Henderson | Excelsior | Ignaz Schwinn | Ace Four
Indian Four | F-Head | Mecum Auctions | Indian Ace
First of the last 1942 Indian 442
There's hype, and then there's hyped hype. Case in point is Mecum Auctions which is preparing to flog the above 1942 1260cc Indian Four at Monterey, California sometime between 18th & 20th August 2016.
What makes this bike newsworthy, according to Mecum, are two things. The first being that the giant US auction house is anticipating big money; specifically $120,000 - $130,000. The second is that this is the first bike off the 1942 production line. [Editor's note: There's some confusion here about the estimate. We've since seen that Mecum is estimating $200,000 - $250,000 which is around double the estimate we've indicated. But we think our original note was accurate. Therefore Mecum appears to have raised the estimate. But it might simply be our error].
So wait a minute; first off the last year's production line, huh? Well we can't get too excited about that. Most folk are more interested in the first ever built, and the last ever built. But hype is hype, and the world loves superlatives. So this example is the first of the last year (which is similar to saying that today is the first day of the rest of your life, etc).
All that aside, Indian Fours owe a debt of gratitude to William G and Tom W Henderson. The Hendersons pioneered the inline design way back in 1911. As an independent marque and operating from 268 Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, Michigan, the Brothers H produced a first class product that was very well received by the public. And for a handful of years, business was brisk.
Unfortunately, the First World War led to rising materials costs and increased labour prices, and eventually the numbers simply didn't stack up. So a buyer with deeper pockets was sought. Someone with marketing experience. Someone with contacts and initiative. Someone who was hungry.
Enter Ignaz Schwinn who bought Henderson in 1917. Schwinn had already purchased The Excelsior Motor and Manufacturing Company (in 1911), and he continued production of the Henderson designs under the Henderson badge. Production soon moved to 3700 Cortland Street, Chicago, Illinois.
Tom Henderson left the firm the following year (1918). William left in 1920 and almost immediately began building bikes again, this time under the Ace name. Seven years on, in 1927, Indian bought the Ace Manufacturing Company and quickly rebadged the machines as the Indian Ace, or Model 401.
Excelsior wasn't the only rival to the Indian Ace, incidentally. Since 1926, The Cleveland Motorcycle Manufacturing Company of Ohio had also been producing inline fours. But in 1930, the Wall Street Crash gave Cleveland a knockout blow, with 1929 being the last year of full production. Excelsior went bust the following year (1931).
The Henderson boys had also pioneered the F-Head design. This cylinder head arrangement put the inlet valves directly over the exhaust valves (in contrast to the more conventional sidevalve arrangement). This F-Head promoted much better breathing and helped give Hendersons their amazing turn of speed. Travelling at 80mph was more or less guaranteed, not that there were many paved roads upon which to reach such lofty velocities. And with a little tuning, a little weight-saving, and the right atmospheric conditions, over 100mph was possible.
▲ 1929 Henderson. This 1,301cc Excelsior-era Henderson KJ1000 was sold by Mecum for $97,900. The price new was around $370 - $400.
The US police had loved these bikes and bought hundreds. Meanwhile, endurance racers set new records on the inline fours. Indian initially retained the Ace single downtube frame, the springer fork and the styling. But the following year (1929), the Indian stylists produced a new-ish bike, the Model 402 which featured a twin downtube frame, Indian's established leaf spring fork, and a 5-bearing crank (replacing the 3-bearing crank of the Ace).
The bike was now badged as the Indian 4.
In 1935, someone at Indian had the bright idea of switching the cylinder valve arrangement by turning it on its head (pun intended). Now the exhaust valve was uppermost, and the inlet was located beneath. It wasn't a popular idea even though more power was available. So in 1938 Indian switched back to the original F-head concept.
The bikes, however, were putting on weight and soon checked in at around 540lbs (The Indian Ace weighed around 400lbs). But power was up, and 90-95mph was achievable even on standard bikes. The price was around $425.
By 1940, the wheels had ballooned from 18-inchers to 16-inchers, and the frame gained plunger suspension. More obviously, the fenders became full skirted thereby giving the bikes the now "classic" Indian profile.
The fours were always expensive to build, and there wasn't much profit in them. So why continue? Because they looked good on the portfolio, in catalogues and in the showrooms. The bike demonstrated that the firm not only had speed, but muscle.
However, when WW2 arrived, industrial production switched to munitions. The final Model, the 442, was the company's swansong.
This example that Mecum is about to sell carries the engine number: DDB101. The frame number is: 440807. The bike has been restored at some point in its history.
A fitting end to the classic Yankee inline fours? We're not sure, and we reckon that the Henderson boys wouldn't be too impressed by the weight and the bulk of the fat Indians. As much as we love Indies, we'd opt for, say, a 1930 Excelsior-Henderson any day of the week.
Footnote: We see that this 1942 Indian 442 was sold by Mecum in March 2015 for $115,500 from an $85,000 - $110,000 estimate.
UPDATE: The Indian sold for $121,000
— Big End
£14.99 plus P&P
Copyright Sump Publishing 2016