1920 Indian Scout – An American Icon

Last Updated on 08/04/2021

First released in 1920 and then modernised and re-released in 2014, the Indian Scout is centre of attention once again. 

The original Indian Scouts are sought after and restoring one can be very expensive, but they are an appreciating classic and a worthy investment. 

Keep reading to get into the backstory and the facts you need to know if you plan on buying or restoring your very own American Legend.

History of the Indian Scout

1897 an Industry Pioneer by the name of George M. Hendee founded a bicycle production company along with Chief Engineer and Co-founder Oscar Herdstrom the first factory was opened in 1901 in Springfield. It wasn’t until 1923 that The Hendee Manufacturing Company changed its name to ‘The Indian Motocycle Company.’ 

The first acheivement for Oscar Herdstrom as Chief Engineer, was won in 1903, by setting a new world record on one of his motorcycles, reaching a top speed of 56mph. 

1906 saw the first V-Twin factory race bike built and consequently in 1907, the 633cc 43-degree V-Twin was the first American V-Twin production engine. 

It was 1920 before Indian released the Scout designed by Charles Franklin; it was marketed as fast, reliable and manoeuvrable to capture the audience of the time. 

Franklin was already racing early Indian’s and took 2nd place in the 1911 Isle of Man TT. It was inevitable this motorcycle enthusiast and designer would go on to create a bike for Indian and help push them forward. However, it couldn’t have been known he would be responsible for creating a racing legend down the line. 

Performance

The first 1920 Scout had a leaf spring trailing arm front fork suspension, a new 610cc V-twin engine and a 3-speed gearbox which was bolted to the engine. 

In place of a chain the primary drive from the engine to the gearbox was by gears instead. Gear selection was done by a gear-lever which sat beside the fuel tank on the right-hand side. 

Over the years the engine capacity was increased and several variants were to rise through the ranks. In it’s time however, it was considered a fairly advanced motorcycle. 

There was no rear suspension which was not unusual for the era; the frame was lightweight but tough making it a favourite for hill-climbers, flat-trackers and stunt riders. The torquey engine was a big plus with the owners. 

Indian Scout Variants

1927 saw the first upgraded Scout to be known as the Scout 45 because it had a new 45 Cubic Inch (745cc) engine capacity. 

Indian needed to keep up with the competition as Excelsior were producing high performance V-twin and in-line four-cylinder motorcycles. Charles Franklin was brought back in to work on a new model and it was ready for production in 1928. 

1928-1931 was the time of the Indian 101 Scout which for many is considered the holy grail of Scout models. To this day it is still used in ‘Wall of Death’ exhibitions. 

The 101 Scout had more rake on the forks, longer wheelbase and spring lower seat all of which improved the handling and riding experience overall. These features compared with previous Indian models and current competitors made the 101 Scout stand out amongst the crowd. Aimed at the mid-size motorcycle market the Scout excelled, leaving the Chief to own the large V-twin market. 

The handling, balance of power and weight made the ease of riding and ability to control simply excellent; it was this that attracted hill climbers, track racers and stunt riders to the Scout as their steed of choice. 

1931 is when things started to go wrong. America is in the midst of the Great Depression and businesses are struggling. Indian decide to start cutting back and they decide a one-size fits all frame is the way to go. This 1932 frame was to fit the Scout, Chief and In-line four engine. 

Crazy right? Logic suggests there is no way that was going to work but at the time, needs must for the Indian management. 

The new model was re-named as the standard Scout and it was heavier, slower, clumsier and unpopular.

Feedback from Indian dealers by 1933 was that a new Scout was needed to maintain relevance. It was time for the Sport Scout, with a new two-piece light frame, lightweight alloy cylinder heads and improved carbs.

It was heavier than the favoured 101 but the features were what the customers had been asking for. This was the bike that would go on to compete and win in the first Daytona 200. 

1940, the full skirted fenders were added to the Scout which became an iconic Indian trademark.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour marked the entry of the US to the war in 1941 and motorcycles were needed for the military. Indian’s contribution was around 30,000 units of a military grade version of the Thirty-Fifty Junior Scout with a smaller 500cc engine.

Following the war Indian halted all production and other than a short run of race ready 648 Sport Scout models the Scout wasn’t to be seen again until 2014 when Polaris Industries took over the Indian brand and relaunched the famous model.

The Indian Scout made its mark on the race world before production stopped and its success adds to the reason it is considered a legend today. Let’s look at the details and reasons to celebrate the Scout now.

Notable Achievements

Daytona

1937 saw Floyd Clymer an Indian dealer (later a publisher, and owner of the Indian name in the 1960’s), sponsor Ed Kretz (AKA Ironman) in the first Daytona 200. Kretz won the race on an Indian Sport Scout. 

This was the start of Indian claiming their stake in competitive racing and the shift went to producing successful American racing bikes. 

The Indian Wrecking Crew

The Indian Wrecking Crew originated in the 1950’s and consisted of legendary racers Bobby Hill, Bill Tuman, and Ernie Beckman. It was ironic that Indian was struggling and heading towards its 1953 closure while the Wrecking Crew were dominating dirt and road courses. 

Bobby Hill won the Springfield Mile in 1951 and 1952. 

Burt Monro

Burt Munro and his 1920 Indian Scout

The Indian Scout was immortalised into motorcycling history by Burt Munro and his 1920 Indian Scout. 

It was the 647th 600cc engine Scout to leave the factory and had a top speed of 55mph; which was nowhere near what Munro needed for his vision. He got to work modifying the Munro Special with limited resources and funding.

Throughout the 1940’s Munro claimed a series of New Zealand land speed records, before his Scout was deemed too fast for the speed courses; so, he set his sights on the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Munro and his Scout raced the Salt Flats 9 times and set world records in 3. 

1967, was the last trip to the Salt Flats in which the Munro special and its faithful owner set an official land speed of record 184.087mph as well as an unofficial top speed of 205.67mph.

FTR750 Flat Tracker

Indian Scout FTR750 Flat Tracker
FTR750 Flat Tracker

2016 saw the return of the Indian Wrecking Crew and they have dominated the flat track since with the Scout derived FTR750. 

Travis Pastrana added to the Scout legacy in 2018, by using a modified version to recreate 3 of Evel Kenievel’s greatest stunts (in just 3 successive hours by the way!).

Buying an original Indian Scout

An original Indian Scout is a coveted motorcycle today and they aren’t cheap to buy or easy to find.

It will be a subjective opinion as to whether they are worth it or not, I do think they are so, let’s look at what they are selling for and what to watch out for when making a purchase?

Car and Classic have the following original Indian Scouts for sale: 

  • 1923 Scout for £23,000 in France with a recent complete restoration.
  • 1932 Scout for €39,990 in the Netherlands immaculate condition.
  • €37,950 for another Scout in the Netherlands this time a 1937 model.

In 2017 Bonhams had a 1920 Indian Scout for auction priced between £20,000-23,000 and $28,000-$32,000.

From the few Scout’s that are available they seem to be between £20,000-£35,000 and mainly found in Europe. 

Cycle Trader had only one 1927 Scout for sale and that was $22,000 

So, if you are looking at spending that kind of money here is what you should be looking for in the early Scout’s:

  • Check rims and other parts for flaking chrome or pitting.
  • Check the inside of the tank for rust.
  • Check the frame thoroughly for rust and welds that don’t seem to be quite right.
  • Does it idle smoothly, start, run and brake without any issues, and be sure to remember that it won’t behave like a modern bike so give it a bit of leeway.
  • Some original Scout’s will have been restored and parts changed, so check for evidence of this; you want to know how much of the bike is original parts. 
  • The more original the bike the more expensive it will be; sellers however, know this so be wary and don’t pay a premium for a bike that isn’t what it says it is. 
  • It’s so simple but research the model year you are buying before viewing so you can spot anything out of place.

Restoring an Indian Scout 

Right, buying an original Scout ready to roll or to be preserved, whatever you fancy, is expensive. As you would therefore expect parts for a restoration project also don’t come cheap; for a start you need to find a donor bike and they are few and far between. 

An example of prices for parts are as followed (eBay):

  • $1,099 1920-22 Transmission and Primer
  • $549.99 1920-26 Exhaust System
  • $299.99 for Scout 101 Valve Push Rods Lifter Tappets
  • $399.99 1930’s Intake Manifold 
  • $631 1920’s Amp Gauge

There are some websites that state they sell classic Indian parts, however after some investigation their range seems to be rather limited.

Taking on a Scout restoration project would be a labour of love and one that may take quite a while to gather all original parts.

There are reproduction parts available for all those who don’t mind some things not being 100% original. These are more reasonably priced for those doing a project build, again though, you would need to find your project bike to start with.

For all those that might throw the towel in at even thinking about striking lucky with finding an original Indian to restore, take a look at KiwiIndian.

I found these guys a few years ago and got very excited. Essentially, they provide replica models of original Indians, from a rolling chassis to all the parts needed to build your own. The 1920’s 101 ‘Chout’ is particularly spectacular.

Kiwi 101 Chout Rolling chassis kit
The Kiwi 101 Chout Rolling chassis kit – details here

It may not be for the purists but it is a way to build a bike that is as close to an original 1920’s legend as it gets. 

Be warned though, it is definitely not a cheap option. In my excitement at thinking I could maybe build my own Scout I got in touch with Kiwi Indian…I wish I’d let it stay a pipe dream! 

Back in 2019 the chassis kit alone was $49,900.

Is an original Scout a Good Investment?

Absolutely, the rarity and desire for the Scout makes the bike a great investment; as more time goes on, they are only increasing in value. The trick is getting one in the first place. 

Verdict

The Indian Scout will forever be an American Legend. It will remain one of the most coveted classic motorcycles and rightly so. In 2021 the new Indian Scout keeps the legend alive and the heritage fresh in new rider’s minds. 

In 2019, my dream changed, it is now that one day I will stumble upon a magnificent 101 Scout sat in a barn, just waiting for me and the lovely old owner will simply donate it to me because they want to pass it on to someone who will love it. I know. Keep Dreaming. 

About Emily 36 Articles
Emily is passionate about motorcycles and when she isn't writing for us she is a freelance artist doing mainly commission based work illustrating motorcycles.

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