If you’ve ever wondered “why is an Indian motorcycle named Indian?” you’re not alone. The history of the Indian motorcycle is long and varied. While it was originally based on the WLA, which was designed by Harley-Davidson, it proved to be unreliable in European markets and in the tracks. It was, however, adapted to meet the needs of the Indian government and army during World War II.
Indian motorcycles were based on Harley-Davidson’s WLA
While there are many differences between the WLA v-twin, both motorcycles are based on the WLA chassis. Indian motorcycles featured a left-side handshift lever and Harley-Davidson used a right-side shifter. Model 741s were produced in both configurations. These Indian motorcycles are rarer than WLA Harley-Davidsons.
After being based on Harley-Davidson’s W-LA platform, Indian also produced many military motorcycles, including the Model 741 for the U.S. Army during World War II. These military-based motorcycles were derived from Harley-Davidson’s WLA platform. However, their military focus hampered their civilian sales, and they were unable to compete with Harley-Davidson’s postwar police-sale popularity.
They were unreliable in the European market
In 1901, Indian Motorcycles first produced bikes. These bikes won three podium places at the Senior Isle of Man TT race. After 1951, Indian Motorcycles had become the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world. Despite this, the brand was largely unreliable in the European market. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy, and the name was revived by Polaris Industries. However, the brand’s image is not entirely positive.
The company was supposed to shift manufacturing to its new factory in Poland. However, this plan was announced during the height of the trade war, causing backlash among fans and the government. While the company’s European sales are small, it is still possible that they were aiming to increase production in Europe. In fact, they are trying to build new plants in Europe to increase production and reduce lead times. While this strategy might have worked in the past, it has now backfired.
They competed with Harley-Davidson on the tracks
From their humble beginnings, Harley-Davidson and Indian have been rivals on the roads and on the tracks. For over a century, they have competed against each other in racing competitions, and while the Harley-Davidson is still king of the road, Indian has suffered from financial troubles and dropped out of the circuit. Indian motorcycles have been struggling with bankruptcy for several years, but they have reopened and are back in the game.
It is no wonder that Indian Motorcycles have been competing with Harley-Davidson on the tracks for so long. In fact, the Indian motorcycles won three Grand National Championships consecutively in 1951, 1952, and 1953 before folding from financial stress. The resulting bankruptcy put an end to the most famous rivalry in American motorcycle racing. For 64 years, Harley-Davidson ruled flat track racing, winning 54 out of 60 championships. However, during some years, Harley-Davidson was the sole manufacturer competing in flat track racing.
They were adapted for the needs of the army and government during World War II
While the army was aware of the German army’s use of motorcycle rifle companies, they never intended to use them themselves. Instead, the army assigned them to various divisions, such as the infantry and the armored. They were used mainly for messenger and courier services and reconnaissance, and both Indian and Harley-Davidson motorcycles proved to be ideal for this purpose. These motorcycles would typically be assigned to an armored division and include 200 bikes per unit.
During World War II, the Indian motorcycle company changed its fortunes. The company responded to the military’s demand by manufacturing the 841, but this model was not a commercial success, and the Army preferred the Jeep instead. In 1945, the DuPont ownership of the company ended and Ralph Rogers acquired the company. After World War II, Indian produced just a few police motorcycles and discontinued its Scout model. While the Indian motorcycle company did sell motorcycles for civilian use, it struggled to compete with Harley-Davidson’s post-war civilian and police sales.