1939 Indian Scout Racer

Tracking a big base legend

| January/February 2010

Some motorcycles ooze and dribble lubricant. Some ooze charm, charisma and history. This "Big Base" 1939 Indian Scout racer defines the latter. Built for no other reason than to go like stink on a dirt track, it has one of five special sand cast Indian race engines and was campaigned by no less than "Iron Man" Ed Kretz.

And the fact that this machine is connected to several important figures in the world of motorcycles including Ed Kretz, Shell Thuet and Kenny Howard — aka Von Dutch — just adds to the entire package.

Museum piece

Gary Landeen first saw this Indian Scout racer in 1997, when it was in a roped off area of the Performance Car Museum in his hometown of Sioux Falls, S.D. He couldn’t get close to the machine, but he didn’t forget about it. A year later, Gary was at the Celebrity Hotel and Casino in Deadwood, S.D., which has a small museum (Nelson’s Garage) filled with cars and motorcycles. In the collection sat a “Herbie” Volkswagen Beetle used in The Love Bug, a James Bond Aston Martin, an Evel Knievel jump bike and several more machines including — you guessed it — the Indian Gary couldn’t forget.

The Indian was displayed with a placard that offered very little information, apart from describing the motorcycle as a Big Base Scout similar to one famed Indian rider Ed “Iron Man” Kretz had raced. He asked the casino owners — brothers who also ran the Performance Car Museum — if they’d consider selling the Indian, and they agreed to part with it.

“I knew nothing about the bike, except that it looked like a neat little Indian racer,” Gary recalls. He brought the motorcycle home and got it running, sneaking it around the neighborhood a few times until he took it to the 1999 Antique Motorcycle Club of America (AMCA) swap meet and races in Davenport, Iowa.

“While there, I thought it would be fun to do a couple of parade laps on the race track,” Gary says. “The organizers said I would have to pay the same fee as the racers, so I decided to race it instead.” Gary qualified in the heat race to enter the finals. On the starting line in the final, with a dozen or so other engines revving, Gary couldn’t hear that his Indian was firing on just one cylinder. When the starter’s flag dropped everybody was off — except Gary. He rolled to the infield, where he discovered the Indian had blown a head gasket.

rick giles
8/16/2010 2:14:04 AM

I just read with great interest the aricle on Gary Landeen's "1939" bigbase Indian Sport Scout. I however feel the need to dispute some of the statements made in the article. I have been researching the development of the pre-648 bigbase engine for 30 years. In a personal correspondence with Stephen duPont the man who actually headed up the pre-war racing engine project it was related to me very emphatically by Stephen that the six engines assembled by the factory were NOT of a bigbase construction. The engines used were six Sport Scout Bonneville engines taken off the line and modified with internal scrapers and baffling to remove the excess oil accumulated in the crankcases. Indian went on to design and construct the bigbase crankcase with these features cast in and produced four or five bigbase engines just after World War 2 for their top racers to use. These cases as well as the cases manufactured for the 648 were all sand cast.

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