Ken Smith's 1947 Indian Chief Roadmaster.
1947 Indian Chief Roadmaster
Claimed power: 40hp @ 4,700rpm
Top speed: 100mph (est.)
Engine: 1,212cc side-valve air-cooled 42-degree V-twin
Weight (dry): 572lbs
Fuel capacity: 2.4gal
Price then: $800
Price now: $15,000 - $40,000
When it comes to American style, few bikes match the Indian Chief, which continues to influence motorcycle styling decades on; witness Kawasaki’s 1999-2005 skirted-fender V-twin Drifter. While the Japanese copy might be a nice bike, it doesn’t come close to the original. It’s like being offered sushi when you ordered a juicy 18-ounce T-bone steak.
There were three Chief models in the 1947 range, available in either Jet-Black, sparkling Seafoam Blue or brilliant Indian Red enamel. The cheapest trim level was the Clubman, which still came with plenty of chrome. It had chrome gas tank caps, front brake lever, ignition cable tube, exhaust system, horn face, rear spring shrouds and gearshift lever, a shiny alloy trim running either side of the front fender, a chrome air cleaner cover, chromed rear bumper and that iconic “War Mascot” Indian head fender light. Costs were kept down with painted handlebars, wheel rims and crash bars.
The next rung up the ladder was the Sportsman, which had all the chromed parts of the Clubman, but the handlebars, crash bars and headlamp were chrome plated, too. The Sportsman also got an Indian “De luxe” saddle.
But if you wanted the full touring package and had a fat billfold you’d likely choose the Roadmaster. This had all the chrome and equipment of the Sportsman, but added a Sport windshield, chromed twin spotlights, saddlebags with chrome rivets, a chromed handlebar cross-tube and the new Indian “Chum-Me” seat with adjustable springing so “you could take your best friend along, too.”
Philadelphian Ken Smith bought his 1947 Indian Chief Roadmaster from the original owner’s grandson. “When I went to look at it, it was covered by an old Army blanket. I lifted up a corner and saw the original paint Seafoam Blue fenders and factory-fitted twin chrome spotlights and saddlebags, and I knew that this was something special,” Ken recalls. He soon realized Grandpa hadn’t been satisfied with an ordinary top-of-the-range Chief. He wanted to personalize his touring Indian to make it stand out from the crowd, so he fitted a front bumper and a pair of Indian mirrors from the factory accessory catalogue.
Grandpa also fitted a Jockey Shifter gear lever that was every go-faster cowboy’s choice because it did away with the sloppy linkage that stretched from the gearbox to the right side of the gas tank: Grandpa’s slick-shift operates directly on the top of the gearbox to give quick, positive changes. He also preferred the look of aftermarket flexible exhaust header pipes.
Saddlebags and mud flaps gained extra sparkle thanks to blue glass gems amongst the chrome studs. The chrome rack bolted to the fender is an Indian accessory, and even the little torpedo lights are right out of the factory catalog. “The Indian catalog had a load of stuff you could buy to customize your motorcycle,” Ken says, “though nothing close to what Harley offers today!” The carbon tetrachloride fire extinguisher that’s clipped to the chain guard — unfortunately on the opposite side of the bike from the Linkert M344 carburetor — and the chrome spare spark plug holder are both listed in period literature, as are the spark plug cooling fins.
Order the March/April 2010 issue of Motorcycle Classics to read more about this fully-loaded 1947 Indian Chief Roadmaster. Contact Customer Service at (800) 880-7567 or contact us by email.