The 1920s were the decade that Indian motorcycle really made its mark as the premiere motorcycle made in America. The 1923 Indian motorcycle line-up added an exciting new player: the Big Chief…
The 1920s started out with the introduction of the Indian Scout in 1920. That model went on to become legendary in speed races. The 1928 101 Scout alone stood out even among Indian’s line up of wildly popular motorcycles. The Chief, the Big Chief, the Four, and the Prince all began during the 1920s. The decade laid the foundation for Indian becoming America’s most famous motorcycle.
In the 1920s, Indian needed something new to replace its Powerplus engine, particularly with Harley Davidson putting out more advanced bikes. To that end, Indian charged Charles Franklin, a racer and an engineer, with coming up with something new. Not only were Harley Davidson bikes giving Indian some competition, cars were starting to be mass produced as well.
Franklin’s 1922 bike was based on a 1,000 cc (61 cubic inch) V-twin. It had a lower seat and a more refined shape than other Indian bikes, and the chain drive transmission was replaced with helical gears. Weighing in at 425 pounds, the new bike could go 90 miles per hour, unheard of at the time. This new bike was called the Chief.
But in 1923, Indian went a step or two further. As great as the 1922 Chief was, they made the motor bigger in 1923: 1,200 cc (74 cubic inches). Thus it was in 1923 that Indian came out with the Big Chief. The Big Chief was made to carry a sidecar, and many people used that combo for transportation, since cars were not yet dominating the individual transportation market. Though the 1923 Scout could be fitted with a sidecar,
the Big Chief was better at handling the extra load.
But a lot of solo riders thought the 1,200 cc engine was just what they needed, too. It wasn’t long before the 1923 Big Chief was Indian’s top seller. There were other changes in store for Indian in 1923. One of the main ones was that the company was renamed Indian Motocycle Company (note the lack of an “r” in Motocycle). That year the PowerPlus was renamed “Standard” making it clear that the 1,200 cc engine in the Big Chief was the more powerful of the two engines.
Whether Indian knew it at the time or not, the Big Chief was a classic. A 1923 Indian Big Chief in excellent condition can fetch over $40,000 today.