The Indian Verticals
by Pete Sink
What Is The Future?
The Indian Verticals have taken their licks through the years. · First of all they were handicapped with smaller cubic inch displacement engines than their British competition. Second they hit the market at the time the British devalued the pound. The odd undersized motors were now competing with well designed and developed British motorcycles that followed the established engine sizes of the period. Third, the effort to keep them lightweight also meant that they had to be small. This was not what the average American motorcycle rider in 1948-1951 was looking for.
At the time of design,. which we assume was around 1944, the plunger rear
suspension was better than a ridged frame. By the time the motorcycles were manufactured, the British had already moved to swing arm suspension and Indian did not try to change their older frame design. This is comparing suspension technology prior to WWII with post WWII technology.
When comparing the engine design with their British competition, Indian would win the beauty contest with the all aluminum everything cylinders, heads, primary drive and transmission covers, etc. Most Americans today do not know that Alcoa’s name is hidden inside the castings.
What was wrong with the engine design? The head design concerning push rod tubes being screwed directly to the head caused many heads to be destroyed by unknowing shade tree mechanics. I am not a mechanical engineer, but the angle that the rocker arm opens the valves causes greater valve guide wear than most. The oil ring was a solid bevel scraper to holes on the piston skirt. Was this dated technology. The two brush generator had a problem keeping up with night riding in the ’50’s. The magneto was not up to British standards of the time. Can we believe today, that this motorcycle was delivered to the dealers with a carburetor that did not have an idle adjusting screw.
Even with all these, so called, design flaws the motorcycles are still today very attractive and fun. Some of us have taken it upon ourselves to make them better mechanically than they were when new.
Most vertical restorers today have a bigger task than the Sport Scout, Chief or Four restorers. This is due to the fact that you can almost get anything for a “V” twin. Very little has been manufactured for the verticals. I guess pistons, headers and mufflers are about all. This means that those of us who are not machinist have to spend a lot more money to restore one. When you get into head work the valve seats and valve guides may need to be oversize. Indian did not make oversize seats and guides. Valve are not being remanufactured to original specifications therefore will not fit NOS guides. Rod bearing are not available and I would wonder what a restorer will have to do ten years from now, just to rebuild the engines. When you compare the Chief with a vertical you can get sheet metal, tanks, chain guards, frame lugs, shock springs and covers, handlebars, crash bars front and rear, seats, luggage racks, side stands just to name a few. The vertical part will have to be restored rather than replacing with a newly manufactured one. I have found that fixing a broken part usually cost more than purchasing a replacement.
It definitely will cost more for the owner to restore a vertical than a Chief,
especially those trying to get one ready for AMCA judging. A good friend of
mine recently told me that he had spent in excess of $20,000 in restoring his
Warrior. Those of us that will restore a vertical are in the minority and the pool is shrinking due to cost, part availability, special machining and knowledge needed to improve things to get better reliability. Another friend wants me to restore his ’49 Scout engine, hopefully just a top end job. It is just too risky to tear an engine down that will run and is rideable and not know, going in, that you can get everything for the top end. What I am saying is tear it down, inspect, order replacements, rebuild and ride. You can do this for a Chief, but not a vertical.
The average person does not want to research, test or try something new. They want to pick up the telephone make two or three calls, order the parts, bolt them together and ride. The sad thing is this is not possible with verticals. Where can you call to get a complete set of anything?
The only thing that could change all of this is to get pistons, rings, pins, bushing, valves, valve guides, tappets and seats and gaskets to rebuild the engines.
Then the generator/alternator , voltage regulators, magneto and carburetor
replacements could be made to make it a reliable rider. Don’t overlook the
clutch hub bearing, clutch plates and springs. Since someone remade the AMAL 276 in England, for the Warriors, would they remake the AMAL 275 for the Arrows and Scouts?
The difficulty in obtaining parts, machining services, and sometimes the lack of knowledge on what you are looking for makes the good vertical restoration too difficult for 98% of today’s motorcycle restorers. I hope this particular model’s future is not as bleak as I see it, but time will tell. Or just do what the other 98% is doing and restore a Chief.