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Christmas 2011 - 1937 Chief Rebuilt to Ride
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The Rebirth
 by Jože Romšek

An Indian Big Chief, produced at the Wigwam in 1937, reborn in a garage in Slovenia.

I found it on the eBay website and purchased it without having had any serious prior experience with Indian motorcycles. After a long journey across seas, the motorcycle finally arrived in my garage from the USA, via Germany. At first look, the Chief seemed to be in pretty good original nick for a 70 year-old item, with matching numbers on the engine and the frame.

A second more careful examination of it, a couple of weeks later, painted a completely different picture. The engine had original "Y" cylinders with several broken fins, the transmission and the primary section with the clutch needed total rebuilding. The rear cylinder head was from a late Indian model and the front wheel was from an earlier pre-1937 model without a separately bolted brake drum. The seat with the seat pan, the head lamp, the horn with the face, and the exhaust system, were cheap and incorrect replacement parts. 

An original speedometer from the 1940s was in bad non-working condition with a fake, 120 mph, face plate. The generator seemed good, but a close look at it showed it was also in very bad condition. Happily, an original Splitdorf magneto and a Schebler DLX-108 carburetor in relatively good condition were still bolted to the engine. The pre-1938 plunger oil pump was in good working condition.

All in all, it was relatively “good news” for a new Indian Big Chief owner.

Photos by Luka Romšek and Florian Faltin.

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Matching numbers.

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Big Chief engine.

The friends who spent a lot of time sitting around the motorcycle in my garage quietly thought that this project would never be finished and ready for regular riding. 

Once, after a long silence, one of them said, “Have you ever rebuilt an Indian engine before? Sorry about the question, but in my opinion, they are not like other motorcycles, and there are a number of things to watch out for, aren’t there?”

Lado Spur, a man with skilled hands, who is both my mechanic and a friend, was much more optimistic than my other friends and I. “I need documents with the original specifications and all of the parts which will be needed for the total rebuild of the motorcycle must be of the highest quality,” said Lado with a smile on his face. These words really had an encouraging effect. 

The theoretical part of the restoration process began with the careful study of a number of texts: “The Indian Motorcycle Restoration Guide 1932-1953” by Jerry Hatfield, the Kiwi Indian Parts catalogue, Jerry Greer´s Parts & Accessories catalogue, as well as a great many other books and documents. A lot of times I also studied the very useful Indian "Rider's Instruction Book".

Then the mechanical part of the restoration process started.

Whenever I came across a practical problem and couldn’t find an appropriate solution, Moen, from Indian Parts Europe (IPE), was asked for assistance. His technical advice and useful hints were extremely valuable to Lado and I.

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 Rebuilt and ready to go..

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Mechanic Lado, son Luka, grandson Jan.

The mechanical rebuilding process began in 2006. 

The engine bottom end, the cylinders, the transmission and the primary drive with the clutch were carefully rebuilt with high-quality IPE parts, always taking the exact measurements and clearances into consideration (e.g. piston to cylinder clearance).

All of the missing chassis parts, which have already been mentioned above, came from Jerry Greer´s Engineering, and various, mostly fair, eBay sellers.

The original Schebler DLX-108 carburetor was very professionally rebuilt by Thomas Cotten, of Liberty Motorcycle Specialties.

After the mechanical rebuilding process the Chief was painted only with anti corrosion paint, completely assembled and thoroughly tested. 

Two technical problems arose soon after the first ride. Wet sumping (excess oil in the crankcase after riding for some time) and too much clearance in the steering head.

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In primer for shakedown runs.
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Covering 4000 miles to make sure all's right.
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Happily, Slovenia is a beautiful place for test riding!
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Proud owner on test run.
The first problem was successfully solved with the use of an appropriate grade of oil and very precise regulation of the oil flow through the pre-38 oil pump. This type of pump has a special adjusting screw and nut for oil flow regulation. Before the wet sumping incident a syntethical 20/50 oil was used. I can not recommend this type of multigrade oil for Indians. Now, I am using only 50 oil for the engine and 30 oil for the transmission (Motul oil).

The steering head with new upper bearing modification (for details please see the IPE website) eliminated all the typical weaknesses found in this type of steering head assembly.

All along the motorcycle started with the magneto ignition. I covered approximately 4000 miles on it, in this condition, without any serious difficulties.

The motorcycle was disassembled again. We spent hours painting the Chief “Indian green”, and carefully detailing the special Indian pinstripe pattern on the fenders, tool box, chain guard and gas tanks.

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In splendid new paint at the sea side.
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On the run.
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Alpine touring.
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Sea side (Adriatic Sea at Piran, Slovenia).
Finally, the motorcycle was once again assembled, in near original condition. Only for practical and safety reasons, a new (ugly) 12 V generator and a new crankcase breather system were bolted on to the motorbike.

Now the Chief was ready to go anywhere. Its first official test was in the 4. Austrian Indian Indian Tour 2011, organised by Florian Faltin, in the village of Unterkirchbach near Vienna. 

There, I met a lot of nice people from different European countries and am pleased to be able to report that my Indian worked extremely well. 

I managed to cover 1002 miles on it without any serious engine oil consumption.

At the end of this story I would like to publicly say thanks for the help which was given to me by Moen, and of course my friend Lado, the mechanic with common sense and skilled hands.

Warm greetings to all Indian fans around the world.

Jože Romšek

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Big Chief in good company in Austria.

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