The 1953 Indian Chief motorcycle, big, heavy, bedecked with bodywork, was the great bike on which a proud American company rode into the sunset.
Though Indian had enjoyed a long and rich history, financial problems beset the company in the early 1950s. Attempts at postwar singles and vertical twins intended to compete with the machines from Europe ultimately proved unsuccessful, and their development had cost the company dearly.
Despite the trouble, the V-twin Chief had seen a fair number of updates during the postwar years. Modern telescopic forks replaced the girder front end in 1950, when the 74-cubic-inch V-twin was enlarged to 80 cubic inches.
In 1952, the front fender was trimmed to a thinner contour and a cowling was added on top of the forks.
Whereas Harleys had a single coil that fired both plugs at the same time once per revolution (one plug firing needlessly), Indian used an automotive-type distributor that fired each plug only on its cylinder's power stroke. This was hardly an overwhelming advantage, however.
According to factory records, 700 Chiefs were built in 1952, while only 600 were completed in 1953. After that, the Chief -- and Indian along with it -- was relegated to history, leaving Harley-Davidson the sole surviving American motorcycle manufacturer.
With its massive skirted fenders, locomotive-like torque, and "last-of-the-breed" heritage, the '53 Chief is surely one of the most collectible of Indians.
The 1953 Indian Chief motorcycle represents both the crowning achievement and the sorrowful end of a company that gave generations of motorcyclists some of their fondest memories.
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