1940 Indian Chief. Collection of Gary Sanford. Photograph © 2013 Peter Harholdt

1940 Indian Chief
Collection of Gary Sanford, Nolensville, TN

The Indian Motocycle Company started in 1901, two years earlier than Harley-Davidson, in Springfield, Massachusetts.*  Indians were Harley’s major rival until the company went out of business in 1953.

Indian motorcycles were among the best of their time, winning races worldwide, including at Britain’s vaunted Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy). “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, an enthusiastic Indian owner says, “Indians were the best-made machines of their day. Styling reflected that, from parking lights shaped like an Indian Chief’s head, to fenders in the shape of a war bonnet.” Other celebrity owners included actor Steve McQueen and Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler. Despite their popularity, sales of the Indian slumped during the Depression.

E. Paul DuPont assumed control of the company in 1930, and the complete range of Dupont Duco (later Dulux) colors became available. Indians were distinguished by their two-tone paint schemes and elegant pinstripes. Adding to their uniqueness were gracefully curved fenders with full valances, which made their first appearance in 1940. “An Indian is extremely comfortable,”said Leno. “Even though it’s got a rigid frame, the spring-loaded saddle has six inches of spring travel. You shift from first to second and right away you’re into third gear, at just 15-mph. An Indian is simple, and not particularly sophisticated, but incredibly rugged.”

* In 1923, Indian Motorcycle Company became Indian Motocycle Company and retained that name until the company closed in 1953.

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