The Re-Birth of Indian Motorcycles

Written By the Sam's Clan Staff

Indian Motorcycles were manufactured from 1901 to 1953 in Springfield, Massachusetts, and were at one time the highest quality and most desired in the world. In recent years the company has been resurrected (we hope for good), after 50 years of failed attempts. New bikes began rolling out of a plant in North Carolina in 2006, and just recently the revived company was bought by industry heavyweight Polaris.

For collectors this might actually be bad news. Because Indian stopped production nearly 60 years ago, finding Indian bikes with all of the parts in working order is a collector’s dream. Not only that, any merchandise with their signature Indian head logo has become highly sought after. But for motorcycle enthusiasts, such as ourselves, we couldn’t be more ecstatic.

Mike Wolfe, of American Pickers on History Channel fame, is one of these enthusiasts. Mike is just one of those bike guys, been racing bikes since he was in his 20’s and restored his first bike at the age of 13. His prized gems are a 1913 Indian, and 1948 Indian Chief. In fact, Mike says the best pick he has ever had was when he answered a classified ad in a motorcycle magazine from a farmer in Pennsylvania, who was looking to sell some Indian bikes. Based in Iowa, Mike naturally made the 800 mile journey the next morning, as any normal human being would. When Mike opened up the barn door, he was in heaven, 10 vintage Indian bikes and two barns of spare parts. What would inspire such fanaticism you may ask? Well, those that ask that question don’t understand Indian.

Mike Wolfe of History's American Pickers, with his 1912 Indian

Mike Wolfe's Indian

Indian actually made the first mass-production motorcycles in America. They were also the first motorcycle manufacturer in the world to produce more than a quarter-million bikes. We are optimistic that Polaris, a conservative company with $2 Billion in annual revenues from the production of snowmobiles and ATVS, can revive the brand. Polaris executives have said they hope to re-launch Indian in 18 to 24 months, which includes moving the manufacturing from Kings Mountain, North Carolina, to Spirit Lake, Iowa. Indian engines will be made at a Polaris plant in Osceola, Wisconsin. That plant was scheduled to close but now will remain open with about 60 jobs.

Indian had about $11 million in sales in 2010, versus Harley-Davidson's $4.2 billion. The bikes, priced between $26,000 and $36,000, are comparable to the high-end Harley models. If Polaris can make the production of the bikes more efficient with their manufacturing capabilities, we could see a bike in the $20,000 to $25,000 range on the market within a few years.

Interestingly, Polaris launched its own line-up of touring motorcycles in the late 1990’s to compete with Harley, called “Victory.” In the early 1990s, there was sometimes an 18-month waiting period to get a new Harley-Davidson due to high demand, so many competitors naturally sprung up. Polaris' Victory motorcycle division had $50 million in sales in the recent fiscal quarter, up 77% from a year ago.

In recent interviews we have been very encouraged by the words of former Indian dealers who are looking forward to taking the brand back. Also, there are encouraging words coming from industry insiders. Laurence Richardson of Clutch and Chrome magazine recently told a newspaper-

"They are beautiful motorcycles. I think Polaris is going to bring some fundamental design changes to Indian, too, because they have done so well with their bikes. If you are an Indian fan, this acquisition is only going to help you. The brand will stay around longer now than it would have otherwise."