This article features two rare yet very well known vintage motorcycles.
Indian Motorcycles go as far back as 1901. This was the time that people like Henry Ford and Ransom E. Olds were trying to perfect their automobiles. The company was first named the Hendee Manufacturing Company but was renamed the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company in 1928. The Hendee Manufacturing Company actually manufactured bicycles back in 1897.
Just like the early automakers racing competition was important and Indian Motorcycles were no different. During 1905 Indian built it's first racing motorcycle called the V-twin. A few years later in 1907 the company produced it's first V-twin street motorcycle. They also built a roadster the same year. The roadster design was based on the V-twin racer.
Racing competition was quite helpful for Indian since it spurred several innovations. The Indian Motorcycles had great racing success in 1911 when they finished first, second and third in the Isle of Man TT competition. Just as with automobiles, racing success led to sales success.
More innovations came to Indian Motorcycles during the latter half of the second decade of the 20th century. This was when the company introduced the Model K Featherweight. The onset of World War One meant two things. Indian Motorcycles received a handsome federal government contract but at the same time the supply available for civilian sales dwindled. This also led to a loss of some dealerships which caused problems after the war.
The Indian Motorcycle featured here is a 1936 Chief model. The 1936 Indian's were the product of a lot of testing. The results were impressive. In 1936, Indian came out with entirely new pistons. Better piston efficiency came with the the silent, cam-ground, T-slot, Indian. Along with this came new piston rings that that offered even friction.
The 1936 Indian also had a lighter yet stronger Keystone frame and a special "Y" engine. The first Indian Chief in 1922 came out with a 61 cubic inch engine and then one year later moved it up to 73 cubic inch displacement. For a longer life Indian also came out in 1936 with Multiple-Row primary drive front chains. Indian also had brought out front brakes in 1928. The 1936 Indian Chief motorcycle engine had 74 cubic inch displacement.
The Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company of Springfield Massachusetts filed for bankruptcy in 1953. Several companies stepped in to preserve the brand name. In 2001 the company was taken overby Polaris Industries Inc.which still sells Indian Motorcycles. Operations are in North Carolina, Iowa and Minnesota.
The 1917 Harley-Davidson Army Issue Motorcycle
World War One also had a big effect on Harley-Davidson. In fact, during the entire war Harley-Davidson operated a school to train army mechanics and maintenance personnel on it's machines. This was the first H-D School.
About fifty percent of all 1917 motorcycles that Harley-Davidson manufactured were sold to the U.S. Army. The company produced about 15,000 motorcycles for the army during the war.
1917 was the only year for the Dixie magneto on Harley’s single-cylinder motorcycles, and also the first year for the improved 4 lobe cam in the V-twins. It was also the first year that the crankcases were painted in an "olive" color.
The company which was founded in Milwaukee Wisconsin at about 1901 was asked by the U.S. military to provide motorcycles which could be utilized in combat. They had previously been used by the army in it's campaign against Poncho Villa. In that campaign the Harley-Davidson's reportedly had side cars attached which were used by machine gunners. Harley-Davidson machines were also used by messengers during World War One. This proved to be a speedy way to get dispatches from one unit to another.
The 1917 Harley-Davidson Army motorcycle featured in this article is on display at the Bataan Memorial Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico. The army color shown here which has been referred to as "army drab" came out during the middle of the 1917 production cycle.
The Bataan Memorial Museum is a very unique museum with firearms and other artifacts from World War Two including those from Germany and Japan. If your travels include a New Mexico vacation I would highly recommend a visit to this museum.
Both Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles have prominent places in American motorcycle history. Both brand names are more associated with heavy motorcycles although all vintage Indian's and Harley's in good condition have a lot of collector value today. A 1917 Harley-Davidson Army Issue motorcycle like the one shown here can easily sell in the $40,000 plus range.
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(Article and photos copyright AutoMuseumOnline)