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Harley vs. Indian Special Petersen Museum Exhibit


By K. Ball with photos by Markus Cuff

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As you can imagine the Bikernet Headquarters receives press from all over the world. When I recently received notice of the new Petersen Museum, Harley vs. Indian exhibit, I immediately reached out to my resident antique motorcycle guru, Don Whalen, a master curator. “Are you involved?” I questioned.

“Haven’t heard about it,” Don responded and I knew a link was broken somewhere. When it comes to antique motorcycles and exhibits, Don generally doesn’t get left out. A couple of days passed and I received a special notice from Judy Whitson of the TrailBlazers group of historic racers and vintage race motorcycle enthusiasts. This special Harley vs. Indian exhibited needs more bikes. I didn’t mess around. Don made a run to the Richard Bunch collection in San Jose and delivered four pure historic, top of the line examples for this exhibit.

Don Whalen (left) with Dave Hansen, avid Indian collector.
Don Whalen (left) with Dave Hansen, avid Indian collector.

Below you will find reports from Markus Cuff our Bikernet certified vintage motorcycle photographer, reports from the museum and special descriptions of Don’s carefully curated legendary examples specially selected and delivered to the museum for this special exhibit.

Micah McCloskey with Bill Bartels Jr.
Micah McCloskey with Bill Bartels Jr.

“It's a handsome, un-cluttered and informative show allowing onlookers to get up close and follow the inter-twined DNA of the two dominant motorcycle brands of American history,” said Markus Cuff. “Harley Davidson's thread is a bit easier to follow-- with the notable detour into the AMF years and subsequent buy-back. Indian's trajectory is obviously more fraught: It ends in 1953, then picks up fitfully in various hands in succeeding years, only to find a safe and prosperous home recently at Polaris. Chronological comparisons between the brands is easy, especially on the center aisle of two by two  iconic and trendsetting Harley vs. Indian machines. It's a kick to see the similarities and the differences in styling, engine evolution, badging and paint schemes.”

The Petersen Automotive Museum is hosting a new exhibit opening on Saturday, March 4th, 2017, which will showcase the rivalry between America’s two greatest motorcycle manufacturers, Harley-Davidson and Indian.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is set to unveil its newest exhibition of two-wheeled history: Harley vs. Indian. America’s two most celebrated motorcycle manufacturers have a long-documented rivalry that spans more than a century and has spawned some of the world’s most amazing remarkable motorcycles. The exhibition, presented by Bonnier Corporation, opens to the public in the Richard Varner Family Gallery on Saturday March 4, 2017 and will run through early February 2018.

The Harley vs. Indian exhibition will feature racing motorcycles, road motorcycles, scooters, trikes and more from both Harley-Davidson and Indian’s long histories as manufacturers. The exhibit will showcase the incredible similarities and marked differences in the approach of both companies to solving complex mechanical problems. It will also take an in-depth look at the the famous Harley-Davidson and Indian racing rivalry that drove much of their respective technological innovations.

Among the two-wheel works of art on display will be a 1936 Harley Davidson Knucklehead (first year), a 1939 Indian Super Scout, a 1920 Indian Daytona racer, as well as both companies’ modern flat-track racing bikes. The three-wheeled offerings on display will include a 1922 Harley with a period sidecar and a 1936 Indian Dispatch Tow. The exhibition will also feature mini-bikes and scooters, including a 1948 Indian Stylemaster and a 1963 Harley-Davidson Topper.
For more information about the event or exhibit, visit or call 323/964-CARS. For more information about Harley-Davidson please visit and for more information about Indian please visit

The Petersen Automotive Museum Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charity. The Museum is located at 6060 Wilshire Boulevard (at Fairfax) in Los Angeles, California, 90036. Admission prices are $15 for general admission adults, $12 for seniors and students with ID, $7 for children ages 3 to 12. Active military with ID, personal care attendants and children under three are admitted free. Museum hours are 10am to 6pm. For general information, call 323/930-CARS or visit

Exhibit Content


The Hendee Manufacturing Company was founded in 1898 by George Hendee, builder of Silver King bicycles, in order to manufacture a new line of bicycles to be called “Indian”. Anticipating a trend in motorized, two-wheel transportation, Hendee partnered with engineer Oscar Hedstrom in 1901 to build “motocycles” also under the Indian brand name. The following year, Hendee Manufacturing began publicly advertising its first production motorcycle, the Indian “Camelback,” named for the hump-shaped fuel tank. In 1907 Hendee introduced the first American V-twin production motorcycle, which employed the same gas tank design.

Collection of David Hansen, The Shop


William Harley and Arthur Davidson completed their first prototype in 1903 and their earliest production bikes, including this 1908 model, were dubbed “strap tanks” because of the appearance of the fuel/oil tank mounting brackets. While black was an available color, gray paint was first offered in 1908 and any Harley-Davidson so delivered was dubbed a “Silent Gray Fellow” in part because of the well-designed muffler system it shared with the maker’s other models.

Collection of The Gilbert Family


In 1923, the Hendee Manufacturing Company became the Indian “Motorcycle” Manufacturing Company. Four years later the firm purchased the Ace Motor Corporation and released the Indian Ace, a luxury motorcycle that employed the Ace’s four-cylinder engine. Upon introduction of the Ace, Indian laid claim to having the “World’s Most Complete Cycle Line” with models having one-, two-, and four-cylinder engines. The following year, Indian dropped “Ace” from the name, calling it simply the Indian Four, which remained in production until 1942.

The Bunch Collection, Don Whalen, Curator

Model W 1921 Sport Twin. Basically the Harley utility bike, which was a copy of the British Douglas opposed twin motorcycle. They were built for only two years
Model W 1921 Sport Twin. Basically the Harley utility bike, which was a copy of the British Douglas opposed twin motorcycle. They were built for only two years


In 1909 Harley-Davidson introduced its first V-twin engine, which it used virtually unchanged until 1929. In 1919 the firm attempted to expand its market by offering a new Model W “Sport Twin” that was intended to appeal to entry-level riders. The flat-twin engine aligned the cylinders with the frame, had a modern oiling system, and employed an integrated clutch and transmission, all of which made them smoother and cleaner to ride than their V-twin counterparts. Despite the effort, the Model W did not attract sufficient sales and was discontinued in 1923.

The Bunch Collection, Don Whalen, Curator


In 1930, E. Paul and Francis Du Pont acquired large shares of Indian and reorganized the company. Despite the wide popularity of the Indian Scout 101, a 1932 decision to reduce costs by developing a common frame for multiple motorcycles resulted in the “Standard Scout,” whose weak construction drew immediate criticism by competitive riders. Two years later, Indian created a “Sport” version with a stronger two-piece frame that remained in production until 1942, after which it was renamed the 640-B for use by the U.S. Army.

Collection of Rudy Pock


The first EL Model was produced in 1936 and featured a 61-cubic inch, overhead-valve V-twin engine, which was later nicknamed the “Knucklehead” because the rocker covers resembled clenched fists. The model drew great enthusiasm because of its better performance over previous models and further development of the engine for 1937 spurred sales even more. Styling changes for 1939 included a new paint scheme, streamlined “cat’s-eye” instrument panel, “boattail” rear light, and stainless steel fender trim. The popularity of the Knucklehead is credited with aiding Harley-Davidson’s recovery from the Great Depression.

Collection of David Hansen, The Shop


In 1922 Indian introduced the Chief, thousands of which were built during 32 years of production. While most changes were incremental, the adoption of the iconic fender skirts in 1940 was a highly visible effort to distinguish their brand in a shrinking market. During World War II, the Chief served as the basis for the 340-B, and it was the only pre-war motorcycle that Indian continued to produce until their closure in 1953. Gone but not forgotten, the “Chief” model name held such cachet that it was used on models by the majority of subsequent iterations of the company.
Collection of Glendale Harley-Davidson


Introduced in 1957, the Sportster came to define Harley-Davidson performance even though it was initially criticized by reviewers and buyers as nothing more than a low-powered touring motorcycle. The Sportster’s engine was the first 55-cubic inch, overhead-valve unit offered by Harley-Davidson. Models built in 1958 benefitted from improvements in cylinder head design derived from racing that allowed for a higher compression ratio and greater horsepower. The Sportster later became the basis for racing models like the XLR and the XR-750.

Collection of Loren Carpenter


During the 1960s, as automotive publisher Floyd Clymer was importing British and Italian motorcycles under the Indian name, Sammy Pierce began one of the first legitimate attempts to revive the production of Indian motorcycles under the traditional American Indian Motorcycle Co. (AIMCO) name. After obtaining a manufacturing license in 1968, Pierce used leftover genuine Indian parts to produce a limited number of Indian Chiefs and Scouts, including a handful of Super Scouts, which featured Pierce’s own unique fuel tank and seat combination.

Collection of Larry Fleece and Sons


After Indian closed in 1953, Harley-Davidson dominated the domestic market. In 1960, Harley-Davidson purchased half of the motorcycle division of the Italian Aermacchi firm, which began producing Harley-Davidson-branded bikes like the Sprint in order to compete with the growing popularity of Japanese makes. In 1974, under the ownership of AMF, Harley-Davidson purchased the remaining holdings of Aermacchi, which then took over production of Harley-Davidson’s two-stroke motorcycles. Aermacchi was sold in 1978 when it could no longer offer models to compete with the newly dominant Japanese and European manufacturers.

Collection of Glendale Harley-Davidson


The Indian Motorcycle Company of America (IMCOA), an amalgamation of nine companies, was court-awarded the Indian name in 1998 and began producing a new line of Indian motorcycles at its plant in Gilroy, California one year later. The first “Gilroy Indian” was dubbed the Chief, later to be followed by Scout and Spirit models. To celebrate Indian’s centennial, IMCOA produced a limited production 100th Anniversary Edition of each model and sponsored a cross-country road trip from the original headquarters in Springfield, Massachusetts to its new home in Gilroy. IMCOA produced motorcycles for only four years, ending production in 2003.

Collection of Alexis Rosales


After separation from AMF, Harley-Davidson spent the next decade developing machines that ushered in the firm’s most prosperous era. By the 1990s, Harley-Davidson motorcycles became “the status symbol of the decade”, and their immense popularity created a burgeoning market for personalization. This highly customized Harley-Davidson illustrates the period’s emphasis on custom paintwork and a wide range of custom performance equipment. The aggressive appearance and rugged simplicity of Harley’s designs appealed to customizers and invited the application of individual creativity.

Collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum



Manufacturing Company produced its first V-twin “Double Cylinder Racer” in 1906. After a record-breaking transcontinental trek from San Francisco to New York, and a victory in the 1907 and 1908 1000 Mile Trials, Indian’s racing successes capture the attention of U.S. and European enthusiasts. By 1911, Indian riders held every American speed and distance record and took the top three positions in first Isle of Man race. Among privateers, Indian became a popular base for constructing personalized racing motorcycles.

Private Collection


THE WRECKING CREW: While Harley-Davidson’s early successes in reliability tests had proven the durability of its motorcycles, they were still not known for speed. In 1919, Harley-Davidson addressed their need to achieve distinction in competition by hiring a team of motorcycle riders informally called the “Wreckng Crew.” Together they won numerous competitions, including all eight National Championship races in 1922. Yet while the Wrecking Crew’s accomplishments generated interest among racers, the intentionally high price of Harley-Davidson competition bikes and restricted replacement parts availability dissuaded most private owners from competing against the factory team.

Collection of J. Mark Donaldson


FIRST TO THE TOP: Oscar Hedstrom, Indian’s chief engineer, demonstrated Indian’s first motorcycle, the Camelback prototype, on the steep gravel slope of Cross Street Hill in Springfield, Massachusetts during 1901. The successful event generated a large number of pre-production orders and gave birth to hillclimbing demonstrations, which later developed into competitive sporting events. Of the “Big Three” motorcycle manufacturers, which included Harley-Davidson and Excelsior, Indian was the first to produce a factory-built hillclimber. This “Altoona” model was specifically developed for the hillclimb in Altoona, Pennsylvania and uses an alcohol-burning 80-cubic inch V-twin engine.

The Bunch Collection, Don Whalen, Curator


STEEP COMPETITION: During the Great Depression, Harley-Davidson and Indian were forced to scale back production because of slow sales due to the comparatively high cost of their products relative to full-size automobiles. Hillclimbing nevertheless remained popular largely because of the ready availability of suitable dirt slope venues. Based on their stripped-down dirt track racers, Harley-Davidson hillclimb motorcycles employed motors often called “Peashooters”, a name believed to have been derived from the exhaust note of their small-displacement engines. This is one of only five factory Model Chillclimbers.

The Bunch Collection, Don Whalen, Curator


GOING OFF-ROAD: When Los Angeles attorney Alan Newman acquired the Indian trademark in 1970, he continued previous Indian Company owner Floyd Clymer’s strategy of importing and rebranding bikes built by Italian motorcycle manufacturer Italjet Moto. The following year Newman purchased a factory in Taiwan and contracted with a manufacturer to build a variety of Indian dirt bikes. They were powered by Minarelli, Morini and Fuji two-stroke engines ranging in displacement from 50cc to 175cc. Sluggish sales forced the company into bankruptcy in 1977 at which time the brand was acquired by yet another concern, American Moped Associates.

Collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum


STAYING AHEAD: To maintain its competitive edge after an AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) rule change, Harley-Davidson developed the XR-750, which had an efficient overhead valve engine that enabled it to better compete against machines built by rival firms having similar engines. Introduced in 1970, the Sportster-derived XR-750 was at first uncompetitive because of an engineering design flaw that led to overheating. By 1972, the problem had been corrected and the XR-750 went on to become one of the most successful motorcycles in AMA history.

Moto Talbott Collection



DESIGNED FOR EFFICIENCY: The Dispatch-Tow was created at the request of a Springfield, Massachusetts Packard dealer who wanted to reduce the amount of time that was spent transporting customers’ cars to and from his service garage. Based on the Indian 101 Scout chassis, the Dispatch-Tow was intended to be driven to a customer, attached to the rear bumper of their vehicle by means of a built-in bracket, and towed back to the dealership. Announced in 1931, the first version of the Dispatch-Tow was built for only one year. The model reappeared in 1935 using the chassis of a Sport Scout and remained in production until 1942.

Collection of The Gilbert Family


TRAILING BEHIND: The Servi-Car utility vehicle was introduced in 1932 as an alternative to Indian’s Dispatch-Tow, which debuted the previous year. Like the Indian version, it was intended for use by garages and service stations and could be fitted with a tow bar that allowed it to be pulled behind a customer’s car. The three-wheel Servi-Car employed a modified automobile axle and differential unit, and flat-sided body panels for advertising. When the use of full-service stations began to decline, the Servi-Car’s utility was embraced by municipal governments, which used them primarily as traffic police vehicles. Production of the compact and maneuverable Servi-Car continued until approximately 1974.

Collection of the Watsonville Police Department


THE PURSUIT OF POWER: Motivated by lackluster racing results in 1915, Indian developed a new Powerplus engine that was introduced along with its innovative “keystone” frame design in 1919. The following year, the Daytona Racer appeared with a now-familiar “S”-shaped seat tube. Lacking brakes and full-functioning throttle, Indian Daytonas employed a kill switch located on the handlebars to slow the engine when going into turns. Sidecar versions of the Daytona were equipped with leaning “Flxicars”, which provided a passenger counterweight, improved traction, and reduced outside force, allowing for greater speeds in turns.

Collection of The Gilbert Family


GOING BIG: Desiring to bolster their success as the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world, Harley-Davidson introduced the 74-cubic inch “Big Twin” in 1921 to better compete with comparably-sized Indian V-twin and Henderson four-cylinder models. The following year, two engine choices were offered: a 61-cubic inch version Model F and a 74-cubic inch version Model FD. The added power offered by the larger displacement of the FD made the model a popular choice for pulling a sidecar.

Collection of Petersen Automotive Museum, Bequest of Gordon R. Howard

Scooters & Mini-bikes


BRANCHING OUT: Following the lead of other motorcycle manufacturers, Indian added scooters to its model line in 1947, contracting with Lowther Manufacturing of Joliette, Illinois to build them. The Stylemaster was the premier model in a series of three, all of which were advertised as being “scientifically engineered and artistically styled.” Buyers could choose between a Briggs and Stratton four- or six-horsepower engines. While the other Indian scooters were marketed to businesses, the upmarket Stylemaster was intended for private buyers who appreciated such trendy features as a sheet metal tail panel, tail light block, and three-bar chrome rear bumper.

Collection of Jerry and Brenda Perkins


MORE THAN MOTORCYCLES: In 1960, Harley-Davidson began production of the Topper, the only scooter it would ever build. The Topper featured a 165cc two-cycle, one-cylinder engine, a lawnmower-style hand recoil starting system, and a parking brake. The bodywork was a combination of steel and fiberglass and a sidecar was optional at extra cost. The Topper entered production at about the time demand for American-built scooters was beginning to wane, which severely affected sales and prompted the manufacturer to withdraw it from the market after only five years.

Collection of Jerry and Brenda Perkins


ONE LITTLE INDIAN: Along with a line of larger motorcycles, Floyd Clymer imported Italjet Mini Mini Bambino “minicycles” under the Indian name. After his death in 1970, the Indian trademark passed to Los Angeles attorney Alan Newman, who continued importing the child-sized vehicles. Also known as the MM5A, the diminutive motorbike was called a “miniaturized motorcycle” in Indian advertising. Designed to familiarize children with the Indian brand, the MM5A/Mini Mini Bambino featured a 50cc engine mated to a centrifugal clutch. Buyers could choose from three available colors.

Collection of Jerry and Brenda Perkins


A DIFFERENT DIRECTION: Built in Italy by Aermacchi, the X-90 was added to the Harley-Davidson line-up during the era in which Harley-Davidson was owned by AMF (1969 to 1981). Best known for producing sports equipment, AMF led Harley-Davidson to produce small recreation-based road and mini-bikes like the “Shortster”, which had a 60cc engine, and the X-90, which had a 90cc engine. The X90 was sold between 1973 and 1975 and, like the MM5A did for Indian, was intended to introduce children to the Harley-Davidson brand.

Collection of Glendale Harley-Davidson

Midget Racers


INDIAN-POWERED: In the 1930s, Drake Engineering, which would later purchase the famous Offenhauser engine company, began producing midget racing engines based on the Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. The engines were best suited for short tracks because the cooling system lacked a water pump and tended to overheat. For this three-quarter midget, company owner Dale Drake deviated from the norm by installing an Indian engine with a clutch-less in-and-out gearbox that made it necessary to push-start the car. It was raced in Southern California and last driven at El Mirage in the 1970s.

Collection of Jerry and Brenda Perkins


HARLEY-DAVIDSON-POWERED: Three-quarter midgets were primarily “one-offs” built in private garages and workshops using available parts, making each vehicle one unique to its builder. Midget racers were typically equipped with motorcycle engines and an in-and-out gearboxes. Lacking such a gearbox, this midget requires a push to start the engine, which will not stop unless the brake is activated to slow the car to a stop, forcing the engine to die. Powered by a 45 cubic inch Harley-Davidson flathead, it was regularly raced in the Fresno, California area and recently received a ground-up restoration.

Collection of Jerry and Brenda Perkins



JACK OF ALL TRADES: The Model J was introduced in 1915 with a 61-cubic inch F-head motor, three speed hand-shift transmission, and spring suspension on the front forks. During World War I, Harley-Davidson based their military version on the Model J, which later became popular for police use. Options, such as an electric headlamp, speedometer, tank-mounted toolbox, and luggage carrier made this bike a standout even among other 1920 Harley-Davidsons. The Model J motorcycle remained in production until 1929.

The Vintage Motorcycle Collection of Michael Eisenberg


MASTER OF THE ROAD: The Chief was introduced in 1922 and was powered by a 61-cubic inch, side-valve V-twin. One year later the engine was enlarged to 74-cubic inches and the model was re-named the Big Chief. The larger engine was known for great stamina and could propel the bike over long stretches of open road at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. The Chief was one of Indian’s most popular models and was cataloged until the company’s demise in 1953. Formerly owned by actor Steve McQueen, this Big Chief was restored by Sammy Pierce, a well-known California-based Indian enthusiast.

The Margie and Robert E. Petersen Collection

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Reader Comments

INterseted in finding a Lowther Indian Stylemaster.

Any informatIon would be appreciated.

Ron Boggs
Naples, FL
Sunday, August 26, 2018
Editor Response Try this from a reader, Sam:


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