Indian's and their effect on my life

Indian's and their effect on my life

The first time I had heard anything about Indian motorcycles was in the back of the Motorcycle and Motorcycling magazines they were usually in the small adverts for Pride and Clark usually repainted black or burgundy as the khaki colour turned many people off because of the war mostly 741B’s. No one I knew owned a Indian or wanted one and the odd person that owned a yank bike at all was usually sympathised by us for being to poor to own anything but a Harley Ferguson WLA, I thought Indians were just a poor cousin to them.


Anyway the thing is a mate had a Dixie generator given to him and we spent some time finding out they were fitted to 101 Scouts, that’s it for years, sure I saw a few here and there and various Vintage events but never passed even a glance at what would become one of my favourite marques in the future. I had a mate from NZ that I put onto a 4 in Geelong but that’s it

Sometime in 1986 a guy rang from Geelong he had a a Vincent Comet and a 1921 Scout in as found condition with a 1923 In pieces that he started to restore, I was told that he would not split them up and it was $8,000 the lot! I wanted the Comet and not the “boat anchors” which I decided to get rid of pronto, the Comet was in poor condition and a guy offered me $8,,000 for it alone so I virtually got the Indians for nothing. The 1921 had a smashed magneto cap perished tyres and a petrol tank of flakey congealed fuel, lots of time and new tyres fitted and it started and I rode it to a  Vintage Club event in Montmorency with my young wife on the rack padded with a cushion it was slow and no front brake fitted proved a handful in traffic but it got me there and nearly back uneventfully but on the way home a valve cap blew out of the rear cylinder and we struggled home on one cylinder. 

Greg Hutchisin in the Vintage Club offered to trade me a BSA 150 Bantam with cash on the 1923 in bits, my wife was looking to get her licence and the Bantam seemed to be a sweetener for the deal which we struck. Meanwhile riding the 1921 with a cap re-fitted for the odd vintage Club event including the annual Maryborough rally proved despairing as I was admonished by older riders for riding it to fast, really, 40 MPH to fast apparently so.

The problem was the Scout used a fair bit of oil and I removed the rear cylinder to find the gudgeon pin had wore a slot in the wall of it, of course no parts for these those days had me assembling it and selling it to Greg as he had pestered me for it since buying the 1923 Scout, I slightly regretted it but convinced myself it was better gone.

Fast forward to 2003 some 15 years later and I had just restored the Indian-Vincent and joined the IMCA when a couple of guys asked me when I was going to buy a “real” Indian so I hunted and eventually bought a wreck of a bike 1947 Chief from Murray’s Brit bikes in Adelaide for $32,500 a lot of money then and now for what it was about $15,000 on top made it a sound good looking machine that I rode to Tassie in 2007 with my 13 yo son Heath riding on the “Chummy Seat” which was very uncomfortable, it was a 74 cu and when I got home I stroked it to 80cu with  Bonneville cams and followers, carb and eventually a 4 speed overdrive gearbox. I had this up till Guy Allen bought it in 2014 after riding another 1948 I owned in the Great Race, he was so impressed but wanted it with a 74 cu motor a standard gearbox fitted, this was dueley fitted and he rode it up till 2018 and on sold it.

In 2008 I bought a 344 Army Indian Chief outfit that was “tarted up” and I restored it to military spec except the paint which is a fetching red colour I often ride this outfit and derive much pleasure owning it as it is specked up to my old Chief standards and goes really well, that got me wanting a new Indian and since in 2005 Gilroy Indians were defunct and not sold in Australia I decided to import one from USA I scanned eBay and bought one a 2002 PowerPlus engine Chief Roadmaster for about $24,000 landed, I remember getting it into Melbourne and thinking it was huge, a little noisy in the transmission and comfortable, but not great spec for a bike of the time, more like a early 1990 Harley. I sold it in 2012 and later rode the new Polaris Chief which was light years ahead in development. My mate Chris Horner bought a Chief Vintage and I eventually rode it over 3,000 klm’s very nice Indian but also very large, this made me decide on buying a new Scout before it was ever produced, so it is my only current new bike and Indian. The Scout is small perhaps a little to small and my wish that Indian made a smaller model was obviously heard to much! Strange thing about Scouts and me is seeing I started on one the 1921 version seems I’m finishing on them what with the 2015 Scout bought new I recently bought a 741B Army Scout in battle trim it is very underwhelming but light and nimble compared to a Chief, I keep thinking I should sell it then change my mind maybe when I’m even older than I am now it might grow more on me!


The Vindian basis was the 1948 Chief that that Guy had ridden in 2012 at the Great Race I had bought the 1948 non matching model from Classic Style at a good price in as is condition, luckily it was mechanically sound but the wiring was a mess and the toolbox, seat and battery frog had disappeared it was dull black and suffered with sump valve problems (1947 donk) causing it to run well one day and then smoke out a city block the next, I often screamed “you bastard” and being a illegitimate engine from a earlier year the bike was quickly renamed “ The Black Bastard” it was a love hate relationship and at that time I had bought a set of new repro Vincent crankcases and had the majority of parts to build a engine unit, I decided to sell the BB complete and advertised it either as a complete Indian or I would sell the engine for $12,000 surprisingly a chap rang and bought the engine in Tamworth, that set the path for the Vindian.

I had a bit of history with the Vindian and its brother Indian-Vincent  the history of both machines is well known, the first modern recreation was done for Peter Arundel by Lindsay Urquart they pumped me for lots of information and made the model come to life, the second was made by Pete Birthistle and I found a engine for him and rebuilt it after it was fitted I sorted the early settling down of it and have never received any credit for the help. This made me think I could build it better and stronger as both were made by Lindsay and suffered the same inadequacy of being based on the factory prototype, ie: the whole back of the engine held in with 5/8 tube, that’s fine on a bike roughly assembled for a short ride and photos but not good for a regular rider. So my Vindian was developed completely with a clean slate and I have written a book of 12 pages for anyone in the future that wishes to build another, mine took 7 months the factory did the original in 3 weeks! 


One thing leads to another and you build a faster bike and you find the terrible brakes are even worse so a new front brake was developed and designed and tested successfully on this bike, over 60 have been made and sold worldwide now and that caused owners of leaf spring Chiefs to request the same, I had the thought to do the early version after battling with my outfit which was hopeless on braking even solo! This was developed and fitted to my outfit a complete success as the late version both are available from either myself or Crazy Horse Moto.

So over the years I have embraced the Iron Indian Riders Association and was for a short time it’s President which is quite a change for a Triumph rider that in his teens thought a Indian was just some old yank boat anchor.


Phil Pilgrim 2019