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Bike of the Month

February 2019

1937 Indian Chief

By Rick James

In 2005, I was looking for a mid-30's Indian Chief and found this one in Truckee, CA. The engine was off and apart in Truckee, the bike itself was in Peter Hipp's outside shed in Reno. The correct term for it was a "bitsa bike".  I soon learned that over half of the parts on it were incorrect. Harley handlebars and seat, Triumph wheels, lots of wrong year Indian parts, etc. This began a 9 year restoration that was a journey in itself. I did most of the mechanical work. I learned to paint PPG basecoat/clearcoat on this bike, the green was custom mixed by me. "Real Ralph" Newman did the gold pinstriping, a true artist. Any parts that were incorrect were sold to finance the purchase of the correct parts. My learning curve on this bike was steep. 

I chose a mid-30's Chief for several reasons. Since Indian had incorporated recirculating oil in 1934, this bike had it. There are reproduction parts available from several suppliers. Although I like the '40 and later skirted Chiefs, the mid to late 30's bikes were a beautiful art-deco style that I liked the best. I finally completed the project in 2014. Since I had never ridden an Indian, the first ride was hectic. I soon learned how to survive modern traffic with an old bike that had a foot clutch, tank shifter, a three speed non-synchro trans, and lousy brakes.


I was unprepared for what came next! Cameras, cellphones, thumbs-ups! I couldn't avoid a crowd wherever I parked it. Kids leaning out of the school bus windows, other bikers doing double takes, etc. Riding this bike to a place where there are dozens of Harleys draws lots of interest.


I joined the AMCA and showed the bike at the Dixon, CA meet, see photo. Later I joined the local Comstock Chapter in Reno, NV and I'm enjoying meeting new folks, learning about other bikes, and riding to various locations.

Dixon AMCA Meet 2014.JPG

Dixon Show - 2014

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