“Essential Use” 1944 Indian Chief

During World War II, most U.S. manufacturing was geared toward the war effort and production for civilians was very limited. Some items were able to be siphoned off if they were considered “essential use.” Basically, if a law enforcement agency, U.S. Postal Service, government office, or other entity needed an Indian motorcycle, they could get one under an “essential use” exception. Apparently this 1944 was one of those bikes. The seller says it was purchased as surplus in 1950 and it has bounced around from owner to owner ever since. It can now be found here on eBay with a current bid of $17,300 and the reserve hasn’t been met yet. Currently located in Eugene, Oregon, this bike looks very original and even work that was done has aged well. Have a look at this cool classic.

Like the rest of the bike, the engine is a little crusty but has awesome natural patina. The seller says the engine is free but doesn’t think it has run “in decades.” The originality of parts is a big deal with these bikes and can make or break the value. This one is said to have the correct carburetor and cylinders. The engine and transmission also apparently have no damage or repairs aside from a few chipped head fins.

The seller says the chain guard wears its original paint. You can see it’s a slightly darker shade of red than the fenders. Apparently the bike was repainted sometime before 1953 and the seller has removed some of the “new” paint on the tank to get down to the original Indian paint. Overall, this bike looks like a good project for someone with a huge up-side. What do you think?

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  1. Howard A Member

    Another really cool find, naturally, I just can’t figure where they get the prices. I suppose like a rare painting. Pretty rough, and again, ever try and ride one of these? Here’s a catchy little video to remind younger readers, it’s not just push a button and go. It may seem like a PITA, and it is, but this was the best they had, there was nothing else to compare it to.

    Like 8
    • Stevieg

      Thanks HowardA for the video link. The bike in the video is rely cool, as is the feature bike.
      I might live in Harley country, but I really like a vintage Indian too. Or any vintage bike!

      Like 3
    • Mountainwoodie

      Ever since I was in high school I’ve wanted a ’47 Indian Chief. I had a teacher who had like fifty bikes, all Indians, from 1917 forward to a ’53 Chief, crammed in a shed!

      Still on my now ‘bucket’ list, as the clock ticks down I better get crackin. And yeah, they are a PITA to drive. Nothing like the slushbox geezer gliders so popular among a certain …’cough cough’ demographic today.

      Still the romance of a ’47 Chief weighs heavily on my desires.

  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    I never considered vintage bikes or cars to be a PITA, just different. Growing up on the ranch we had any number of old engines to do all kinds of tasks. Single, twin and V4 Wisconsin, B&S, Kohler, even a Victor diesel V4. Add those to the tractors. International that you started on gas and switched over to diesel; Caterpillar and John Deere with their pony engines; cantankerous old trucks with foot starters (engage the starter with your toe and pump the gas with your heel). Nothing surprised you; you just did what you had to do to get the engine running so you could use it. A BSA 500 single had a compression release; a Wisconsin BK was similar displacement and you started it with a rope, and you did NOT have a compression release. Try that on a cold morning.

    What I’m getting at here is older machines may have a few quirks but they were still designed to serve a purpose. I saw a cute chick in Sturgis start and ride an Indian very similar to this one. She might have weighed 100 lbs soaking wet yet she handled it like a pro. I might add that the throttle was on the left, spark advance on the right (like my Harley 45). Modern vehicles have got their quirks; I have challenges just getting in and out of some modern cars. How many guys does it take to bump-start a Gold Wing?

    Like 11
    • Dave

      On modern motorcycles, if the battery is flat you’re not going anywhere because the electric fuel pump needs to pressurize the EFI. A friend of mine owns a Harley trike and told me that it has six computers that need to “handshake” before the bike will start.

      Like 2
    • Howard A Member

      T’was never an issue, my GoldWings always started right up with the touch of a button. Dave makes a good point, most bikes today don’t even have a kick start, although, I’ll admit, the one offered on my ’75 Wing was useless. The battery is more important than ever.

      Like 1
    • Mountainwoodie

      @geomechs: For those of us not “a” geomechs or HoA…..


      Like 1
      • geomechs geomechs Member

        I didn’t know that there was a version of Indian that had a button. You know that button is a good idea when your trick knee is acting up…

  3. ken tilly UK

    Nothing PITA about them. That’s just how they were back in the day, either you worked it out or bought a car.

    Like 2
  4. CraigR

    Difficult decision, get it sorted out and running and just ride it? Or restore?

    Like 2
  5. Tempo Matador Ray

    Good old-fashioned points brought up. I too enjoy getting early engines and motors up and running as they were purposed. In addition, to having a variety of interesting vehicles, I also enjoy firing up early Cushmans with their hit-and-miss heart beat. Some comments above mentioned battery issues…well if you recall, these early scooters utilized “magnetos” that were jump started by kick pedal. No batteries required here. Also, when tested the magneto output is so strong you can weld off of them. Cool old bike…

    Like 3
  6. TimM

    The fact that this bike exists in mostly original condition is amazing to me and I’m with the majority here!!! From the age of six ridding my Rupp mini bike we figured out how to keep them running!! Like tying my shoe lace to the carb after the throttle cable broke!! The fun of being a kid back then!!! Much better than being on X-box or play station!!

    Like 4
  7. Karl

    Geomechs I sure bet I know what the V4 Wisconsin was in, I can’t even to begin to think how many hours I have on this old Versatiles. They were just a basic swather that seem tiny by today’s standards and unfortunately I do remember they got stuck pretty easy. To this day it still baffles me how incredibly well that little air cooled engine ALWAYS ran! Great memories!

    Like 1
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      You’re close, Karl. Ours was in a New Holland self-propelled baler, and we had a VE4 on a Lincoln welder. The baler was electric-start but the welder was crank/broken-thumb/swearing start. I worked on lots of them on John Deere and International swathers and Melro Bobcat skid-steer loaders, and I saw the Versatile brand of swather which I’m sure you speak.

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