’re not light. The Chief is, to say the least, impressive. And with prices starting near $30,000 they’re rather exclusive. But are the new Indians worthy of the name? They weren’t available to ride before this article came out, so we don’t really know. But after staring at the pictures of the new Chief for a while we can say one thing: It sure is nice to look at. Let’s hope there’s plenty more eye candy coming from the company for years to come.
For more information, visit indianmotorcycle.com