Guido Adds A Second Chief To His Indian Empire
Every now and then someone will come to me looking for advice on buying their next motorcycle. I suspect this is a little like asking Dracula for a few tips on setting up a blood bank, but it happens.
If what they have in mind is a little obscure or specialist, I’ll usually advise they join a marque club to get an insight into what to look for and, more importantly, get a heads-up on the bikes that often never hit the open market, as they’re sold by word of mouth
However, there are dangers. I joined a local Indian club some years before Polaris revived the marque. That resulted in the acquisition of one Indian – which is enough for most people. Now there are three in the shed.
I may have to leave the club before it causes bankruptcy. Our latest addition is a 2009 Chief Vintage, bought and sold by word of mouth.
The latest transport of delight was built at Kings Mountain – the factory bought out by Polaris.
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
So what’s a Kings Mountain? Essentially it’s a Gilroy – which itself was a clean-sheet design circa 1999-2003 – with a lot more development put into it. The bikes were hand-built, with total production volume said to be around the 3000 mark. Of those, 500 were Chief Vintage, individually numbered with a plaque riveted to the steering head. (Gilroy did the same with its Chief Vintage.
Like the Gilroy, this toy has an incredibly long wheelbase of 1737mm, compared with 1625mm for the equivalent Harley-Davidson Road King. The steel frame is pretty solid, running Paoli front suspension (41mm shrouded conventional fork) and a Fox shock – Gilroys ran a KW rear.
Tyre width at the back was bumped up from 130 to 150 to give it a more current look.
However, the big change for the chassis was a much-needed upgrade from a single disc to twin, floating discs up front, running four-piston Brembo calipers. This was a welcome improvement on a machine weighing 356kg with a load of fuel on board.
Its heart is a Powerplus 45-degree air-cooled V-twin with two pushrod-actuated valves per cylinder, and self-adjusting hydraulic tappets. Capacity is 1720cc (105 cubic inches), up from 1638cc (100ci) on the original. Both the ‘bottlecap’ motors are dry sump.
Where Gilroy went wrong on the original Powerplus was with the supplier of its crankshafts. I’m told they went for the cheapest quote, but can’t confirm that. In any case they started failing, breaking crankpins by 5000km at the very latest. This was one problem too many for what was then probably a cash-strapped company and it closed.
Fixes quickly became available and you can still buy replacement cranks and even entire engines for a project bike. Properly built, they have proven to be capable of decent miles. But the damage to their reputation was too much.
The approach of the Kings Mountain factory was to take the bike and move it up a level. Externally, lots of details were fixed, such as some simplistic design of engine cases, particularly for the timing side of the crankshaft. Everything was smoothed and lots of chrome added. Internally, the quality control was lifted.
In addition to the capacity jump (I suspect for bragging rights and branding rather than necessity), the engine gained fuel injection. That replaced the simple and effective Mikuni HSR42 carburettor, a common fitment to Harleys over the years.
Last, and far from least, was the upgrade from a five- to six-speed transmission by Baker. It’s debatable whether the extra cog was necessary.
Put the two bikes together – I’m one of the few people who can – and you quickly understand how much Kings Mountain invested in its upgrade. Changes such as paint, instruments, general finish, motor, transmission, brakes, acres of additional chrome, seat, luggage, screen and even little ‘easter eggs’ like branded handlebar end covers abound. They went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make the owner feel good about the purchase.
As a quick example, the perfectly functional if basic leather saddlebags on the Gilroy bike were replaced with a set that had bigger capacity, pockets for incidentals, quilted linings and the whole lot is held on by one of the best quick detach/remount systems I’ve come across.
The investment in build quality and exclusivity was reflected in the price, which was around $US35,500. Despite that, the reviews of the day were positive – more so than for the Gilroy.
RIDING THE NEW KID
With under 300km on the clock when I collected it, my new gizmo qualified as NOS – new old stock. I’ve yet to crack the 1000 mark (hey, there are other toys that need attention too!) but at least have some sort of handle on the plot.
It’s smoother than the Gilroy, though the solid-mounted engine still vibrates. Starting is a little simpler (though has never been an issue on the Gilroy) and the general fuelling is smoother and more tolerant of any clumsiness from the right wrist.
Ride and handling is good, for what it is. We’re talking land-yacht when it comes to steering (look for wide lines in corners), but the suspension rates are well chosen and tend to be firm rather than the floaty experience you get on a lot of equivalent cruisers.
Braking is very good for this class – plenty in reserve with decent feel. The extra rubber on the rear is a bonus in this department, given the typical rear-heavy weight distribution on a bike like this.
There’s a multi-function display built into the speedo dial, with battery charging, tripmeters and tacho included, all of which are accessible from a button on the left switchblock.
Performance is decent for the class but hardly head-spinning – we’re talking about 72 horses in a heavy package.
In reality, what you have is a heavyweight touring cruiser that has some urge, proper brakes, predictable handling and a very nice level of finish.
On the highway it’s bumbling along at about 2000rpm for legal speeds, well below its peak torque and power numbers. So you can drop it down a couple of gears and get something happening when you need to. The trick is to ride the mid range, rather than looking for peak revs.
While the ultra-long chassis makes it a yacht in corners, it allows a huge amount of room for the rider. It fits tall people – yay! Oh, and its sheer size gives it enormous presence.
So, good decision? Yep. I really like riding the Gilroy and have done a lot of miles on it. The Kings Mountain is another level again. It is a better mousetrap. Given its size, maybe that should be a better wombat trap…
History Of The Three Factories
The three bikes you see here represent the three major factories before Polaris took over and started building them at Spirit Lake in 2014.
Indians are often described by their place of manufacture, for example Springfield or Gilroy, as a shorthand for saying which generation and factory they belong to. The lineage is this:
- Springfield 1901-1953
- Gilroy 1999-2003
- Kings Mountain 2006-2011
- Spirit Lake 2014 to present
1901 – Indian Motorcycle Company, founded by George Hendee and Carl Hedstrom, produces its first prototype. It was a 1.75hp single, produced in Hendee’s home town of Springfield, Massachusetts.
1930 – Merges with duPont Motors.
1945 – Sold to Ralph Rogers and the Atlas Corporation. The company swings its attention to lighter motorcycles.
1953 – Indian ceases production. The rights to the name are bought by Brockhouse Engineering, which sells re-badged Royal Enfields.
1963-70 – Floyd Clymer produces a wild variety of machines under the Indian name, though it’s doubtful he held the rights to it.
1999 – After much bitter court wrangling, an amalgam of nine companies becomes the Indian Motorcycle Company of America, producing out of Gilroy, California.
2000 – The rights to the Swedish-designed four-cylinder Viking cruiser are bought by English musician Alan Forbes, who then owned the British rights to the Indian name. Hand-built production of the design (which replicates an historic inline Indian 4) begins, badged as an Indian Dakota.
2003 – Gilroy shuts in September.
2008 – A new Indian Motorcycle Company, backed by British finance group Stellican (which also revived historic boat brand Chris-Craft), buys the Gilroy design and starts production of an updated version at Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
2011 – Polaris, maker of Victory cruisers, buys Indian in America.
2014 – Production of the Polaris machines begins at Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Story by Guy Allen, Motorcycle Trader 304
Photography by Ben Galli