A scandalous tale: Did Indian go Brit bike on us?
“New Indians break old traditions. British characteristics a marked feature of O.H.V. models produced by famous American Factory.”
That’s how Motor Cycling magazine editor Graham Walker led off his feature article about the new for 1948 Indian Model 249 Scout parallel twin and Model 149 Arrow single in the July 1, 1948 issue.
Ok, so maybe Indian’s new 435cc overhead valve parallel twin and 218 cc OHV single didn’t spark a scandal about whether they were nothing more than a knock-off of the tried-and-true British parallel twins and thumpers of the day.
But in the eyes of at least one British motorcycle magazine editor, there could be but little doubt about the new Indians’ inspiration.
“It came as a shock—a very pleasant shock, I may add—to see two machines of transatlantic origin which acknowledged so handsomely the British theory that light weight and ease of control should be combined with high performance and comfort,” Walker gushed as he described his exclusive access to examine and road test the Indian prototypes.
In his editorial, Walker went on to say, “…it becomes obvious that the majority of new motorcycles to be sold in the U.S.A. during 1949 will be based on the European conception of motorcycling.”
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the British bike press felt very flattered by North America’s second largest motorcycle manufacturer long known for its big V-twins seeming to concede that the British parallel twin and vertical single cylinder designs were the way of the future—or at least an important part of it.
Walker didn’t quite know what to make of the Indian Scout, with its displacement neither the traditional 500 cc nor 350 cc, but right in between the two. Nevertheless, he was impressed by its light weight, compact size, good handling and brakes. Indeed, he praised most everything about the new Indian models, but stopped short of predicting that they would be wildly successful—which he probably was glad for later.
As Jerry Hatfield, author of the book “Indian Motorcycles” would report many years later, production and parts supply problems led to a catastrophic product launch with the bikes beset by numerous design flaws, poor build quality and reliability problems. Prices for the lightweight bikes rose, sales fell and by 1952 they constituted only token production numbers.
By 1953, the original Indian enterprise was out of business. The new Indians weren’t the only machines featured in detail in that issue. There was in-depth coverage of the engineering innovations seen in TT racing bikes, including the radical 120° V-twin Moto-Guzzi Bicillindrica and the odd but fast AJS horizontal twin referred to these days as the “porcupine” engine.
There was feature coverage of the Dutch TT race where the Senior 500cc event was taken by A.J. Bell on a Norton and the 350 cc event was won by Kenny Bills on a Velocette.
- Title: Motor Cycling
- Author: Multiple—classic periodical. Editor: Graham Walker
- Published: July 1, 1948.
- Publisher: Temple Press Ltd., Bowling Green Lane, London, E.C.1
Note to Readers: many of the books that we’ll feature here may be out of print and some may be difficult to find. That could be half the fun. The Internet should make the search relatively easy but ironically, none of the books currently scheduled for eventual retro-review for the Rider’s Library section were found with the help of the Internet. They all were found at book stores, used book stores, antique shops, motorcycle shops, yard sales and so on.