BORN IN THE USA

Some clas­sic bike enthusiasts will go to the ends of the earth to find their dream ma­chine. One Aus­tralian cou­ple didn’t have to travel quite that far, as Rowena Hosea­son dis­cov­ers…

Real Classic - - Indian Chief Roadmaster - Pho­tos by Kay Eldridge of Fo­cusedI­mage.com.au, RC RChive

Robert and Gillian took a re­ally rad­i­cal ap­proach to buy­ing their clas­sic bike. They wanted a vin­tage In­dian, and you don’t find many of them in Queens­land, Aus­tralia. So they took a hol­i­day in the US of A in the au­tumn of 2016, de­ter­mined to find the bike of their dreams. You have to ad­mire their ded­i­ca­tion to this cause: the search for the In­dian Chief led them clean across the con­ti­nent! They landed in Los An­ge­les and hired a mo­torhome. A friend called to say that there was a huge swap­meet hap­pen­ing in Her­shey, Pennsylvania… in three days. 3000 miles away. Her­shey is the ul­ti­mate Amer­i­can clas­sic and vin­tage au­to­jum­ble: it’s like Founder’s Day and Stafford and Shep­ton and Euro­jum­ble and Beaulieu all rolled into one – but with Har­ley and In­dian ma­chines get­ting all the at­ten­tion rather than Bri­tish bikes. It’s def­i­nitely one of mo­tor­cy­cling life’s ‘don’t miss’ ex­pe­ri­ences.

So Robert and Gillian revved up their en­gine and hit the road. ‘We av­er­aged four hours sleep a night and got there the day be­fore it started,’ Robert told me. ‘My wife and I spent the whole three-day swap­meet walk­ing around the 9000-odd stalls, mark­ing rows off our map when com­pleted, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing via walky-talky.’

They were, of course, smartly at­tired in In­dian-branded shorts and caps. So when Gillian was in­spect­ing some In­dian span­ners on one stall, the next-door ven­dor flagged her down. ‘Psst. Wanna buy an In­dian?’ That set the walky-talkies crack­ling like crazy, and pretty soon Robert and Gillian were off to New Hamp­shire to in­spect a 1948 In­dian Chief Roadmaster which had been doz­ing for a dozen years in pieces in an at­tic.

‘We then spent the next two weeks find­ing all the parts and or­gan­is­ing money trans­fers,’ said Robert, ‘and my wife kindly spent three days pack­ing it all up for the long trip home. Some­how we fit­ted the bits of the bike into var­i­ous com­part­ments of the mo­torhome and it went around the rest of the US with us, be­fore get­ting shipped off on a pal­let in LA.

‘While in the US we took the op­por­tu­nity to visit lots of In­dian mo­tor­cy­cle parts shops, and made sev­eral calls to my spe­cial­ist In­dian me­chanic (also called Rob) back in Aussie. Jerry Greer’s En­gi­neer­ing in South Dakota opened up es­pe­cially for us on a Satur­day morn­ing. Fab­u­lous ser­vice and very friendly and ef­fi­cient; can’t fault them. We man­aged to get 90% of the com­po­nents we needed be­fore we left. These mostly went in our suit­cases; luck­ily my wife is not one for buy­ing sou­venirs!

‘ The bike fol­lowed us home within six weeks and we took it straight to the me­chanic. He thought it was Christ­mas, open­ing all the parcels and find­ing all the parts of the bike. Orig­i­nal parts can be hard to source, but Jerry Greer’s and Kiwi In­dian in the USA have lots of man­u­fac­tured parts avail­able. Some of the more dif­fi­cult to source parts send peo­ple scour­ing the swap­meets in the US to find them. We were very lucky to have 90% orig­i­nal parts come with the bike, in­clud­ing the front In­dian fender light which is in fab­u­lous work­ing con­di­tion. It all turned out to be in much bet­ter con­di­tion than we had hoped. Rob the me­chanic mocked it up, then pulled it apart again.’

The Roadmaster was re­built ex­actly to 1948 spec­i­fi­ca­tions with some of its orig­i­nal pe­riod ac­ces­sories – with a view to fit­ting the op­tional wind­screen at a later date. With the me­chan­i­cal side of things sorted, Robert and Gillian just had to de­cide on a colour scheme.

‘We took it to the world fa­mous “Paint Doc­tor” in Mary­bor­ough, who did a fab­u­lous job. We spent over 50 hours bring­ing the

tin­ware back to its orig­i­nal shape. The colour was cho­sen by my wife. While vis­it­ing ev­ery mu­seum with lndi­ans that we could find in the US, she found a cou­ple with this paint and fell in love with it. Back home, no one knew how to get this ex­act colour, so I found some­one on­line in the USA who sold me a paint chip. Hans the guru painter man­aged to match it per­fectly. So now the bike cer­tainly stands out ev­ery­where we go amongst all the red and black lndi­ans.’

And in­deed, Seafoam Blue is among the stan­dard colours listed for 1948. So far, so fab­u­lous – but there’s al­ways a fly in the oint­ment, isn’t there? This time, Robert pulled his knee joint apart shortly af­ter re­turn­ing to Aus­tralia ‘so I was pretty much laid up for the whole pro­ject. I could help with the wiring and some of the fid­dly bits but even when it was fin­ished I wasn’t able to ride it for three months.’

Even though the In­dian’s owner was

hors de com­bat, the bike was in safe hands. ‘Rob is a mo­tor me­chanic ex­traor­di­naire,’ said Robert. ‘He’s very par­tic­u­lar and has a wealth of knowl­edge. Need­less to say, Rob the me­chanic man­aged to force him­self to en­dure the ar­du­ous task of test­ing and run­ning in!’

At last, then, the Roadmaster was ready to ride. But be­fore we get to the ex­cit­ing part – what ex­actly in­spired Robert and Gillian to go to such lengths to se­cure their dream ma­chine?

‘Rob­bie al­ways loved mo­tor­cy­cles and had dirt bikes when he was a young fella,’ ex­plains Gillian. ‘Af­ter mar­riage and a child, the bikes were sold. When he started talking about get­ting a mo­tor­cy­cle again he was an “old” fella, and was look­ing at Harleys. I spent a lot of time in Europe and Nor­way as a young woman, and have very fond mem­o­ries of travers­ing the top of the coun­try one sum­mer on the back of a vin­tage In­dian. So I had one caveat: he could get what­ever mo­tor­cy­cle he liked – as long as it was an In­dian!

‘Po­laris had just bought out In­dian and were re­launch­ing the brand. They had the new 111 mo­tor on dis­play at our small coun­try town, and Aus­tralia was to be the first place to get 111 of the new mo­tor­bikes. Rob­bie or­dered one, sight un­seen, and we ended up with num­ber 87. He fell in love with In­di­ans as soon as he started rid­ing it, and then wanted to join in all the fun with the vin­tage ones. Ac­cord­ing to some peo­ple, the only real In­dian is a vin­tage one!

‘We joined the His­tor­i­cal Mo­tor­cy­cle Club of Queens­land, found a 1929 Scout 101 and started go­ing to ral­lies. I was feel­ing left out and had a cou­ple of small prac­tise rides on the Scout. Af­ter a few drinks one night, Rob­bie said that if I could start it then I could have it. With the help of some Dutch courage I started it on my own – and so Rob­bie needed another vin­tage In­dian.

‘That’s how we ended up go­ing to the USA to find one.’

And what they found, as we’ve men­tioned al­ready, was a Roadmaster vari­ant of the In­dian Chief, man­u­fac­tured in 1948. The In­dian com­pany had re­cently en­dured one of its many changes of own­er­ship, so the ever­green Chief was pretty much their only pro­duc­tion model for a cou­ple of years af­ter WW2, while deals were done and new de­signs fi­nalised. At that time, Amer­i­can in­dus­try was on the re­bound from wartime con­straints so heav­i­ly­chromed high­lights were the or­der of the day. Com­bined with a se­ries of me­chan­i­cal up­grades, these pre­vented the Chief from look­ing too out­dated. The model was, af­ter all, first sketched by Charles Franklin him­self for the 1922 sea­son…

For its post-war in­car­na­tion, In­dian re­placed the Chief’s old leaf-spring girder forks with the hy­drauli­cally-damp­ened front end they’d de­vel­oped for WD mod­els. They kept the Chief’s huge, hall­mark mud­guards, although many fast lads in the 1950s put paid to these with hack­saws, so find­ing an orig­i­nal set these days can be tricky.

At the back, the Chief ben­e­fited from In­dian’s plunger sus­pen­sion set-up which ar­rived in 1940, neatly leapfrog­ging Har­leyDavid­son’s rigid mod­els. Each ‘dou­ble ac­tion’ shock ab­sorber had two springs; the up­per one to ab­sorb im­pacts and the lower one to pro­vide damp­ing. Com­bined with fat tyres and a sprung sad­dle, this of­fered a sig­nif­i­cantly su­pe­rior ride to the rigid ma­chines of­fered by the com­pe­ti­tion… yet the In­dian’s en­gine looked dis­tinctly old-hat com­pared to the new pan­head Har­ley with its fan­dango hy­drauli­cally-ad­justed over­head valves.

The sec­ond part of an In­dian’s model des­ig­na­tion re­flected the ac­ces­sories which were sold with it. The Roadmaster was the tour­ing ver­sion with a range of op­tional ex­tras: two stands, steer­ing damper, dou­ble ‘Chum-Me’ sad­dle, twin spot­lights, wind­screen and sad­dle­bags. Al­ter­na­tively, pur­chasers could choose the mid-range Sports­man or the base-level Clubman.

Around 40 horse­power was trans­ferred via a four-row pri­mary chain, which lived in an oil bath, to the foot-op­er­ated multi-plate wet clutch. De­pend­ing on its state of tune, a Chief from this era with hot cams and matched ex­hausts could see 100mph. In tour­ing trim, run­ning around 6:1 com­pres­sion, the 82.5mm by 113mm mo­tor could haul the bike’s 560lb mass up to 85mph or there­abouts.

Gears were changed by hand; the Chief used three ra­tios as stan­dard with re­verse as an op­tional ex­tra. Cus­tomers could choose whether to have the throt­tle and gearshift lo­cated on ei­ther left or right. Which­ever twist­grip wasn’t con­nected to the carb would op­er­ate the ad­vance / re­tard func­tion of the car-type distrib­u­tor. The Linkert carb was fairly prim­i­tive by the stan­dards of the time; the throt­tle needed to be man­u­ally closed, and they were linked by a solid wire, not even a ca­ble.

Flu­ids were stored in the huge, swoop­ing fuel tank, which em­ploys a three-in-one ar­range­ment; two petrol tanks and an oil reser­voir, with three fillers to match. It doesn’t pay to get them con­fused, ob­vi­ously!

In the first year of pro­duc­tion af­ter WW2, In­dian as­sem­bled just 2800 Chiefs. To put that num­ber into per­spec­tive, it’s use­ful to know that in the same year 9064 mo­tor­cy­cles were im­ported into the USA and sold; 8596 of those im­ports came from the UK. ‘Many old es­tab­lished deal­ers were now be­com­ing alarmed at the al­most dra­matic ap­pear­ance of Bri­tish and con­ti­nen­tal ma­chines on the hereto­fore static do­mes­tic mar­ket­place,’ ob­served In­dian ex­pert Harry V Sucher.

For 1947, In­dian upped their game and man­u­fac­tured 11,850 bikes, but out­put fell back to 3500 units in 1948. The Chief was far from cheap at $1295; the com­pany’s in­creas­ingly pre­car­i­ous fi­nan­cial po­si­tion meant their re­tail prices soared in a cou­ple of years. De­spite the prob­lems at board level, how­ever, they kept fine-tun­ing and tweak­ing the Chief’s spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Up­dates in­cluded the iconic In­dian-head mud­guard mas­cot and a change to slim­mer tyres on big­ger rims. The swap from 16-inch to 18-inch wheels prob­a­bly sharp­ened the Chief’s steer­ing, but the ear­lier bal­loon tyres gave a more lux­u­ri­ous ride on bad roads.

For 1948, In­dian made a range of de­tail im­prove­ments to their 74-inch, 42-de­gree side­valve V-twin. A new ‘Hy­dra Feed’ geardriven oil pump was touted as ‘the big­gest for­ward step in en­gine lu­bri­ca­tion since In­dian’s dry-sump oil­ing was in­tro­duced.’ A se­ries of five op­er­at­ing gears ‘in­sures

in­stant prim­ing un­der ex­treme tem­per­a­ture vari­a­tions, and a con­trolled, pos­i­tive force of oil at all bear­ings in pro­por­tion to en­gine speeds.’

The Chief’s frame was also mod­i­fied, a volt­age reg­u­la­tor added, the speedo drive moved from the back to the front wheel and the side­stand (sorry ‘Jiffy Stand’) was im­proved. Even so, it strug­gled to main­tain mar­ket share – be­cause when the pound was de­val­ued, BSA and Tri­umph mo­tor­cy­cles gave a lot more bang for a lot less buck…

Pres­sure to fur­ther mod­ernise the In­dian V-twin led the com­pany to ex­per­i­ment with Vin­cent en­gines while they re­fined their light­weight range, but they strug­gled to make an im­pres­sion against cut-price overseas com­pe­ti­tion and pro­duc­tion stop­started un­til In­dian went out of busi­ness in 1953. So Rob­bie and Gillian’s 1948 Roadmaster is a rare beast in­deed – and get­ting to grips with a vin­tage In­dian isn’t ex­actly a walk in the park.

Just start­ing and set­ting off aboard an old In­dian like the Roadmaster is no easy ac­com­plish­ment – as Gillian ex­plained. ‘Start­ing has been a huge learn­ing curve as there are set pro­ce­dures. First: ig­ni­tion off, full choke, full throt­tle, two big kicks, Sec­ond: choke back up to top then down one notch, slight throt­tle, no ad­vance, ig­ni­tion on, then KICK. Bike SHOULD start. Bike up­right, open oil cap to make sure it’s pump­ing oil, warm up, choke lever to top once warmed up, bike stand up, left side foot clutch down, right hand gear shift lever for­ward into first gear, right hand throt­tle ad­vance, grad­u­ally turn the left hand throt­tle while re­leas­ing left side foot clutch.

‘If you don’t stuff it up and stall it, away you go!’

Next, of course, you have to change gear ra­tios while… ac­tu­ally… mov­ing. Again, this takes some prac­tice to get per­fect.

‘ There are three gears. While chang­ing gears, de­press the left side foot clutch, slowly pull the right gear shift lever into sec­ond, the slowly re­lease the left side foot clutch back up. Gear changes should be done slowly and smoothly…’

Once they’re on the move, Gillian reck­ons that the In­di­ans of­fer a sur­pris­ingly so­phis­ti­cated ride. ‘ They han­dle very well. The sprung seat and rear sus­pen­sion make it a smooth ride through the bumps,’ she said, and the steer­ing ben­e­fits from cor­rect ad­just­ment of the steer­ing damper. ‘As with all old bikes, brak­ing is a bit steady but still very good. There’s no lag with the long brake con­nect­ing rods.

‘ The 1200 Roadmaster is a heavy old bike, and they made them to last in those days, with a con­se­quently heavy frame and com­po­nents. Low-speed ma­noeu­vring can be quite dif­fi­cult,’ as you might ex­pect on a ma­chine with a 61-inch wheel­base, ‘but the big en­gine pro­duces quite a bit of horse­power. Our other vin­tage In­dian is a 600; al­to­gether a smaller bike and very easy to ma­noeu­vre.’

The Scout may well be a more nim­ble ride, but it’s the Roadmaster which gets all the at­ten­tion. ‘Ev­ery­body oohs and aahs about it,’ ex­plained Gillian, ‘from grannies to butch bik­ers to Joe Blow. The blue colour pulls them in and then, when they re­alise it’s an In­dian – some­times it’s hard to get back on the road af­ter a stop with all the at­ten­tion!

‘It re­ally has the wow fac­tor, on top of de­cent power, re­li­a­bil­ity and han­dling. Plus it makes quite a bit of noise when you fire it up, and set­tles down to that nice throaty sound that all V-twins have.’

Rob­bie also rated the Roadmaster’s build qual­ity and the stan­dard of work­man­ship, ‘es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the manufacturing pro­cesses they had avail­able back in the 1940s.’

Af­ter their epic ad­ven­ture, trav­el­ling halfway around the world, find­ing the Roadmaster, re­build­ing it and then learn­ing how to ride it; not to men­tion spend­ing a con­sid­er­able five-fig­ure sum on the ma­chine it­self and its restora­tion… af­ter all that, did Rob­bie think it was all worth­while?

‘Ab­so­lutely,’ he said. ‘I’d do it all ex­actly the same.’

Above: The 1212cc side­valve en­gine typ­i­cally out­put 40bhp at 4700rpm in its top-of-the-range Roadmaster state of tune, giv­ing the ma­chine a top speed of 85mph Right: Beauty in blue. No doubt there will be some folk who will dislike this, but the whole of RCHQ is a bit in awe!

Right: The drive to the dy­namo is also on the left of the en­gine, and the gen­er­a­tor it­self is also a mi­nor thing of won­der

Left: A branded bat­tery, no less. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers re­tain this tra­di­tion to this day

Above: Com­mend­ably com­pact pri­mary drive works well, while any rider fa­mil­iar with heel’n’toe shifts will need re­mind­ing that this pedal is for the clutch

Left: When this Roadmaster was built in 1948, In­dian’s only real ri­val had just in­tro­duced their new Pan­head en­gine with hy­drauli­cally ad­justed over­head valves. The In­dian Chief had to make do with its flat­head (side­valve) ar­range­ment

Right: Lots to look at and lots to do. Life is never dull with an In­dian

Above: The sprung sad­dle po­si­tioned the rider 31.5 inches above ground level; unusu­ally high for a bike of this era

Car­bu­re­tion was by the 1¼” Linkert M344. Sadly, you can’t see it be­cause it’s shy and is hid­ing be­hind its air fil­ter

This ex­haust will sound se­ri­ously sweet, at a guess. Ob­serve the rear brake link­age: it’s a pedal and a pair of rods, not a ca­ble in sight

The fi­nal drive chain is al­most fully en­closed be­neath all that body­work Above: De­tail…Left: SLS drums front and rear pro­vided ‘re­li­able’ brak­ing back in the day. But 550lb of mo­tor­cy­cle (plus rider) isn’t go­ing to stop in a hurry. Those girder forks must be stronger than they look, too

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