Indian Motorcycle: Americas First Motorcycle Company | Review
Darwin Holmstrom is the Senior Editor at Motorbooks, and prior to that he was the Midwest Editor for Motorcyclist magazine. He has co-written or was a contributor to more than 30 books about motorcycles, cars and guitars.
In the course of all this, he has helped create some of the best moto-books and worked with some of the most noted authors in the business. In the case of “Indian Motorcycle: America’s First Motorcycle Company,” it is his name on the cover and it is evident all his experience and skills have been brought to bear in this landmark book.
Motorbooks also brought its long (50 years) experience in producing books to bear in this one, with the cover, binding and glossy high-quality bond the pages are printed on making this book an instant collector’s item in its own right.
Holmstrom’s work is the first to fully span the history of the Indian marque from its beginnings as the first mass-produced motorcycle—“motocycle” in official Indian company parlance at the time— in the U.S. in 1901, to its rapid rise to prominence in the early 20th century, decline and bankruptcy in 1953. He covers the multiple short-lived attempts to revive the brand from then until Polaris Industries acquired and revived the brand in 2011.
It is a daunting task to do the subject justice and it is evident that Holmstrom’s research was exhaustive in preparation of the narrative and selection of the 227 color and 76 black & white images he used to tell the tale.
How exhaustive was his research? Here’s an example—did you know there was an Indian called the “Bonneville?” It’s true; in 1947, Indian offered a high-performance version of the Chief called the Bonneville—a dozen years before Triumph adopted the name for its new high performance twin in 1959.
Holmstrom minces no words on recalling the company’s stunning fall from grace with consumers in the late 1940s. Bad financial management was part of it and that is explored, but the failures of product quality are astounding, as Holmstrom describes:
“In addition to lousy the quality control of suppliers the new Indians had profound problems with their fundamental engineering. Though G. Briggs Weaver had spent four years developing the modular engine systems, there were basic flaws with the design when it hit the market. For example, there was no way to adjust the tension on the primary drive chain.
Indian marketed this as a low-maintenance design feature, claiming that the chains were ‘pre-stretched,’ but in reality the primary drive was sloppy and clunky and quickly wore out and required replacement. A faulty seat check between the oil tank and oil pump meant that if the engine sat for a few days, the crankcases would fill with oil. A dealer bulletin advised solving the problem by taking a hammer and punch and reshaping the valve, which seldom resulted in a satisfactory solution.”
“The absolute worst problem was the catastrophic failures of the underdeveloped ‘Dyna-Torque’ engines. Between an ambitious gear-driven cam system that couldn’t be timed correctly and a poorly designed lubrication system that failed to keep internals properly lubricated, engines were badly compromised. Engines of the few motorcycles that made their way to public highways quickly disintegrated.”
Even a proposed partnership with HRD Vincent for their superb engines in Indian frames made no difference, since Vincent was sinking about as fast as Indian at the time. By 1953, these and other monumental miscalculations could no longer be reversed and the Wigwam was out of business.
Holmstrom chronicles the various brand revival attempts, some sincere and well-intended, some of dubious character and substance, all unified in failure. Failure, that is, until Polaris Industries stepped up in 2011 and purchased Indian from its then-owners Stellican and Novator, which had acquired Indian in 2004.
Polaris Industries had risen to become a powersports powerhouse from humble beginnings building snowmobiles in Roseau, MN. By 1998, Polaris had expanded into the motorcycle market with its Victory line.
Holmstrom’s book offers fascinating insights not only into the Indian motorcycle as a historic icon and classic motorcycle, but into the evolution of the successful modern interpretation of the Indian brought to life by Polaris.
Whether you’re an owner of a classic vintage Indian, a revival version, or a modern Polaris-era Indian or even if you don’t own one and may never do so but are a motorcycle enthusiast, this book would be superb addition to your library.
- Title: Indian Motorcycle America’s First Motorcycle Company
- Author: Darwin Holmstrom
- Published: 2016 hardcover, 224 9.75” x 12” pages, color and black & white images.
- Publisher: Motorbooks, Quarto Publishing Group, 400 First Ave. North, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55401 USA
- ISBN: 978-0-7603-4863-5
- MSRP: U.S. $50.00 U.K. £35.00 $65.00 CAN