1997: Indian hits rock bottom

Phil Zanghi never really tried to resurrect Indian. Instead, he used the money he raised from motorcycle-loving investors and licensing deals to fund a luxurious lifestyle including a Rolls Royce and a Ferrari.

In 1997, a U.S. District Court jury deliberated less than three hours before convicting Zanghi of securities fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering. Although he was up for up to 221 years on all charges, he was sentenced to 7 1/2 years.

Zanghi acted as his own lawyer. "Maybe I'm a con man," he told the jury in his closing arguments. "Maybe I'm a promoter. But I brought the Indian trademark back."

Zanghi acted as his own lawyer. "Maybe I'm a con man," he told the jury in his closing arguments. "Maybe I'm a promoter. But I brought the Indian trademark back."

The trademark was disposed of by a bankruptcy receiver.

[Author’s note: I’m not a lawyer, but I have to think that using the phrase “Maybe I’m a con man” was a mistake.]

The 1970s and beyond: Wait, things get even worse for the Indian trademark

Clymer’s widow sold the Indian trademark to her husband’s ex-lawyer, who continued to import bikes from Italy and Taiwan. The lawyer’s company went bankrupt in 1977, and the trademark was claimed by a number of companies ― often at the same time ― for the next 20 years or so.

According to USPTO records, the trademark was sold at least eight times between 1970 and 1992. Some guy named Phil Zanghi seems to have sold it to himself a couple of times in that period. Derbi Motor Corp. of America owned it for one day: August 12, 1983.

In 1992, a new entity called American Indian Motorcycle Co. filed a cancellation petition with the USPTO, alleging that any previous trademarks were invalidated by lack of use and because previous claimants had submitted fraudulent information.

In the mid-‘90s an entrepreneur/promoter named Wayne Baughman also talked a good game, and even built a couple of prototype ‘Century Chiefs’ although he does not appear to have ever had a legitimate claim to the famous trademark.

1963: Floyd Clymer takes Indian on

A man unafraid of challenges. Ten years after this fascinating photo was taken, Clymer acquired what was left of Indian.

A man unafraid of challenges. Ten years after this fascinating photo was taken, Clymer acquired what was left of Indian.

Floyd Clymer (who was perhaps the most irrepressible entrepreneur in American motorcycle history) then attached the Indian name to a variety of frankly ghastly minibikes, mostly acquired from Italjet.

Later in the ‘60s, Clymer managed to cobble together a (kind’a) cool machine: The Indian 500 Roadster was basically an Italian sport bike ―  Ceriani fork, Campagnolo twin-leading-shoe front brake, and Borrani rims ― powered by a Velocette 500cc single-cylinder motor.

Later in the ‘60s, Clymer managed to cobble together a (kind’a) cool machine: The Indian 500 Roadster was basically an Italian sport bike ―  Ceriani fork, Campagnolo twin-leading-shoe front brake, and Borrani rims ― powered by a Velocette 500cc single-cylinder motor.

There was some debate about the legality of Clymer’s claim to the trademark at all, but he was assigned the trademark by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just before he died.

1950: Brockhouse is the president, but Indian’s headed for the outhouse

This Brockhouse-era Indian-Vincent looks to be a pretty much straight-up Vincent with a U.S. style handlebar, but they also at least flirted with the idea of fitting a Vincent motor in a Chief frame – something a few custom builders tried on their own, later on.

This Brockhouse-era Indian-Vincent looks to be a pretty much straight-up Vincent with a U.S. style handlebar, but they also at least flirted with the idea of fitting a Vincent motor in a Chief frame – something a few custom builders tried on their own, later on.

John Brockhouse was a third-generation industrialist from England. He was involved in a tantalizing might-have-been project involving a Vincent Rapide-Indian Chief hybrid, but all he really wanted to do was use Indian’s U.S. distribution network as a way to sell Norton, AJS, and Royal Enfield motorcycles in the U.S.

In 1953, Indian ceased U.S. production. But Brockhouse Engineering acquired the trademark and sold rebadged Royal Enfield models as Indians until 1960. After that the trademark was briefly owned by Associated Motorcycles (AMC) which made Nortons. AMC sold the name, in turn, to Joseph Berliner.

Brockhouse did, however briefly, get access to Indian's dealer network.

Brockhouse did, however briefly, get access to Indian's dealer network.

1945: Indian gets new ownership (again)

After WWII, the DuPont family sold its controlling interest to a young industrialist named Ralph B. Rogers.

After WWII, the DuPont family sold its controlling interest to a young industrialist named Ralph B. Rogers.

Rogers acquired both Indian and Torque Manufacturing Co. ― a company that had two smaller, vertical-twin models which had been designed by a former Indian employee. Rogers thought those lighter vertical twins would be more popular with returning soldiers who had been exposed to lighter and sportier bikes in Europe.

Decades later, Rogers (who was a dedicated Republican) found himself at odds with Richard Nixon. At the time, Rogers was the chairman of the Public Broadcasting Service. Nixon, who thought PBS was anti-Republican, wanted to cut its funding and force it to drop political commentary. Rogers pushed back and is generally credited with saving PBS.

Decades later, Rogers (who was a dedicated Republican) found himself at odds with Richard Nixon. At the time, Rogers was the chairman of the Public Broadcasting Service. Nixon, who thought PBS was anti-Republican, wanted to cut its funding and force it to drop political commentary. Rogers pushed back and is generally credited with saving PBS.

1930: Indian merges with DuPont

Hedstrom was ably replaced by Charles B. Franklin (seen in this photo) Indian’s second great design engineer.

Hedstrom was ably replaced by Charles B. Franklin (seen in this photo) Indian’s second great design engineer.

Franklin’s ‘Scout’ and ‘Chief’ models were popular in the Roaring Twenties. Indian also acquired the Ace motorcycle company, and moved production of the Ace inline four-cylinder motor to “the wigwam” in Springfield. All in all, Indians were still very competitive in the marketplace.

But the crash of ’29 affected Indian, along with almost every other U.S. company.

Indian’s fate was then tied to E. Paul DuPont, a rich industrialist who owned a luxury car company. DuPont arranged to merge his company with Indian in 1930. By 1932, the combined company had abandoned car production (it made less than 600 cars in total) and DuPont had managed to purge Indian’s Board of Directors of members he thought were manipulating share prices.

Without DuPont, there’s an excellent chance that Indian would have perished in the Depression.

101 Scout: a sport bike of its time.

101 Scout: a sport bike of its time.

As Custer would say, “Who knew there were so many Indians?”

Indian is the oldest American motorcycle brand that’s still in production. But unlike its rival Harley-Davidson (which has been in continuous operation since its founding) the Indian company has been reincarnated so many times you’d think the brand name was a reference to Hindu beliefs about reincarnation, instead of a reference to America’s indigenous peoples.

The founder period: 1901-’16

George Mallory Hendee

George Mallory Hendee

George Hendee began making bicycles in 1897. Within a year or two, he produced bicycles under the “American Indian” trademark. Oscar Hedstrom joined the firm in 1900, bringing the engineering know-how needed to produce their first prototype motorcycle.

The first production Indian was the 1902 single. In 1903, Hedstrom set what was then a speed record for motorcycles, at 56 miles an hour. In 1904, the company settled on the fire-engine red color it’s now famous for. A year later they built their first v-twin racer.

By 1913, Indian was the most successful of the dozens of motorcycle manufacturers in the U.S., selling over 30,000 bikes. But with success came trouble: The founders had issued so much stock that they no longer had voting control. Oscar Hedstrom proved headstrong, and resigned that year in a dispute with the company’s board over what he perceived as stock market manipulation.

Carl Oscar Hedstrom

Carl Oscar Hedstrom

In 1916, Hendee announced his retirement, at the age of 50. The company managed to convince Hedstrom to return, which encouraged shareholders. But Hedstrom’s second period there was short-lived.

Meanwhile, the board made a critical strategic error in 1916-’17. They decided to maximize short-term profit by selling virtually all their production to the military. By shifting to military customers (in the run-up to America’s entry into WWI) Indian sold everything it could make, and saved on marketing expenses and the cost of distributing goods to 1,100 dealers across the U.S.

The problem was, during the war their dealer network shifted emphasis to other brands (such as Harley-Davidson) that were available throughout the war. Indian’s dealer network and sales never recovered or reached pre-WWI levels.

 

The first motorcycle was also the first car (and vice versa!)

In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach built their ‘Reitwagen’, which most experts agree was the first motorcycle even though it actually had four wheels. Even the inventors didn’t think it was a practical vehicle; it was just a proof-of-concept, rolling on two ungainly wooden wagon wheels, with two outrigger ‘training wheels’ to keep it upright.

The 1886 “Benz Patent-Motorwagen” is generally considered the first automobile, but it had only three wheels.

The 1886 “Benz Patent-Motorwagen” is generally considered the first automobile, but it had only three wheels.

Yet another pair of Germans, Hildebrand and Wolfmuller, produced the first commercially-viable motorcycle in 1894. They also coined the term ‘motorrad’ which means ‘motorcycle’ in German.

Yet another pair of Germans, Hildebrand and Wolfmuller, produced the first commercially-viable motorcycle in 1894. They also coined the term ‘motorrad’ which means ‘motorcycle’ in German.