Once Indian Motorcycles ruled the highways as exceptionally stylish and high-performance examples of two-wheeled glory. Coveted by serious riders and racers for their power and handling, Indians were not only the first American motorcycles, but for a long time, they were easily the best American motorcycles.
From 1901 to 1953, these iconic machines were made in Springfield, Massachusetts. Renamed the Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company in 1928, Indian's most popular models were the Scout (made from 1920 to 1946) and the Chief (built from 1922 to 1953), but the company suffered hard times and declared bankruptcy in 1953.
And it seemed that's where the story would end. But Indian was a brand that just wouldn't go gentle into that good night. After that sad demise, a series of successor organizations tried to perpetuate the name, all of them experiencing limited or no success commercially while trying to navigate a byzantine series of claims and counterclaims to the Indian name.
The first of those attempts, by Brockhouse Engineering, imported Royal Enfield motorcycles from England, mildly customized them, and sold them as Indians from 1955 to 1960. In 1960, the Indian name was snapped up by AMC of England, but that venture failed when AMC was liquidated in 1962.
The next hopeful to attempt a resurrection of the proud name was entrepreneur Floyd Clymer who apparently used the "Indian" name without bothering to purchase rights from the trademark holder. Clymer sold a series of Italian bikes as Indians, and after his death in 1970, his widow sold her essentially non-existent Indian trademark holdings to a Los Angeles attorney, Alan Newman. Most of the bikes were Italian two-stroke machines made by Italjet or Franco Morini, but in January 1977, Newman's version of Clymer's Indian marque bit the dust as well.
Then the story went from being strange and into the realm of the bizarre.
The brand name rights were handed off to a long list of "owners" who immediately began making competing legal claims against each other throughout the 1980s. By 1992, the Floyd Clymer version of the copyright was in the possession of Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Co. Inc. of Berlin, a corporation headed by Philip S. Zanghi. In June 1994, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wayne Baughman, president of Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Incorporated, actually rode a prototype Indian Century V-Twin Chief.
In January 1998, Eller Industries was given permission to purchase the Indian copyright from the receivers of the previous owner. Eller hired Roush Industries to design the engine for the motorcycle, and was planning to enter an agreement with the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians to build a motorcycle factory on their tribal land. Missed deadlines as part of that venture caused the deals to fail and a Federal bankruptcy court in Denver, Colorado, cleared the way for the sale of the copyright to IMCOA Licensing America Inc. in December 1998.
The resultant company, formed from the merger of nine previous claimants to the "Indian Motorcycle" name, was awarded the Indian trademark by the Federal District Court of Colorado. This new company started to manufacture motorcycles in 1999 in Gilroy, California, and the "Gilroy Indian" models rolled off the line. Called the Chief, Scout and Spirit models, the line was manufactured with some limited commercial success from 2001 until The Indian Motorcycle Corporation went into bankruptcy and ceased production in Gilroy on September 19, 2003.
It wasn't until April 2011, when Polaris Industries (the off-road and leisure vehicle maker and parent-company of Victory motorcycles) purchased the rights, that there was once again an Indian Motorcycle production facility in operation. The bikes are being made in Spirit Lake, Iowa, and the work began there on August 5, 2011.
This time around the revival of the first American motorcycle company, Indian, has a real chance to survive. Polaris Industries (a $3 billion company located in Medina, Minn.) bought rights to the brand, and Polaris is no neophyte in the power sports business and is well known for making snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and perhaps most critically – Victory motorcycles.
Polaris has now redesigned Indian bikes from a clean sheet of paper, and they used 3D printing to make it happen.
"We brought the bikes to market in 27 months, and there's a phenomenal team behind that," said Scott Wine, CEO of Polaris Industries. "We did leverage some of the best technologies – 3D printing – to be able to bring examples of the bikes to consumers to try out very, very quickly."
Polaris used a combination of traditional and modern prototyping techniques to create the three new Indian models they brought to market this year – the Indian Chief Classic, the Indian Chief Vintage, and the Chieftain.
But Wine says if the company had used the traditional track of clay modeling and tooling, it would have taken nearly 15 months to complete a test model. The use of rapid prototyping and 3D printing cut that development time to only three months.
"We have several Stratasys machines and we rely on a lot of suppliers as well," Wine said. "We actually built an entire bike using 3D printing and rapid prototyping."
The first of the newly designed Indian motorcycles rolled off the factory floor late in 2013, and they featured engines manufactured in Wisconsin and assembled in Spirit Lake, Iowa.