Indian’s Greatest Hits

Among Indian enthusiasts and historians, the immortal Indian 101 Scout is often considered the best riding machine of its time, if not of all time, known for nearly perfect handling, all new styling, and durability. There’s even an Indian Club for just the 101 Scout. Made for only a few years, their numbers were limited, yet a fair number continue to carry on, some having found their unique niche as hill climbers, dirt track racers, or “The Wall of Death.”

Weighing in at about 370 lbs with a 57-inch wheelbase, the bike was light and nimble with its new frame and geometry. Although there was a 37 cu in (600cc) econo engine at first, most had the larger 45 cu in (750cc) 22 horsepower motor which, for those who wished to see the Apocalypse, had an attainable speed of 75 mph. Early engines would tend to seize if you wanted to try that over any length of time, but that was corrected on later versions.

Moreover, the roads of the 1930 period often had the rider spending more time going vertical than horizontal, so a speedometer was an option. Price in 1929 was $300 (or $3417 in today’s dollars).

Is That a Brake Light or a Tail Light?

Tail light / brake light was a single filament 6 volt system. Indian ran a resistor to the tail light, which of course made it dim. Hit the brakes, electrics bypass the resistor allowing the light to go to “normal” brightness, the difference making for what seemed a “brake light.”

There WERE innovations. The Scout had not been updated in some time; so Indian designer Charles B. Franklin gave the 101 an all-new look. From 1928 – 1931, Indian had a policy of no annual model changes, but rather continuous improvement. Yet mechanicals included a “modern” double-shoe front brake, new magneto, new stamped carburetor, new oil pump, and a unitized construction engine, transmission and clutch. This birthed the slogan “You can’t wear out an Indian Scout, or its brother the Indian Chief. They’re built like rocks to take hard knocks; it’s the Harleys that cause the grief.”(Coined by Sam Pierce).

Last of the Tribe

In spite of building quality motorcycles and a 101 Scout that sold well, Indian had fallen into financial troubles. (Indeed, this being The Great Depression, all motorcycle and automobile manufactures were having a tough time.) At this point in time the company was busy diversifying outside its core business of building motorcycles, such as automobile shock absorbers, outboard motors, electric refrigerators, ventilators, even a shot at a whole automobile, ending in a loss of working capital of $1,250,000. (Or, $14,239,630 in 2007 dollars). The main reason for these troubles was Indian’s controlling management was made up of members who were neither motorcycle enthusiasts or professional manufacturing managers. (What – is that possible of Indian???) They didn’t understand the magic of the Indian company was its marketing know-how and the personal interaction of the motorcycle business. Enter, early 1930, E. Paul du Pont (of THE du Ponts) who sells controlling interest in the Du Pont automobile company, buys a large block of Indian stock, and takes the reigns of the company. He brings in from Du Pont Motors his former production manager who reduces large inventory, reduced overhead and operating expenses, much as “LEAN” manufacturing is being adopted today. Still, the company was operating at about 5% plant capacity and close to bankruptcy. When it was time to decide to trim the line to save money, the popular 101 Scout was where the blade fell. About as expensive to make as the Chief, it was unlikely to cover its own costs.

Many consider the 101 Scout the finest motorcycle ever made. This restoration is by Jim Crocker of Starklite Cycles, Perris, CA.

And for those of you waiting for the new Indian motorcycle company to open its doors, word just arrived that there will be no new bikes until the end of 2008. Hang in there.


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