this story begins roughly 25 years ago; I had just bought a rough Kawasaki
Z1R. She had a few problems, oil leaks, cracked head etc. I had just moved
to a farm along the Tweed valley in the Scottish borders. After speaking
to a few local bikers, it was suggested that I get a hold of a guy called
Andy, as he knew his way around big Zeds. I tracked him down and he stripped
the engine and did a few things to her and we became good mates. He was
to become a big influence in my life.
Anyway, as our friendship progressed, he
told me that he was into Indians, and he had in fact bought a military
Chief in bits from Alan Forbes. His plan was to build it into a chop to
start with in order to get the power plant sorted and then “do the chassis”.
He had a shed on a farm outside Peebles in which he fixed various bikes,
his own and other peoples. Time passed and the Chief gradually came to
life. He had sent the bottom end to a crank company down south, but built
the rest himself. I kind of joined in and it was a big day when the Chief
first barked into life. I can remember kicking it a lot with a bar bolted
onto the kicker, to try and get her running. Anyway, run it did, and Andy
ran around on this bike for a while, doing some decent trips on her, including
the Bulldog Bash. Even ran it up the strip. After all it had “thrashed
not stashed” painted on the rear mudguard. The engine started to run rough
a while later and after a strip down the crank thrust washers had spun
and chewed the flywheels. I still have the well, grooved crankpin as a
Andy's Chief chopper.
More Indian choppers on the
moved to Edinburgh and the Chief went too. I used to go up for a few beers
occasionally, and it was on one of these outings that we heard that there
was a couple of “yanks on Indians” in town. Edinburgh isn’t a big city
and as both bikes had “limited” silencing, it didn’t take us long to track
them down to a pub in the old town.
Thus began a long friendship with a certain red haired gentleman from San Francisco, Red Fred Johansen. We had a few more beers, tequilas etc and retired to Andy’s flat down Stockbridge. Next morning, Red Fred’s mate, Indian Fred, attacked his Chief, a bit of welding and grinding in Andy’s flat. Went back together ok and the old '37 Chief went to Poland after leaving the UK. Indian Fred had heard that there was a guy in Poland who had an Indian. What better reason to visit Poland? Red Fred’s '47 was running fine. We took them on a tour of Edinburgh, Andy on his Yam 750 V-twin, the two Freds on their Chiefs, and me on the Z1R playing tail end Charlie. It was priceless seeing the rubber necking and double takes that the two thundering Chiefs caused in the city. Excellent day after the tequila had worn off!
The 2 Freds bid their farewells and left
on their travels. They had places to go, and people to meet. They toured
Scotland, Europe, before splitting up and Red Fred returned to Scotland,
where his grandfather was born. While coming up through the Lake District,
Fred’s '47 had a clutch failure. It had shat itself. He was going nowhere.
So on the phone to Andy, who took the plate from his Chief, which had breakdown
insurance, put it on Fred’s bike, and called the breakdown company, who
in turn appeared and shipped Fred’s bike to Andy’s new place outside Biggar.
As Andy’s bike wasn’t running, he stripped his clutch, they fitted it to
Fred’s Chief, and all was well in the world. The next week, Fred and I
took off up north on the bikes. It was an education to see Chief suspension
“work”. We had a blast. Toured the west coast then up to Inverness, where
I had to leave Fred to his own devices. I have remained good friends with
Fred ever since.
RF's '47 at home in SF.
forward a few months, and I was travelling myself in New Zealand for several
months. Seeing the world. On the way back, I stopped off with Fred at his
house in San Francisco. Talk about fresh in from far out! Had a gay guy
in a bar in Chinatown try to pick me up, didn’t know a thing about it.
Al I heard was Fred saying ‘god dam faggot’ as we left the place. Got the
tour of Fred’s basement. That was it, I was hooked. I especially liked
his stroked Sport Scout racer. Fred kicked it up and was pulling wheelies
up the street on it with flames coming out of open pipes. I thought "one
day". The die was cast.
Got back home to Scotland and met with
my old mates, and after telling Andy about Fred’s hoard, he told me he
had what was left of a 741 Scout power plant in his shed, and that I was
welcome to it if I gave him what he paid for it, £15. The engine,
primary and gearbox were found in a garden in Musselburgh, where it had
lain for a long time. It had broken a valve a long time ago and had likely
been replaced with a wartime "spare power plant". It was in a state, but,
apart from the outer primary case being beyond repair, it was all there.
741 Scout power plant.
So began a long term gathering of parts, during which time I have met and kept in touch with a lot of people. Some Indian folks and some from the opposition (brand X).
Various ideas came and went, but as so-called un obtainable parts were sourced, she took a life of her own. Front frame half came from a woodpile in Southern Ireland, the rear is from a bike that came back from Russia, the front end came from various sources, mainly Calvin.
Fred came back over, and during a few beers and a "herbal lasagne" we had it figured out how to stroke it, fit two front barrels with the rear cam running backwards. We even considered fitting both barrels backwards with a turbo piped in between the cylinders. Man that lasagne was good stuff!
The first Indian rally at Traquair took place. Andy had had a rough split with his girl and had to sell the Chief to a guy from Germany. Rough time for him. Couldn’t face the rally. Was left to me to fly the flag. He saved a bit of cash and bought a complete 741 power plant and a pair of tanks from down south. We sort of fed of each other to keep us going on the Indian front.
Andy had bad health for a few years, including being told that he was HIV positive (turned out he wasn’t), and more unwell as the months progressed. I was living in Falkirk at the time and he called to tell us he had news and would be up that night. Bombshell time. Lung cancer, which wasn’t operable.
The next few months were a roller coaster. Hoping like hell that he could stave it off, we all dug deep. As he wasn’t working, due to radio and chemo therapy, we all tried to keep his spirits up. I gathered all my Indian stuff up and took it to his flat in Innerleithen, where we plotted about how we were going to get at least one Indian together, for when he got better. He bit the bullet and asked Alan Forbes to build him a Sport Scout. Time and his illness got the better of him. The Scout wasn’t finished. After a few visits to the Western General in Edinburgh, Andy passed away. He gave me £10 to buy a film to take pictures of his Indian at Alan’s shop. I never saw him again.
The funeral was a hard day for us all. I got on very well with his family, and when I told them that a fair bit of the Indian stuff was mine, they very kindly said to me “The Indian stuff was always yours and Andy’s, so we’d like for you to take it all”.
The Indian progressed in fits and starts
for the next few years. Family and work got in the way of progress. Money
was tight. This was a long-term project.
Front and rear wievs.
engine was a big leap forward, as my own was still in a lot of pieces.
I had planned to stroke
it with Harley 45 flywheels, sportster rods and various other hot parts.
As Andy’s engine had been rebuilt before he got it, I decided to run a
big bore top end on his stock 500 bottom end. One set of Enfield
pistons later she is now a 600. Various bits were sourced, swapped and
bought till she started to take shape. My own barrels from my parts stack
were modified with bigger ports and valves, with a manifold to match. A
carb was sourced from a lad in Falkirk who was given it by a lad that he
gave a lift to college. A day in an ultrasonic bath cured it of various
ills. A set of more modern wheels ('60s) with flanged alloy rims and decent
brakes duly appeared and completed the chassis.
Last Christmas, I took it down to an engineering
shop that I regularly work in, and did a dry build. This was the first
time it looked like a bike. Blew me away. A few doubters were now
taking note. I liked the stripped down look, so decided to go the no lights
route. Fred’s white Sport Scout racer had bit back. A magneto was required,
and after several false starts, the bullet was bit and a brand new Joe
Hunt magneto winged its way across the pond from America. Best small fortune
I ever spent.
progressed, until there was enough built to attempt a start up. Oil, fuel
plugs, the big moment had arrived. Fire extinguisher at the ready, manual
consulted, ignition of, choke on, kick, choke opened a bit ignition on,
kick, play with mag timing, few more kicks, bang! She fired. Couple
more kicks and she burst into life. Loud, and proud. She lives. 15-20 kicks
A few teething problems have come and went, but she has come a long way since that first £15 purchase. I am now the proud owner of a '43 741 Indian Scout bobber. The deadline was this years return of the International Rally to Traquair. If I hadn’t had it going for that, I wouldn’t have heard the end of it.
A lot of people have helped along the way, without whom I would never have gotten this far. The main inspirations have been Fred, and of course Andy. I would also like to thank the lads at Anderson and Wilson in Galashiels, without whom, my little Scout would not have been reborn
As for the title of this piece, Andy was
a bit of an athlete in his youth, and was always winning medals. He was
Muttley on the tank.
Joe Hunt magneto. More on magnetos here.
As a postscript to this, the little lady was mot’ed, registered, and made it to Traquair for the International Rally. A head gasket went, so a new one was found, fitted and she was running again. The interest in her blew me away. I couldn’t believe that my little un-finished bobber was of interest to people who had been into Indians for years. The bars, exhausts, side rails and various other small parts were bare metal. The tanks have a black side and a yellow one. The rear fender is pitted Pride and Clark maroon. She is kinda purty.
Anyway, I came home Sunday night as she is on a daylight MOT. Crashed out after a roller coaster of a weekend. Phone rings at around 10. Red Fred is on the phone, “hey buddy, you won a prize”. I thought some sort of rat prize, but no. In the “peoples choice” vote, she came 6th, behind some cracking bikes and ahead of some others. Talk about putting the tin lid on an amazing weekend. To think, some people thought my wee bobber was the best of 300 Indians on site, and took the time to vote for her. An amazing weekend. She lives.
More about the 2009 International Indian Rally in Scotland here.