Why Can't Indian Motorcycles Get It Right, Dammit!
Another prospective Indian Motorcycle dealership has bitten the proverbial dust.
Why is it that the best looking, once best performing and clearly the most historically awesome motorcycle company in the history of these United States can’t get it right?
With everything – at least in a branding sense – going for them, the various owners of the Indian brand over the years just can’t seem to pull it together for any sustained period of time and recapture the past glories of the best motorcycle ever made, anywhere, period.
The latest casualty? The Indian Motorcycle company has lost another dealership in their attempt to once again resuscitate the ailing marque. A Chicago-area showroom now stands empty and calls to the store’s phone number ring through to another paragon of service and reliability, Verizon.
Indian Motorcycles of Chicago was located some 45 miles west of the city in South Elgin, Ill., and the lights are on but nobody’s home.
Sources told Dealernews, an insider web journal that follows motorcycle industry developments, that the dealership closed its doors right after Thanksgiving and that closure marks the latest setback since Indian was purchased by Polaris.
Another dealership, this one in Wichita, Kansas, dropped the brand a few weeks ago when the home office informed them the new models would be delayed yet again.
Once proud Indian manufactured exceptionally stylish and high-performance motorcycles from 1901 to 1953 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Renamed the Indian Motocycle 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.
A byzantine series of successor organizations have tried to perpetuate the name since then, all with limited or no success commercially.
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.
Next up to attempt a resurrection 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 got downright wacky.
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 Motocycle 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, 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 motorcyle, 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 Licencing 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 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) that there was once again an Indian Motorcycle production facility in operations. The bikes are being made in Spirit Lake, Iowa, and the work began there on August 5, 2011.
But so far, production delays and problems with deadlines have led the latest venture to suffer from bad press and dealer dissatisfaction.
Please, Indian, get it right this time…
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