Call it the company
that just won’t die, because Indian motorcycles is rising up yet again — and
this time it just might stick.
Launched in 1901 by
George Hendee and Oscar Hedstrom, Indian produced its first V-twin in 1906,
three years before rival Harley-Davidson. And while Indian never attained the
level of success witnessed by Harley-Davidson, it was the only American
motorcycle company to give the Motor Company any real home-grown competition.
Indian quit making
motorcycles in 1953, but the dream to revive the company has never faltered.
Sammy Pierce tried in the early 1960s, as did Cycle magazine founder and
ex-Indian racer Floyd Clymer with his Enfield
and Velocette-powered Indians. Various entrepreneurs purloined the Indian name,
splashing it on wholly unworthy machines ranging from mini bikes to mopeds.
The brand got a
serious shot at revival in 1998, when the Indian Motorcycle Company of America set up shop in Gilroy, Calif.
company initially used H-D clone S&S engines to power its bikes, but it
introduced an all-new 100ci 45-degree V-twin, the Powerplus, before it folded
That engine was
acquired by British private equity firm Stellican Limited when it bought the
Indian name in 2004, and Stellican used the Powerplus as the foundation for a
new range of Indians that went into production in 2009 at their Indian
Motorcycle Company in Kings Mountain,
couldn’t have been worse: Its new bikes went into production just as the global
financial crisis hit, and sales of new $32,000-plus Indians were feeble at
best. Stellican threw in the towel in early 2011, selling Indian to powersports
giant Polaris Industries in April of that year.
company, Polaris entered the motorcycle market in 1997, when it launched
Victory Motorcycles. Following its purchase of Indian, Polaris announced it
would build a final, limited edition range of Indian Chief models powered by
the Powerplus V-twin. It was no secret, however, that Polaris’ real ambition
was to build its own engine to power a new Indian motorcycle.
That engine is now
reality, and it’s set to power a new Indian motorcycle in 2014, with engines to
be built at Polaris’ engine assembly plant in Osceola,
Wisconson, and complete motorcycles at its Spirit Lake, Iowa,
Called the Thunder
Stroke 111 for its 111ci displacement, the new engine was carefully crafted to
invoke Indians of yore, more specifically Indian Chiefs of the late 1940s.
Featuring overhead valves for a low profile, the new air/oil-cooled 1,811cc
49-degree V-twin boasts sequential electronic fuel injection and a 6-speed
transmission. Polaris hasn’t given horsepower figures, but pegs torque at a
healthy 115ft/lb. The two-valve-per-cylinder pushrod mill features three
camshafts (one for each intake valve, with the exhaust valves sharing a cam).
Primary drive is by gear, like early Indians, with final drive by toothed belt.
Polaris claims to have subjected the new engine to the equivalent of a million
test miles, with “hundreds of thousands” of miles of onroad testing. Polaris
showed off the new engine at Daytona Bike Week, housing it in the “Spirit of
Munro,” a custom homage to Burt Munro, who in 1967 broke the under-1,000cc land
speed record on a 1920-based Indian Scout.
So will this be the
Indian revival that sticks? Given Polaris’ success with its snowmobile and ATV
divisions, and its experience launching Victory, we’re betting on seeing new
Indians on the road for years to come.