The Master of the Road: Indian Roadmasters
- 22 August 2017
To celebrate Burt Munro’s 50th Record Anniversary, Invercargill is gearing up to celebrate with a Street Parade in his honour. Transport World is pretty excited about this event and can think of no better way to get among the celebrations than to explore an Indian motorcycle! In this issue of The Ignition we cover the Indian Chief Roadmaster, of which Classic Motorcycle Mecca has two exquisite examples. The Roadmaster model was a top of the range Chief, it featured more chrome and equipment than the Clubman and Sportsman models. Read below to learn more about this striking motorbike.
Classic Motorcycle Mecca’s line up of Chiefs. The Chief Roadmasters are second from the left and far right.
1948 Indian Chief Roadmaster
Classic Motorcycle Mecca's earliest Indian Chief Roadmaster is a 1948 example. Let’s begin with the Indian Chief’s background. From 1946 through to the first half of 1948, the Chief was the only model offered by Indian. At this time the production restrictions during the Second World War meant that Indian was struggling. So Indian restarted civilian production with what was essentially the pre-war Chief with only the front forks changed to the girder-spring type that had been used on the military Model 841. The engine remained the tried and trusted 1,206cc, 42-degree, V-twin that developed 40hp and provided a top speed of 137kph. It had a three-speed gearbox driven by a multi-plate wet clutch and a gearbox with reverse for sidecar applications.
The Chief was Indians sole focus until they decided to focus on developing vertical singles and twins to compete with the British motorcycles that were beginning to arrive in the US. As a result, the V-twin Chief was left behind and over the next two years it was updated only slightly. In 1947 upgrades included lengthened front forks and replacing the Indian head tank emblem with script. In 1948, the year our model was produced, the Indian Chief Roadmaster acquired new crankcases and a gear-driven, aluminium oil pump. The frame was also upgraded as it acquired a rectangular-section frame brace under the seat while the gearshift lever mount on the front downtube was changed from a casting to a welded tube. Lastly, the generator system gained an automotive-type regulator, a warning light replaced the ammeter on the instrument panel, a new Stewart-Warner speedometer was driven by the front wheel and a new horn was fitted between the front down tubes.
In 1949 Indian had run out of money for their Chief. A prototype was made with new telescopic front forks but Chief production was discontinued in 1949. Indian resources were instead devoted to addressing problems with the newly-launched single and vertical twin models that had been introduced to compete with the British motorcycles that were making inroads into the US market. However, Chief Roadmasters were still popular and after-market telescopic front fork conversions were available from Vard.
Classic Motorcycle Mecca’s Indian Chief Roadmaster with telescopic forks. It was completely restored by Bollenbach Engineering of East Dundee, Illinois, in 1991. The next owner, a person from Monterey, California, only covered 1511 kilometers with it.
1950 Indian Chief Roadmaster
However, the Indian Chief Roadmaster’s story did not end in 1949. Classic Motorcycle Mecca’s 1950 Indian Chief Roadmaster is proof of that. It did not take Indian long to go back to their Chiefs and Indian Chief production was restarted in 1950. 1950 upgrades included an increase in engine capacity and the telescopic front forks that had appeared on Chief prototypes in 1949. The engine enlargement was achieved by increasing the stroke, which increased low-speed torque.
This 1950 Chief Roadmaster came to New Zealand from the US sometime between 2011 and 2014. It was the 338th motorcycle to enter our collection and the last Indian motorcycle. It was actually the original collector Tom Sturgess’s personal bike. He rode it around the streets of Nelson. When it was in his possession the team added a few luxuries, including an electric start to make it easier for Tom.
Classic Motorcycle Mecca’s 1950 Indian Chief Roadmaster.
It matches our earlier 1948 Indian Chief Roadmaster and together they make an impressive pair.