Thursday, March 20, 2008


I was sent this photo from a dealer in the US, of an Indian racer he had found while trolling Europe for bikes to ship home. He apparently failed to make a high enough offer to the owner, but was content to torture me, with the premise that I had a 'first refusal' if the Indian ever came to light. The bike is in Germany supposedly; has anyone seen it?

I'm not a big fan of American motorcycles post-1925 in general, as they really dropped the ball on engine development around that time, and stuck to building solid, heavy, and reliable machines, which were pretty slow compared to what was being sold in England and Europe at the time. This is quizzical, especially after Indian was very active at Brooklands and the Isle of Man in the 'teens and twenties, gaining many wins, and building an excellent name for themselves. I would assume increased taxes in the UK put paid to their export possibilities, so they simply let their overseas (read; overhead-valve) racing development die off.

As an enthusiast of road racing machines, there just isn't much for me to get excited about from the US in the Vintage (1920-30) and Post-Vintage (1931-48) periods.

BUT, as a last hurrah before they gave up racing in Europe entirely, the Indian factory made a small batch of ohv 750cc racers in 1926; two for speed testing at the California dry lakes, and two for road racing in Europe. The machine in the top photo is one of those bikes, which has survived remarkably intact. I've run the numbers, and it checks out one of these alcohol-burning speed monsters. At the dry lakes, one of the four machines was timed at 126mph, which was at or near the absolute motorcycle speed record at the time. I have no data, nor have I ever seen published reports on how these twins fared in European road racing.

Indian also built 'a few' (according to Harry Sucher in 'The Iron Redskin') of this single-cylinder machine in 1928; a 500cc ohv racer with girder forks (and no front brake, very outdated by 1928). Apparently they had some success in Germany.

Here are some details of the twin-cylinder ohv racer (photo taken from Jerry Hatfield's 'Indian Scout' book, MBI, 2001):
It is claimed by some that the factory made 26 motorcycles with this engine in 1926, with 22 in a 'hillclimber' spec (extra long frame, small tank, stubby exhausts, etc), and the other 4 as 'road racers', with the shorter frame seen above, longer exhaust pipes with small megaphones, and an Andre damper on the leaf-sprung forks. The two camshafts ran on ball bearings, as did the crankshaft, with a roller bearing big-end. It used two oil pumps mounted on the timing case, one supplying the crank mains and big-end, the other oiling the rear of the front cylinder (which is the hottest part of the cylinders on a v-twin engine). Most examples of the engine had iron cylinder heads, but some had aluminum heads - very advanced for 1926. The engines were tuned to run on alcohol, and had a 15:1 compression ratio.

THE UPDATE (Sep. 15, 2008):
I was recently contacted by a fellow in Germany who knows where the Indian resides; it has changed hands twice since I posted this may be for sale, but in the intervening period, may have become simply too expensive for a man of modest means... but I'll fill you in with the details as I have them.

Photographs of the machine show it has been sympathetically restored to a much more period correct livery, and looks amazing. I would love to swing my leg over that saddle, and see what she will do!


Dale said...

Nice looking bikes, wonder what he offered and what the owner would have accepted. Take a look at

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul. I'm not sure that the back of the front jug is the hottest part of a V twin motor. But I do know that motor manufacturers started putting an oil feed there in the early 'teens. It was because the rear cylinder received lots of oil being thrown by the flywheels, but the front cylinder didn't catch nearly as much oil.

vintagent said...

Yes, it's the hottest part of the two CYLINDERS according to what I've read; I could have been more specific. Correct about oil thrown by the flywheels predominantly coating the rear cylinder.