With its new chief vintage, the Indian Motorcycle Corp. appears to have picked up right where it left off—in 1953, when the motorcycle maker went bankrupt. After a failed attempt to build bikes in 1998 using outsourced 88-cu-in S&S engines, Indian launched a successful comeback last year with its Scout, Spirit, and Chief lines, which were equipped with the Gilroy, Calif., company’s own 100-cu-in Powerplus engines.
Indian’s follow-up model is the Vintage, a $24,995 heavyweight cruiser that appears to have rolled straight out of the 1950s. “The concept is an attempt for us to reconnect with the spirit and origin of the brand,” says Darrin Caddes, Indian’s director of design. “We’re looking at where Indian was when they finally closed their doors. To pick up the ball and run from there—not to say we’re setting our clocks back and now we are working on our ’50s models—is really an effort to truly understand the brand.”
For months, Caddes and his design team studied every vintage Indian they could uncover. They studied lines, sat in saddles, and talked to Indian owners, shaping an image of what the new Vintage would become. They learned that prospective customers wanted a new Indian to be an old Indian—a bike emphasizing style and aesthetics, a rolling piece of sculpture that captured the beauty of the company’s classic machines.
At the same time, the Vintage’s performance had to be as progressive as its appearance was retro. “When we asked owners and potential owners about what they expected from a future Indian, they wanted plenty of roll-on, which is how we ended up with the 100-inch Powerplus engine,” says Fran O’Hagan, Indian’s senior vice president. “They wanted it to look like a V-twin Indian engine from the ’40s and ’50s. That meant round barrels, placing the carburetor on the left-hand side, and designing the rocker boxes with the vertical fins that the old bikes had.”
The result is a 733-pound retro cruiser that pays little homage to post-’50s design. A light shaped like a Native American warbonnet is perched on the front fender, and a fork plate inspired by a 1952 Indian frames the bike’s massive headlamp. Fringe dangles from the seat and saddlebags, and the pipes pinch at the ends of fishtail-shaped mufflers.
To Indian executives, the company’s bikes exude nostalgia and mystique instead of intimidation and mayhem. “Indian motorcycles have more of a warm-and-fuzzy Americana feeling,” says O’Hagan. “They’re Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, ’40s and ’50s style rather than the bad-boy biker image of the ’60s and ’70s that many other retro cruisers have.”
Indian considers the Vintage its transition machine, and the company will venture from the retro theme in future models. “I’m not smart enough to know what people will buy in 2010, but I am smart enough to know that it won’t be the same as what they are buying today,” O’Hagan says. “We are the Indian motorcycle company, not the Indian cruiser company.”