The track record of would-be motorcycle manufacturers trying to breathe new life into old names has been less than stellar. It’s been tried with Norton and Excelsior-Henderson, to name the most recent failings, and except for Triumph, it just doesn’t seem like anyone can make an old brand stick in a new market. Now, word comes of yet another new Indian, and this time it just might work.
Indian first quit making motorcycles back in 1953, a victim of poor product planning and increasing competition from European manufacturers and Harley-Davidson. That hasn’t stopped more than a few would be saviors from stepping in and trying to revive the once fabled marque. Sammy Pierce tried to give Indian a bump-start in the early Sixties, as did publishing magnate Floyd Clymer in the late Sixties, when he tried to restart the brand with Italian-framed, Velocette-powered Indians.
Things went quiet for a while, but then more wrangling surfaced in the 1990s, when several competing interests claimed rights to the Indian name after Philip Zhangi and Wayne Baughman’s aborted attempts to revive the brand. Lawsuits over ownership of the Indian name continued, and when the dust finally settled in 1999, a new Indian Motorcycle Company, based in Gilroy, Calif., was born.
The “Gilroy” Indians, as they were often called, were little more than H-D clones using S&S engines for power and parts from everyone in the accessory catalogs for everything else. That attempt went belly up 2003, just as the company announced a new, proprietary 100ci 45-degree V-twin. It was exactly what the new Indian needed, but it came too late and the company folded.
But it looks as if Indian’s set to rise again, and this time it might actually stick. Stellican Limited, a private equity firm, is the new owner of the Indian name, and they appear to have both the financial power and marketing savvy to make a revival work. Stellican has managed to engineer successful revivals of Chris-Craft boats in the U.S. and yacht manufacturer Riva in Italy, drawing accolades for keeping those brands alive and moving them forward.
Headquartered in Kings Mountain, N.C., the new Indian Motorcycle Company is currently testing prototypes of a new Indian Chief it says will be available in 2009. Power comes from a fuel-injected version of the 100ci PowerPlus engine developed by the Gilroy company and built entirely in-house.
Not surprisingly, the new models borrow heavily from the Indian styling archive, with heavily-skirted fenders, big chrome pipes and a chrome-studded leather saddle. Indian says it will have a full range of accessories for the new Chief, and the company expects to have its desired 50 dealerships in place when the first bike goes on sale early next year.
No prices have been published, Indian saying only that the 2009 Chief will be “a premium motorcycle and priced accordingly.” Interested? Indian says a $1,000 deposit will ensure you’re among the first to own a new Indian. More at www.indianmotorcycle.com