In 1922, Indian Motorcycle® introduced its first Chief® motorcycle, a 1,000cc bike, and followed up with the 1,200cc Big Chief® introduced in 1923. As the 1,200cc (74 cubic inch) engine became standard fare – outselling the previously-launched 600cc Scout and the aforementioned 1,000 cc Chief - the word “Big” was no longer necessary, leaving “Chief” as the touring and luxury flagship of the Indian Motorcycle® line. The famous Indian® Four later followed, but in terms of weight and sticker price, the Chief® remained the more practical and popular among the marque’s big motorcycles.
During the Great Depression, Indian® turned to styling updates and cosmetic improvements to maintain the interest of customers in the face of declining sales. Indian® had already gone to a more graceful gas tank and stylish fenders by the late 1920s, and introduced skirted fenders and a saddle tank in 1932, which hid the frame and foretold the profile of the “modern” motorcycle. A long and graceful chain guard was introduced as well.
In 1934, Indian Motorcycle® adapted streamlined automotive styling to its model line. Lightly valanced fenders were given deeper side panels that year, and two-tone paint schemes became available in nearly unlimited varieties.
The coup de grace came in 1940 when the Chief® appeared with distinctive full-skirted fenders and a beautifully shaped tank. Even the engine was styled to complement the overall theme, which was a first in the American motorcycle industry. Graceful, eye-catching, and bold, the whole package was beyond anything that had been seen in a serial production motorcycle.
At the end of the Second World War, Indian Motorcycle® was acquired by a new owner and in 1950; the Chief® reappeared with a larger 1,300cc engine, telescopic front suspension, more chrome, and other styling improvements. Sheet metal was restyled a bit in 1953, but this was the last year for the Chief® - and the last year of manufacturing for the original Indian Motorcycle® company based in Springfield, MA.
Indian® Chief®: It is a name that still sparks the imagination of designers, custom builders, and entrepreneurs a nearly a century after its inception.