Preserved Icon: 1948 Indian Chief

The 1948 Indian Chief motorcycle is an icon among vintage machinery, synonymous with the vast empire of American-made bikes that existed following WWII. The Indian factory was located in Springfield, Mass., and with even Harley-Davidson struggling to stay afloat these days, it seems like that era isn’t coming back. That’s partially what makes this Indian Chief here on eBay so special: it’s a reminder of what this country could build with its own bare hands.

Of course, for Indian at the time, the company may have not felt so proud. Harley-Davidson introduced the Panhead at about the time Indian’s solitary offering was the Chief, which relied on an antiquated flathead engine design. Those of us with a taste for nostalgia may find the flathead more appealing, but it didn’t help sales: only around 3,000 Chiefs were built in 1948, a steep decline from the year before.

In the case of this engine, the seller claims it “…has good compression, clutch seems to be working,” but he has not attempted to start it. The engine cosmetics look better than expected, but the seller claims the wiring is tired. This Indian entered into many years of long-term storage after its owner died, who did not have the chance to revive this once-great motorcycle. At the moment, bidding is over $16,000.

Personally, I love the huge fenders and the little details like that beautiful fender-mouted light. A fun anecdote about the Indian is that it has three spigots on the gas tank: one standard gas tank, one smaller and a third opening for engine oil. As the story goes on, bootleggers during Prohibition would use one of the two fuel tanks and save the “extra” one for running shine! Practical and efficient, these bikes.

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  1. Howard A

    I know I’ve pooh-poohed these older bikes in the past, I think this one is really cool. The tank shift and foot clutch would take some getting used to, but at least has some suspension, and a proven unit. Anything that made it through the war, had to be good.
    Again, it’s already sold at $17,300 something, which is the part I have trouble with. You’ll end up sticking another $%g’ into this and what do you have? Sorry, I can think of a dozen other uses for that $25g’s than something one will rarely use.
    And since the author brought it up, say goodbye to Harley. Coming from Milwaukee, Harley news always interests me, and I read Harley is shutting down it’s Kansas City plant, with 800 workers losing their jobs. While I feel sorry for them, it’s pretty dumb to put any kind of future in Harley. There’s already a glut of new Harley’s out there.

    • Mountainwoodie

      Howard…Howard…Howard…….blasphemy!. The ’47 and ’48 Indian Chief are the sine non quon of postwar cool! Ever since I was in high school and had a teacher with a shed full of Indians I have wanted one. I admit that like everything the price of these has become an issue of better uses for a lot of money..versus the reality of riding a ’47-’48 Indian.

      On the other hand you never know. While this bike might not be the one, there’s one out there.

      • Howard A

        Hi MW, what part was blasphemy? I think it’s cool too, just not 2 years worth of Social Security payments, cool. My Latin is not too good, and I had to look that up. Apparently, it ( sine qua non, you were close) means , “indispensable, or couldn’t do without”,,,and at $25g’s, I think I could do without this bike.

      • Derek

        Tank shift and foot clutch, y’say? Don’t forget to add that the throttle’s on the left and that the right twistgrip’s ignition advance/retard.

  2. Lee Hartman

    My Dad had a ’48 Chief in 1950 when he was in the Navy. He was riding in the mountains in California, slid off the road and into a creek. Climbed back onto the road and hitchhiked home. Never went back after the bike.

  3. geomechs geomechs Member

    Right hand shift, left hand throttle. Indian was different in that respect (my H-D Servicar was also configured that way). There were a few of them languishing out west until about 30 years ago. There was a Roadmaster that had a hole in the crankcase in a barn on a farm out toward the Sweetgrass Hills. The owner (who lived about 10 miles away) refused to do anything with it, especially sell it. One day his 12 year old son decided to drag the old bike out and do something about it. Alas, when he opened the door, everything was there except the bike. Another one, not far away from where I was raised, sat out in the elements beside the shop. The engine was under a bench inside. Again, the owner refused to sell. He passed away and there was a farm auction where everything he had was for sale. But the bike wasn’t in the mix. None of the kids ended up with it and strangely enough, no one’s talking about what happened to it….

    • Brandon Seward

      I have a motor for a 48 servicar anyone want to buy it

      • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

        Please visit the following link for more information about how to list your car on the site: Thanks!

  4. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Curios about the bootlegger story, I would think it would be better to lash on some saddle bags and then ride like the wind.

    • Howard A

      I agree, I bet that other tank was more for “personal stash”.

      • Metoo

        Remember how in Easy Rider they sold a bunch of drugs at the beginning, rolled up the cash, put it in clear plastic tubing, plugged the ends and put them in their has tanks? Smart.

      • leiniedude leiniedude Member

        When I purchased my 71 Chopped FX in 1973 it was from a heavy hitter dealer. All my friends said that there was a bunch of dope hidden in the frame. LOL. I am sure all my friends had seen the movie, me too. Anyway, redid it and found nothing. The good thing is after all these years I still have her. With Gods blessing I will be above ground long enough to get her back on the road. Funny, as time marches on you move up to better rides. She is a kicker and when she fires up I am the happiest guy on the planet. Thanks so much to all of you that have served !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Adam Wright

    That’s a lot of cool for the end price.

  6. steve

    Dad had and rode only Indians. Got rid of the tail end of all of it when I was in college..Boy..I wish I had one now….but..the prices!
    Was also told that the Gravely tractor engine (pre Kohler) used many of the Indian scout parts. Piston, head, cylinder etc. Looking at photos, it seems to be the case?

    • Donald R. Hufham

      Ah ,did not realize that was and indian motor. Have a gravely walk behind 30′ bush hog with sulky has this engine on it. and is referenced as Kohler in the owners,parts and service manuals. has a diamond shape head carb on one side ,exhaust the other. Split case Two piece flywheel, Mag ignition. She is strong , if you can get it under to that monster blade it will leave mulch.
      Cool Thanks for That Info.

    • Donald R. Hufham

      Will send some pic’s of the ole girl.

  7. Ike Onick

    I worked with a machinist who used a ’48 Indian for his daily transportation. Weather permitting, of course.

    • Metoo

      I swear, true story. When I lived in Fairbanks AK me and a few co-workers always rode our bikes to work. The rule was the season was officially over when the first guy not a ice patch and laid it down. Usually in October.

  8. roblack

    Any of you guys in love with the old Indians should try out the new Polaris Indian’s! I test rode a new Chieftan and was very impressed,and I’m a Harley guy. I even thought about a trade until they told me what they would give me for my 2012 Heritage Softail,then I decided I still like her just fine. But the new Indians are really nice handling motorcycles with a good motor. Just not sold on the “fake” flathead fins.

  9. Dick

    Left hand throttle allowed you to use the right hand on the brake lever to hold the bike when stopped on a hill. You didn’t have use the brake pedal. Picture starting to move by working the foot clutch while the other foot is off the ground on the brake pedal! Of course you could rest the rear tire on the bumper of the car behind you

  10. Johnmloghry Member

    A cousin had one back in the early 60’s. He rode all over Shasta County. He called the clutch set up a suicide clutch.

  11. bruce

    I’ve had 2. A 1947, And a 1948. left hand throttle, which could be changed to either side also allowed the police to use their firearm, if necessary, while riding.
    hand shift, foot clutch was very easy to master. Yes Polaris makes a new bike called an “Indian”, but the real Indians have come and gone. They had style, image, and stature as they rolled down the highway. I sometimes miss them, but not the ball lock kicker on the 48. If you had one, you’ll know what i mean.

  12. John b

    Prohibition ended in ‘33- no need to hide the booze in ‘48- lol


      Prohibition did not end the practice of bootlegging. Bootlegging continued on because they were making illegal alcohol and not paying the taxes on that alcohol.

  13. Doug Bohm

    Funny how many people call a hand shift, rocker clutch a “suicide clutch”. Wrong. A suicide clutch is similar to a car clutch with a jockey shift arm. So if your foot slides off the clutch, as in a car, it engages. And you end up in the middle of the intersection pancaked out.

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