Post-War Project: 1948 Indian Chief

If you’ve seen or heard anything about classic motorcycles, it’s the details that make all the difference. An incorrect headlight, speedometer, engine heads, or any other parts can be very expensive and hard to find. If you are planning on doing a factory-correct restoration, starting with as many original parts as you can is a huge plus. The seller of this 1948 Indian Chief says the bike has many original parts and is perfect for a restoration. It can be found here on eBay with a current bid of almost $10,000. Located in Anaheim, California, unfortunately the engine doesn’t run, but this still may be a good project. Let’s take a closer look and see what you think.

This bike is an interesting mix of patina parts (tank, heads, etc.) with newer shiny parts (fenders, exhaust, etc.). I’m not sure if the seller started a restoration and lost interest? The ad says they have had the bike for over 20 years, so it must have been a slow process of upgrades a little at a time. Unfortunately, the engine does not have pistons and the transmission has “most of the…parts in it.” The bike does feature new exhaust and an Autolite generator.

You can see the Indian head logo on the speedometer. Hopefully, this is an original part of the bike. As mentioned before, the gas tank and fenders appear to have a very different level of patina and aging to the paint. The seller says that the tank and fenders are original Indian equipment, but doesn’t say if they are original to THIS bike.

Again, here you can see the mix of old and new looking parts. If a new buyer is going to drive it as-is, you could age the fenders and other pieces to match the overall appearance. It may be less expensive to update the gas tank, seat and other items that stick out though. What would you do? Do you prefer a patina (original) style classic bike or a restored one?


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  1. dirtyharry

    I have ridden for 50 plus years. I can state this, is not a fun ride, at least to me. No electric start, suicide shift, foot clutch, the controls are not in the “normal” place. All the real bikers will say I am a. . . . . . I have ridden a few like this and it was a lot of work focusing on the controls. I will say my ‘old man’ seemed right at home, but he had a lot of seat time on Henderson’s & Harleys I thought it crazy (take your hands of the bars to shift?)

    I rode a new Honda with DCT and was still grabbing for the missing clutch lever and searching for a gear lever that isn’t in place.

    Like 9
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Not to mention the forward-roll throttle, mechanical drum brakes, laughable suspension and terrible lighting but it was a hot machine for its time, and would be a hoot to ride once the rider got in synch with the bike.

      Very different from the new electronic compensators we have today, with F.I./ABS/corner ABS/Traction Control/ etc. that allow the rider to compensate for some rider judgement errors.

      Like 6
    • ken tilly UK Member

      I had only ever ridden British bikes but after an hour or so on a Harley 750cc WLA I found everything came to hand, and foot, naturally and I loved every minute of it. It was a bit rough and ready so a few years later I bought a 1939, then a 1941, then a 1943, then a 1925 JE and finally a 1981 Low Rider, and they were all junk. Give me a British bike, with oil leaks, any time over a Harley.

      Like 2
      • Dave

        Take a test ride on a rubber mounted Sportster sometime. I’ve put 80,000 miles on my 2005 1200 Roadster and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

        Like 1
      • Dave Mazz

        UK Ken did state, “Give me a British bike, with oil leaks, any time over a Harley”.

        Did you ever ride a Japanese bike?? :-) :-)

        Like 3
      • Howard A Member

        @ Dave, I’ll 2nd that. My ex GF had a ’99, 1200 Custom Sporty, and it was an excellent bike. More reliable than my FXR was.

        Like 1
  2. Chris in Pineville

    just as with cars, restored units are commonplace and ho-hum but unrestored examples have charisma….
    go for the patina look.

    Like 4
  3. fred w

    Perfect bike for the guy who just wants something cool to display in the man cave, or a museum or bike themed restaurant or bar.

    Like 3
  4. local_sheriff

    I have never driven an Indian ,only a 4 years newer HD. Comparing such an antique bike to a newer one is comparing apples to oranges. You cannot own such a bike unless you have a real passion for old school tech. If you’re planning for trans-continental trips buy a modern bike .However for local backroad cruising these dinosaurs are fun vehicles – just keep in mind their properties are limited (as with any old vehicles)

    Like 11
  5. 50indian Member

    It does take a certain type of person to ride a bike this age or older. I’ve owned and ridden Indian motorcycles since 1989. I won’t ride in heavy traffic. My 1950 Chief rides like a barco lounger on rails, very predictable and comfortable. Leave a lot of room to stop although I can lock up both ends of the bike.
    The Motorcycle Cannonball and The Chase are two cross country races on motorcycles far older than this 1948 Indian

    Like 3
  6. Somer

    You shouldn’t be comparing these to new bikes. It was 40’s technology. There are people who still can put a fair amount of distance on them. I have one friend who rides every year from Detroit to Bike Week in March on one. Another friend crossed Russia on one. They are crude and easy to fix. I’ve never seen a forward rolling throttle on one. Most were fitted with a LH throttle .
    If you have ever seen some of the bikes people ride in the Cannonball coast to coast rally; this looks like a Cadillac!

    Like 3
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Somer, does the Cannonball ride you’re writing about occur around the first week of the Reno Air Raced (Sept. 11-15 this year)? If so I believe I’ve seen them in the area, traveling Highway 50 (“The Loneliest Highway In America” according to a now defunct magazine)! Not one appears to be newer than 1929, and all get stares of amazement from passing drivers and especially newer riders.
      Every machine has its intended engineered purpose for the time it was built- it’s up to the operator as to whether it meets their own expectations.

      Like 2
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        The Germans have a saying-“Der Weg ist das Ziel.” – loosely translated “the destination is the journey”..

        Like 4
  7. Gaspumpchas

    I hope this beauty finds a good home. Looks to me like a bunch of parts together to look like a complete Indian. No pistons? Most of the transmission parts are there? An expert would know for sure but not until you buy it and dissemble. Good luck to the new owner!

    Like 4
    • Dave Mazz

      For whomever buys this Chief, there’s some good news, complete power plants to include engine, 4 speed overdrive transmission, and clutch are available. The bad news is that they cost 20 grand.
      :-( : -(

      Like 1
  8. Howard A Member

    All good points, ( btw, I hope you know what points are) and you can’t compare this to a newer bike. Like a Model A compared to a Firebird. After the war, coming from fighter planes and such, full of P and Vinegar, this is what those brave men rode. It was the best they had, and sorted the men from the boys. Today? I just don’t know. I think it’s capable of modern road speeds, but if you are spending $10g’s, to actually ride this thing, like old trucks, you may be in for a big surprise.

    Like 4
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      LMSAO! Good play on words, Howard A.
      BTW You say fighter pilots rode these?!? I can tell you that in 1945 my dad rode a ‘36 from Springfield IL to Texas for his discharge paperwork-but he was a GLIDER pilot in a WACO CG4 (Ste. Mere Eglise 3 hours before the beachhead invasion, later Holland and then Bastogne)..
      Still and all, you’re correct on the folks of that era being a hardy bunch especially after having fought in 2 wars on all the world continents simultaneously then having to come home and afterwards trying to personally de-escalate.

      Like 4
    • Robert White

      Electronic Ignition retrofits are all the rage for vintage given that nobody can see the change.

      I put EI on my 71 BSA 650 Thunderbolt due to impossibly bad points ignition. Never looked back.


      Like 5
  9. Bob S

    I had my first motorcycle ride on one of these in 1956, and it was a thrill. It was my neighbourhood friends first bike, and when we attempted to put in on the stand, it fell over. That is lesson number one, those beasts were heavy.
    It was a great ride, and I have always wanted one, but I would rather buy a runner, than to attempt to hunt down the parts to get this one mobile.
    I agree with one of the posters above, that this looks like a parts bike that was assembled for a quick sale.

  10. ken tillyUK Member

    @Dave Mazz. Yep Dave, I have ridden many Jap bikes and still ride my ex USA Honda Rebel 450cc when the sun comes out but the only one that I had oil leaks from was the Honda 350cc four cylinder. I had 2 of them and they both leaked through the cylinder head gasket. I also have a 1933 Calthorpe Ivory 500cc that should be roadworthy in a couple of months time. The most amazing thing is that so far, I have had the engine running for quite a while and don’t see any oil leaks, yet!

    Like 2
    • local_sheriff

      Did you fill it with oil then…? 😁

      Like 1
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      ken tillyUK-you, as is one of our euphemisms, “made me look!” I’d never heard of a Cathorpe motorcycle before. What a great looking bike! What year is yours?
      RE: Honda 450 Rebel-found one of those in a trailer park for sale years ago and bought it for pennies on the dollar for my then GF, a long-legged girl who’d finally reached her limit (figuratively and literally) on her Honda 250 Rebel. It was a terrific bike until I had to find parts; had a problem with the chrome on the cams flaking which I’m told led to its discontinuation of sales stateside. Goes to show that ANY manufacturer can have designs flaws, the quality factor comes in as to how quickly the manufacturer addresses the fix and makes good on its mistakes. Case in point, there was a recall on certain Honda Gold Wings- seems they have/had Takata airbags..

  11. ken tilly UK Member

    Hi Nevada. It’s a 1933 single cylinder, twin port exhaust with fishtails. As for my 450cc Rebel. I bought it sight unseen from an insurance warehouse where it had been taken off the road as the owner had run under a truck which took off the front mudguard and pushed the headlight sideways. I bought a brand new old stock mudguard, centred the headlight and have been riding it ever since with no problems so far. The only thing I have done to it is to have a 32 tooth rear sprocket manufactured for it as at 50 mph I was always waiting for the piston to hit me in the a$s with the original 36 tooth. There is no rev counter but I can now cruise at 65 mph without the engine screaming blue murder.

    Like 2
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Saw a picture of the Calthorpe on the web-what a very cool bike! It’s easy to understand now why the hand shifting was easy for you to master..
      The sprocket trade out for the Rebel is a good idea, though we never had an issue with hers as we rode primarily on the mountain two lanes until she bought a Kawasaki Vulcan 500..
      Your licensing structure there makes for a higher awareness of motorcycles I think since almost everyone had to start with a bike-a fact brought to our attention when we rode Highway 1 in Canada (and were passed in traffic by a couple that we later discovered were from London traveling Canada on their Vespa 175’s!!!).
      Thanks for the response, ken tillyUK.

  12. TimM

    I’ve ridden a bunch of old bikes too!! The one thing I really hate about this era is definitely the brakes!! Drum brakes on big heavy bikes like this just don’t stop in the period of time a disc brake bike stops!! Foot clutching is a pain too when your not use to it!! The brakes are just something I feel needs to be updated to the modern standard due to the increase in traffic from then to now!!!

    Like 1
  13. snowy

    Hello to all you modern bike rider’s, i have a 1947 Indian chief & i rode it from the uk stoping off at camp sites for the overnight stay & on to the next till ariving at the international indian motocycle rally & when that was finished rode my indian none stop back to the uk in one day, how’s that for old skool ? snowy

    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Ride on, ride on-I’d say “Shaken AND stirred”!!! You’re definitely old skool, snowy-hope to hear you kept your bike shiny side up for as long as you wanted to ride, clear to the end of your life long journey.

      “The destination is the journey”

    • ken tillyUK Member

      @snowy. Where was the International Indian Motorcycle Rally held? Ireland? Isle of Man? France? Where?

      Like 1
  14. Jesse

    I see these bikes but how do I contact sellers?

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