Story: Gary Mraz and Mike Dalgaard
Photos: Ron Sinoy
Styles come and go but some designs are just clas- sic, frozen in time and defy fashion fads. Passing a 2012 Indian Chief on the freeway one could easily assume its a 1940’s skirted fender predeces- sor. For many including myself the 1948-1953 fully “dressed” Indian Chief defined the word “motorcycle” and that timeless, iconic design is forever etched into our collective memories. No other motorcycle in history is more recognizable or more “drooled” over then the Chief. How many pictures have you seen of a young, hip, rocker type straddling this gorgeous machine wearing jeans, a beaded “kidney belt”, black en- gineer boots, and looking out at a world he seemingly owned! It’s all part of the 111-year old Indian legend. That legend and that brand have had an often dark and twisted ride with phase one lasting from 1901 thru late 1953 when the bikes were being built in Springfield, Mass. by a small but highly dedicated, innovative group of motorcycle pioneers. Some risky decisions, a changing customer base and a sketchy early 50’s economy led to Indian shutting its doors in late 1953. What followed was 45 years of legal questions regarding who owned what and who had the legal rights to the Indian name and its intellectual property that included all its designs and really its history. In late 1998 a court decided that question and in early 1999 phase 2 of Indian’s history came to the market in the form of the now infamous “Gilroy (California) Indian” Chief which was in all honesty a cloned imitation of the real thing, sporting an S&S motor and lots of Indian look-a-like accoutrements. This was followed a couple of years later by what I like to think was the true 2 nd phase of Indian, the PowerPlus driven 2001 Indian Chief. Just when it seemed Indian was back to stay the company ran out of capital when its funding was yanked by the venture capital group that had grown impatient waiting for a return on its investment. Phase 2 ended in September of 2003. A few years later a British venture capital company bought the name and designs from the bankruptcy receiver and relaunched the brand from Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Just in time to be slammed to the canvas by the worst recession in U.S. History. Then like an old western movie, just when things looked the worst, in rides the cavalry in the form of a saving buyout from Polaris, makers of Vic- tory Motorcycles.
The new 2012 limited production Indians by Polaris will be numbered 008 – 110 in honor of Indians 110 year history. Special badging and certificates will accompany this first run under Polaris. Frank and Patti Heiland of Cologne, Minnesota purchased the very first 2012 Polaris Indian sold to the public, SN# 008. For 2013 production numbers are projected to be around 300 and for 2014 the Indian Brand will have an all new engine, ending the Power Plus Bottle cap era. Polaris has already shutdown and moved the Kings Mountain plant and have consolidate redundancy and end-of-lifed the Blackhawk and Roadmaster. This leaves the Chief Vintage, the Chief Darkhorse and Chief Classic models.
This is a big motorcycle and at 753 lbs dry the 105 c.i. Powerplus does a good job managing its mass. Fuel economy isn’t listed anywhere but I get the feeling its probably in the mid 30’s and with a 5.5 gallon tank hitting to 200 mile mark may be difficult. I didn’t get to spend my usual 1000 miles on this bad boy but it corners well with respectable lean angles. Slow speed handling felt sluggish but braking firm and responsive. The clutch was a real work out on my Vintage but I’m sure that’s adjustable. All the controls are where you’d expect right up to the center console knob. The 6-speed transmission offers a comfortable rpm at freeway speeds with no surprises and no letdowns. The dual caliper/floating rotor front brakes did their job as did the large windscreen. This really is the pinnacle of modern vintage, from the fringed leather quick release saddlebags, teardrop head- lamp to the Indian head fender ornament. Wearing a classic police motorcycle jacket is mandatory, a passenger pillion is optional.
Indian is America’s oldest motorcycle brand and reams of documentation are available on its iconic past. Polaris is paying close attention to that past and to Indians future. And what about that future? Indian has had a long history of firsts in both racing and design. Offering the first dedicated board track racer to the public, as well as Shaft drive. There are many changes looming for all motorcycle manufacturers in 2014 from CARB & EPA. Some fans would love the get on a 200-horsepower inline four cylinder water cooled Indian Chief, but the purists still want air. Whatever Polaris does do will be done with great consideration of the heritage of this iconic brand.
2012 Indian Chief Vintage (as shown) $38,899, The Indian Chief Darkhorse $27,999 and The Indian Chief Classic $26,499. In all truth and candor both the 2012 and 2013 models are “placeholders” (but possibly collectable ones) giving Victory and its staff the time they need to build a truly new, state of the art bike housed in a mid 40’s iconic design. There will be a ton of changes besides the bike getting an all new, Polaris-Victory designed motor. Personally I believe this is exactly what’s needed to see this famous, much loved brand not only survive but prosper. As long time Indian aficionado’s we can only say this to Polaris-Victory: Your work is cut out for you, don’t let us down!