1933 Indian Four

Four-cylinder motorcycles were a top-end luxury in the 1920s and 30s, and the Indian Four was built as such from 1927 until production ended in 1942.

| September/October 2011

1933 Indian Four
Claimed power:
30hp (est.)
Top speed: 75mph (est.)
Engine: 1,266cc (77.21ci) air-cooled inline four
Weight: 495lb (225kg)
Fuel capacity: 4.6gal (17.4ltr)
Price then: $395
Price now: $20,000 - $60,000

In the early days of cars, the Ford Model T was appreciated as an economical workhorse, a simple automobile with a basic four-cylinder engine. Certainly there were bigger and more powerful engines in far sexier cars, such as the impressive V-12 in the 1916 Packard Twin Six.

The situation was much the same with classic American motorcycle manufacturers. Stout and sturdy single- and twin-cylinder engines in numerous makes of two wheelers could be likened to Ford’s humble four-banger. However, while the four was at the bottom of the ladder in the land of automobiles, a four-cylinder engine in a motorcycle was the pinnacle of power in the late teens — and for the two decades that followed.

A four-cylinder motorcycle like Gary Phelps' 1933 Indian Four was a luxury item for a private owner, as they were usually much more expensive than their single- and twin-cylinder counterparts. Generally, only the wealthy or police forces — where the machines were lauded for their power and ease of handling — were readily able to afford and operate four-cylinder bikes.

Watch a video of Jay Leno talking about his 1933 Indian Four 

History of the Four

Ace, Cleveland, Gerhart, Henderson, Indian, Militaire and Pierce all made four-cylinder motorcycles in North America, and each of these ran an inline four with the engine placed longitudinally in the frame, as opposed to the more common transverse placement of four-cylinder engines we’re used to today, starting with Honda’s revolutionary CB750 in 1969.

8/21/2013 10:46:51 AM

My uncle had two of the Indian 4's, a Scout and a Chief with a side car during his riding years. I saw one photo before he died, of his mother screaming in his "elevated" side car. He said she never forgave him for that scary ride and never set foot in the car again. He worked in a defense plant in Terre Haute Indiana during the war, and he, along with many of his buddies at the plant, would take off towards Indianapolis after their Midnight shift ended. As the sun came up they headed back to Terre Haute for a little rest and a new day. His riding days ended when he had to 'lay down" the Scout at speed losing a large part of his right heel and ankle in the process. He loved telling stories about his riding days every time I rolled up on my HD or the Norton 850.

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