Murray Morell: Indian Motorcycles
Walk into the machinery-packed shed of self-taught engineer Murray Morell, in outer Perth, and it’s hard to believe he started his career with a cheap truckload of bits, bought on the spur of the moment. He’s since become the go-to man for Springfield (which means pre-1953) Indian crank rebuilds and manufactures something like 1400 parts. Here he tells his story.
I started mucking around with Indians – collecting Indians – in 1969. My brother decided to buy an Indian Scout – up to then we were riding A10 Beezers and the like. As soon as I clapped eyes on the Scout, I thought that’s the bike for me.
Back in those days, you could pick up The Sunday Times and there’d always be three of four of them advertised.
A basket case was anywhere from $15 to $50, while one that was running, licensed and on the road was $100. Bear in mind that in those days we were only earning $100 [a week]. Extrapolate that out now and the bike would be more like $1000. It would be nice to be able to go around and collect army Scouts for $1000 a pop.
One day my brother was riding his army Scout up to Fremantle. Like all of them, his bike had a leaking fuel tap and he thought he should pull into Jim McPhee Motorcycles to see if he had a spare. In those days Jim had a lot of ex-military stuff. So Jim said, “Rather than buying a tap, come out the back and you should buy all this.”
There was probably about three tonnes of army Scout parts and 344 parts. My brother high-tailed it home and said to come and have a look. We ended up with the lot for about $150. We were stretched in those days to come up with the money between us.
We brought it home in trailer loads and started to sift through it. That’s when, back in the ’70s, we started to sell new old stock parts.
At that stage I was working as a fireman in the BHP power station in Rockingham. I’ve never done a trade.
I made my first army Scout pretty much out of new old stock. I’ve still got the bike today. It’s done a million miles and was used as an every-day ride bike for 12 years or so. It only tried to let me down once, when it snapped the hollow rear axle (a common problem) but I managed to ride it home.
Moving into the shed wasn’t a conscious thing. People would want stuff they knew you had. Then you’d start fixing bikes for mates and then for people you didn’t know.
The next step was you’d start running out of wear items, like valves and guides and crank pins. So you’d think, “I’ll buy a lathe and start manufacturing some of this stuff.” In those days, in the ’70s, if you wanted to deal with suppliers overseas, there was no internet so it took ages. And then, the people we were dealing with, such Valentines in New Zealand and Sammy Pierce in the US, were running out of parts.
It got to the point where I thought there were enough people here in WA into Indians that I can make a living out of this. We just added machines. I’ve been doing this full-time for 30 years, I reckon.
So long as we have a model, we can make a part. I only do Springfield, though I’ve done a bit of mucking around with some of the later ones.
I manufacture about 1400 items for Indian, going back to the teens, 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
In an army Scout there 1178 parts, so if someone is advertising a 90 per cent complete bike, you’re missing around 178 parts!
I have quite a few bikes, at last count there were 28. The earliest is a 1917 Powerplus.
In my shed, there are six customer bikes in for total restoration, from a 1913 single through to a 1944 Chief. Besides that, there are 17 engines in for restoration. So between that and all the manufacturing, it’s a pretty full-on job.
In this day and age, if you haven’t got a machine shop, you cannot put an Indian together correctly, because we’re at the bottom of the barrel now. Forty years ago, if you didn’t like that tank, you could go and find another one, if you didn’t like that engine you could go and find another.
Now everybody is hatching their stuff. Most blokes’ sheds are like black holes in space – even light doesn’t escape from them! We’ve therefore got to manufacture all these parts that are locked up in sheds around Australia.
If you could open their sheds and get all those 741s and ’44 Chiefs out, you’d probably have another 1000 bikes on the road.
If you’re restoring a bike, there’s a lot you have to get – particularly nuts and bolts and that sort of thing.
Most bikes over the years have been put together with whatever somebody could steal from work. So if you’re going to work on it you need a set of metric spanners, a set of Whitworths and a set of AF. So the whole essence of a rebuild is to take it back so it has one set of bolts and you only need to carry one set of tools. And if you do the job correctly, it will reward you well.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of things on an Indian that an average Joe can’t do in his backyard, and that’s why I need all this machinery.
Get in touch with Murray Morell on (08) 9332 8826 or via www.Facebook.com/murray.morell