Motorcycles | 13 June 2016British Indians Share article facebook twitter google pinterest From their birth at the turn of the 20th century, Indian Motorcycles stood at the top of the motorsports world. With notable racing accolades under their belt and unmatched production numbers, the company seemed an unbeatable icon of American success and design. However, in only a few decades, Indian Motorcycle Company saw this success wither away, until by the 1950’s the end was upon them. After 1953, the future of the brand was in the hands of other companies that would try to resuscitate it’s popularity. In this excerpt from Darwin Holmstrom’s Indian Motorcycle(R): America’s First Motor Company read all about the first company to step up to the plate: Britain’s Brockhouse Engineering. By 1951, when this Chief was built, Indian was barely a functioning company; very little distinguishes the 1951s from the 1950 models. While Indian had lost its final battle to continue functioning as a viable American motorcycle manufacturing company, Indian dealerships still had product to sell: Brockhouse’s British brands, primarily Royal Enfields. After the final Chiefs rolled out of Springfield in 1953, Brockhouse’s British brands were all that remained. Though the market for British motorcycles was growing,people weren’t going into Indian dealerships to find them; they were going into Indian dealerships looking for Indians. Brockhouse’s strategy for the 1955 model year was to rebrand the Royal Enfields as Indians in the US market. So it was that the ’55 Indian lineup consisted of four models with fresh names. The Fire Arrow, Indian’s version of the Royal Enfield Clipper, was a 248-cubic-centimeter overhead-valve single-cylinder lightweight. The next step up in the Indian hierarchy was the Woodsman, Indian’s version of the 499-cubic-centimeter Royal Enfield Bullet single set up for off-road use. Indian also offered a parallel-twin motorcycle with roughly the same displacement,the 496-cubic-centimeter Tomahawk. The Royal Enfield version of this bike was simply called the“Twin,” though it later acquired the lofty title “Meteor Minor.” This model wasn’t especially popular in the bigger-is-better US market, but it did conform to the AMA’s displacement limit for overhead-valve twins in its Grand National series. The top Indian/Royal Enfield offering, and the most popular, was the Trailblazer, Indian’s version of Royal Enfield’s 692-cubic-centimeter Super Meteor overhead-valve parallel twin.Modified examples of this model were marketed to American police departments, as Indian attempted to regain the share of the law-enforcement market it had lost when it ended production of the Chief. Hoping to increase the appeal of the police-version Trailblazer, Indian renamed the bike the Chief. None of these Enfield-Indian hybrids, the new Chief included,caught on in the US. This 1953 Chief represents the very last of a once-proud line of motorcycles. It would be many years before the Indian brand would again adorn a motorcycle that generated pride. For 1958 Indian added a couple of models, a 148-cubic-centimeter version of the two-stroke Royal Enfield Prince, dubbed the Lance in Indian form; and a sportier version of the Trailblazer that Indian labeled the Apache. But marketing British motorcycles with Indian badges wasn’t cutting it. In 1960, England’s Associated Motor Cycles (AMC), makers of Matchless motorcycles,purchased Indian Sales Corporation and began marketing Matchless motorcycles through what remained of the Indian dealer network. Though the Matchless motorcycles were given Indian nicknames in marketing material, they were not rebadged and were sold as Matchless and AJS(another brand owned by AMC) models. The timing couldn’t have been worse. Indian’s link to British bikes came at the very beginning of the Japanese motorcycle boom in the US market. Compared to the innovative product coming to America from across the Pacific, the British motorcycles of the early 1960s were as archaic as the Indians of the early 1950s had been. Yet another problem with the Indian-Matchless arrangement arose because although AMC/Matchless did not display the Indian trademark on the bikes, it did feature the Indian name and logo in advertising—a violation of the continuity principle of US trademark law. The principle holds that trademarks exist primarily as suggestions of manufacturer goodwill, and that a trademark shall not be assigned to a substantially dissimilar product. This ambiguity surrounding the use of the Indian trademark, a trademark that Indian had failed to protect in the chaos of its final years, would set into motion a series of events that would have monumental consequences for decades to come. The AMC-Indian tie up didn’t last long; AMC went into receivership in 1962. If Indian had been just another company, this would have been the end of the line for the fabled brand, but Indian was far from just any other company. By the time Indian Sales became just a distribution network for second-tier British motorcycle brands, riders’ attitudes underwent an interesting change. The original side-valve Chiefs and Scouts and pocket-valve Fours that held very little value a decade earlier had become collectible. While Indian as a motorcycle company had disappeared, the love for the brand had increased. People still valued the Indian history and product,and a decade after the last Chiefs had rolled off of the assembly line, people began to miss the fabled marque. Indian developed this bold fork shroud for the 1952 Warrior prototypes, but like the bikes themselves, the shrouds never made it to showroom floors. Smart business people recognized the value of the Indian brand. Former Cycle magazine publisher Floyd Clymer began building hybrid motorcycles that mounted British engines from various manufacturers in Italian frames. The bikes were really quite nice machines that combined the best attributes of British and Italian motorcycles; Clymer marketed them under the Indian brand name. Though Clymer had no legal claim to the Indian trademark, his efforts were not contested by anyone, and when he died in 1970 his widow sold the name to a California-based company that subsequently marketed a line of Taiwanese-built minibikes under the Indian brand. When this company went broke in 1976, the dubiously trademarked name bounced around among a series of motorcycle manufacturers, variously being associated with Asian and European mopeds, and finally ending up (possibly) residing (at least in part) with a gentleman named Philip S. Zanghi. Zanghi claimed to own the Indian trademark, and although his ability to protect the trademark in court was doubtful, investors were convinced that he was going to build a factory in Connecticut, where he would produce thoroughly modern Indians with titanium engines and anti-lock brakes at the rate of 100,000 per year. Never mind the titanium engines: at the time Harley-Davidson, which had been in continual production since 1903, was producing only 70,000 motorcycles per year. That was a plain fact, so Zanghi’s investors should have been dubious about the man’s claims. Ultimately, Zanghi never manufactured a single Indian motorcycle; instead, he used the name to market clothing, which was somewhat of a disappointment to the people convinced by Zanghi to invest money in a motorcycle manufacturing company. On August 13, 1997, a US district court convicted Philip Zanghi of twelve counts of securities fraud, three counts of tax evasion, and six counts of money laundering. Judge Frank Freedman sentenced Zanghi to 7½ years in prison, which wasn’t bad, considering the maximum sentence could have been 221 years. Following the Zanghi debacle, a New Mexico-based company called Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Incorporated, owned by a twin man named Wayne Baughman, developed a prototype of a Chief-like motorcycle powered by a 100-cubic-inch V-twin. Baughman had two prototypes built, which were capable of running for several minutes at a time, but he never demonstrated that they were drivable. They certainly didn’t appear roadworthy. Baughman capitalized on the enduring love of the Indian brand and exploited this affection to lure investors.Even though Baughman’s prototypes looked like something cobbled together in a high-school machine shop with an arc welder and a turning lathe, Baughman managed to raise $5 million to finance his venture. Even though Baughman’s company claimed the Indian name was public domain, despite the fact that there was no legal justification for this claim, it marketed the prototype as the “Century Chief,” probably in an attempt not to join Zanghi in a federal penitentiary. Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Incorporated went bankrupt before the crude-looking beast of a motorcycle could progress beyond the prototype stage, so the avail-ability of the trademark was never really put to the test. Though Baughman avoided prison, he clearly made some enemies, as evidenced by the fact that someone firebombed his New Mexico facility. Not long after that, Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Incorporated filed bankruptcy and Baughman disappeared from public sight. In January 1998, a company called Eller Industries entered the Indian saga. Eller was owned by Lonnie Labriola, an investor in the failed Baughman venture. Labriola and Eller obtained what was the clearest claim to the Indian brand yet. Eller hired Rousch Industries to design a proprietary Indian V-twin engine and began negotiations with the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Native American tribe to build an Indian motorcycle factory on Umpqua tribal land in Oregon.Eller personnel included some serious players from the transportation world, notably Robert“Bob” Lutz, former vice chairman of Chrysler Corporation. Eller hired motorcycle designer James Parker, who had gained fame as the creator of Yamaha’s innovative formless front suspension system used on that company’s GTS sport-touring motorcycle in the early 1990s. Parker was to oversee the development of three different prototype Indian motorcycles: a traditional cruiser,a sport cruiser, and a full-on sport bike. Design drawings for each of these were shown to the motorcycling press in February 1998. In November of that year, Eller prepared to display a prototype of the cruiser concept, but by then the situation had turned ugly. Eller was prevented from displaying the prototype because of a restraining order which claimed that Eller Industries had failed to present a working prototype in an acceptable amount of time. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: Indian Motorcycle(R): America’s First Motorcycle Company(tm) tells the complete story of Indian, America’s first mass-produced motorcycle maker, from its start as a bicycle manufacturer to the purchase of the brand by Polaris Industries in 2011 and the subsequent new Indian motorcycles. In the early years of the 20th century, Indian dominated the world’s racetracks, earning the brand a worldwide reputation for quality, performance, reliability, and technical innovation, but the once-mighty company fell on hard times and in 1953 was forced to file bankruptcy. The Indian brand never quite died, though, thanks in large part to fanatically devoted enthusiasts, who tried to resurrect it for over half a century. Finally Polaris, maker of the highly regarded Victory(R) brand of motorcycles, purchased the brand and released the Chief(R) and Scout(R), models that once again restored Indian to its rightful place in the motorcycle pantheon. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.