Vincent Indian (Vindian)

Somebody isn't telling the truth. Certainly, the authors of the huge "On Two Wheels" series weren't when they said Vincent had experimented with an Indian engine in a Vincent frame in 1951. Phil Vincent himself got it wrong at least twice when he claimed the Rapide engine fitted cleanly into the Indian Chief frame. Phil Irving, who actually performed the transplant, is guilty of deceit by omission - he knew what was going on but either didn't tell anyone or simply forgot. Indian and Vincent aren't two names you automatically put together. Harley and Indian, yes. HRD and Vincent, yes. Indian and Vincent? Where’s the link between the famous but tragic American manufacturer and arguably the best British bike builder of all time?

Some of what follows fits into the "what if..." school of motorcycle history. Basically, what happened was that Indian threw its development work in the '40s into small capacity twins and singles and neglected its big V-twins on the basis that there was no future in them. How's this quote from Roy Harper's 1975 book on the Vincent-HRD story: "Mr Rogers (president of the Indian Moto Cycle Company) who was a considerable 'go-getter' was convinced that the old style of American motor-cycle with big V-twin engines and heavy weight was doomed to play an ever decreasing role in the American motorcycle scene."

As Rod Stewart once said, "look how wrong you can be". Rather than develop a new V-twin to replace the ageing, side-valve engine in the Indian Chief, Rogers expressed an interest in the possibility of fitting the then (and now) highly acclaimed, 61 cubic inch Vincent Rapide engine in the existing frame. This would give him a competitor for the more advance Harley-Davidsons and allow the Chief to continue as the status leader of the company's model line-up. It would also cost a fraction of the price of developing a new engine from scratch. Rogers shipped a 1948 Chief (without engine) to the Vincent works in Stevenage (UK) and the legendary Phil Irving was put on the case.

It was Phil Vincent's view that by lowering the standard Rapide top gear below its existing 3.5:1 and increasing the compression ratio to around 8:1, the Rapide engine would be able to shift the enormous weight of the standard Chief with considerably more speed than it was accustomed to. The stock Indian V-Twin was good for around 85 mph (a speed which decreased as the engine heated up) and weighed around 580lbs. Vincent predicted a weight for the "Vindian" of around 500lbs and a top speed of around 110 mph. If the name Phil Irving isn't familiar to you, it should be. Along with the Vincent V-twin engine, Irving was responsible for hundreds of other outstanding engineering feats, including the Repco V8 engine with which Jack Brabham won his F1 world championships. Heavy Duty's recently acquired columnist, the Wizard speaks of an Irving-designed, crankless engine which pumped gas to the eastern suburbs of Sydney and ran continuously for over 60 years. As you might expect, Irving was a realist and didn't share Phil Vincent's optimism. He described riding the standard Chief as "making one feel rather like a yachtsman at the helm of the Queen Elizabeth".

Another Vindian

Concerns about plonking a performance engine in the stock frame would have included misgivings about aerodynamics, too. The fender valences on the standard bike caught wind and created stability problems at low speeds. How would they manage 180 kmh? The Irving-built Vindian, complete with giant tyres and mudguards, was tested successfully at over 170 kmh before it was sent to Indian's Springfield plant in the US. At Indian's request, Vincent also played with an Indianised version of the standard Black Shadow, but that bike stayed at Stevenage and eventually found its way to Australia when Phil Irving finally came back to live here. According to Phil Vincent, by using "great care", the Rapide engine could be slipped into the Chief frame without fouling either frame or tank. Having actually tried to do it, Phil Irving must have known this wasn't correct. Either he didn't tell Vincent or Vincent chose to ignore it in the interests of selling large numbers of Rapide engines in the US.

Nobody told Peter Arundel, either, which is why he was so surprised over 40 years later when he attempted to create another Vindian. Peter is a Melbourne-based Indian collector. He found the appropriate '48 Chief frame relatively easily, but it took three years to acquire a Rapide engine. With substantial assistance from ex-BMW engineer, Lindsay Uquhart , Peter attempted the marriage, only to make some interesting discoveries. The engine doesn't fit. Peter had to raise the frame bar running beneath the tank by four inches, necessitating gusset reinforcing around the steering head area. Irving had removed the frame rear down tube, apparently from necessity, but Peter found this wasn't necessary and used it for rear engine mounting plates. Perhaps more surprising was the need to create a substantial indent in the underside of the petrol tank to accommodate the left-hand carburettor. The tank also had to be modified to allow for the right-hand rocker box. These kinds of modifications would have provided a powerful disincentive to Indian which, at the time, obviously felt its production lines could have been put to better use. As it was, even believing the Vincent engine to be a trouble-free fit, Indian didn't proceed with the program. The reasons were business, rather than engineering-based, but it was a near-sighted decision, nonetheless. No-one now knows what happened to the original Vindian.

Phil Irving, who Peter had the opportunity to liaise with through their common membership of the Vintage Motorcycle Club of Victoria, died in 1992, some years before Peter completed his Vindian. Phil would have been interested in the result, and the technical problems Peter encountered may have jogged Phil's memory, perhaps providing answers to some fascinating questions. As with the original, Peter's bike features the Indian rocker-lever gear change (one up, three down) and minute attention to other details, including the exact blue colour of the Irving prototype. The Arundel Vindian weighs in at 565lbs, raising more questions about the Irving Vindian. How could it be so much lighter, or was it another Phil Vincent-inspired guestimation to inspire the Americans? Fitted with Vincent Mk II cams, the Arundel Vindian should be good for around 190 kmh. Almost stock Rapides have been clocked at up to 240 kmh. Peter has seen 168 kmh on his and felt plenty more was available.

Now back to the "what if..." scenario. What if Indian had shared Harley-Davidson's faith in the future of big, American V-twins? What if Indian had progressed and refined the Vindian theme? What if you could walk into a showroom in 1997 and choose from a range of Indians, including full-dress tourers and lean, hungry sportsters? What if bike shows and drag meets were bare-knuckle punch-ups between two makes, instead of simply refined and revised versions of the Harley theme? American capitalists are the first to tell you that competition improves the breed. What if the bike in your garage right now wasn't a Softail, but a 1300cc, fuel-injected Vindian capable of showing a rear-tyre view to just about anything else on the road? Whatever, there's one Indian in Australia currently capable of making new Harley owners vomit inside their full-face helmets. If you see a late '40s Chief on the road with an engine which seems to fit a little too snugly, make sure you treat it with the respect it deserves!

Article courtesy of “Heavy Duty” magazine.

Phil Irving on the "Vindian"

One generally notable omission when enthusiasts talk of historic Indian motorcycles is the Light Twin which is a radical departure from the big V-twins which had already established a good reputation by the time that the Light Twin came out in 1917.

Phil Vincent

It had a 250cc side-valve flat-twin engine with the cylinders lying for-and aft, magneto ignition and an outside flywheel.

According to the descriptive brochure, the cylinders were provided with generous cooling fins, but as these were at right-angles to the air-flow and the rear cylinder was badly shrouded, it is doubtful if the claimed output of the full brake horse power could have been sustained for any appreciable shock less jolt less, noiseless, jerking riding comfort but in view of the rigid forks this statement was probably just a wee bit exaggerated and in any case these attributes were not sufficient.

To keep the model in production for long. Wal Maynard of the Vintage MCC of Victoria has restored one to what he trusts is its pristine vigor.

The 350cc single-cylinder Indian Prince was brought out in 1925 as a counterblast to the small English machines, which were beginning to gain a foothold in the American market. It was a more successful model than the Light Twin and was evidently the outcome of a close study of several imported machines. It has a rigid frame and girder forks with a central spring and except for the color scheme, bore a strong resemblance to the Raleigh. The engine had a detachable cylinder head and one of the gems in the publicity material which caused some amusement was the statement that the head could be removed and replaced 72 times without renewing the gasket. Nobody seemed to know why such a monumental number of detachments would ever be required but some very prospective customers seemed to be impressed. The Prince was not very fast, but it was reliable and the Australian rider Vic Barclay broke a couple of intercapital records on one.

The 216cc single and 433 parallel twin which were introduced after the was were reputedly designed for the Indian factory by two Dutchmen named Stockvis. They had been virtually hounded out of their business as DKW distributors in Holland by the Nazi regime on account of their Jewish blood. Being also Velocette agents they came over to Birmingham with a 125 DKW to see if Velocette could produce a similar model. I was at Velocette at the time and after the machine was virtually dismantled, we concluded that we had no machine tools suitable for the job. They then went to Tony Wilson-Jones of Royal Enfield, who agreed to the project and production started in time to supply a large number to the air-borne troops for use against the German army. Rather a nice twist of fate.

Phil Irving on the Vindian

Later on the Stockvis brothers went to the States and became involved in the new Indians which were a costly failure partly because of their low performance and the fact that they were too highly built to be reliable. And also partly because to buyers loyal to the name-plate, an Indian just had to look like an Indian, which at the period meant a cumbersome but impressive V twin. This venture was said to have cost several million dollars for tooling-up and the factory was disinclined to repeat the process with another design despite the falling sales of the 74 cubic inch Chief, which was then the factory’s only answer to the Harley Davidson. The Vincent was also beginning to penetrate the market following its capture of the American speed record.

In 1948 when P.C. Vincent was conducting a sales campaign in North America, he met a very suave gentleman who happened to be the head man in the Indian Company which was by then in very low water. An English businessman named Brockhouse, who owned a number of engineering companies, was anxious to obtain a controlling interest in Indian, and the upshot of discussions by the three was that if the Vincent unit could be fitted in the Chief frame without much alteration, the result would be a very saleable machine with financial benefit to all concerned..

On receipt of drawings in England, I made a quick check which confirmed the feasibility of the scheme and the result was that the Indian company would contract to buy 100 power units and 50 Vincents with American electrical equipment per week, provided Brockhouse could get a permit form the British Government to export the funds necessary to buy a controlling interest in Indian. This was very probable in view of the value of the orders mentioned. There would also need to be some finance injected into the Vincent Company to cover the greatly increased purchases of the material but this was dismissed as a mere matter of a signature on a cheque.

Everything worked pretty quickly. A Chief was shot over to Stevenage and as a preliminary it was road tested. Its 580 pound weight seemed enormous compared to the 450 pound Rapide and while it could attain 88 m.p.h. for a short distance, the sustained maximum was only about 80.
After removing the engine and sawing off some unwanted frame parts, the Vincent unit fitted in like a kernel in a nut. Engine plates were used instead of the standard cylinder head brackets and the existing foot boards and break pedal were retained but some cross-over linkage had to be devised in order to use the near side heel-and-toe clutch pedal as a gear change pedal.
The dynamo remained in the original position under the saddle (sorry buddy-seat), and was belt-driven from a short shaft and pulley in the space normally occupied by our Miller generator. The accompanying photo shows how snugly the unit fitted in and also the way in which separate exhaust pipes were used in order to retain existing silencers.

Phil Irving in later years

The conversion job took only a couple of weeks and although the finished article was not much lighter than the original, the performance was vastly improved. Top speed went to 104 and it was as fast as it used to be in top. Changing gear by foot instead of by hand improved acceleration. Fuel consumption, although not as good as with the Rapide, improved from about 35 m.p.g. to more like 50.
A Rapide was fitted with American electrics and the rear brake and gear pedals changed over and the two machines were presented to the Board of Trade. Brockhouse received permission to export funds required to buy the Indian Co. as the proposed arrangement would have brought several million dollars per year back into England.

To cope with the increased output, orders for castings, forgings and accessories, had been doubled and material was beginning to come in. So were the bills, but the money so glibly promised, failed to materialize on the flimsy and quite untrue grounds that the plant and stock did not provide sufficient asset backing. Vincent had thus been wangled into an intolerable position with the possibility of an enforced liquidation and sale of the factory to the highest bidder, and there are no prizes guessing just who that would have been. However, this situation was averted by action of the official receiver after which the whole scheme fell to the ground. This was a great pity because if it had come off, there is little doubt that the Indian would have remained on the market and the Vincent factory also would have benefited financially. As it was, the Indian Co. was forced to sell an insignificant 250cc model to keep going at all and afterward handled Royal Enfield bearing the Indian transfer. Finally the company was acquired by Associated Motor Cycles in 1953 and the history of the famous company founded by George Hendee, came to an end.

Vindian by Bill Gordon

What might have been! What could have been! What should have been! These statements describe an experimental project by the Indian Motorcycle Company during 1949.The project was proposed in an effort to generate much-needed cash, but the project failed, and as they say, the rest is history.

There’s no way to prove what the final outcome of this project might have been, because it never got beyond the prototype stage. But if it had been successful, it’s quite possible the Indian Motocycle Company would have celebrated its One Hundredth Birthday in 2001, and it would still be in business competing with Harley Davidson!

So, what was this project, and what did the Indian Motocycle Company hope to accomplish? The purpose of the project was to update the Indian Chief with a new unitized overhead valve engine/transmission! It was hoped that the updated Chief would generate enough profits to offset the revenue lost when the planned introduction date for the new British-style Indian machines was delayed. The six month delay was necessary, in order to conduct a cost analysis study that would determine the actual manufacturing costs of the new models, as well as to establish their retail pricing.

The outdated Chief was to receive an all-new power train that featured an overhead valve engine of unit construction, including a four speed transmission that would be operated by footshift and hand clutch. If this project had been successful, Indian would have instantly matched, or possibly exceeded, the specifications and performance of the 1950 overhead valve Panheads produced by Harley Davidson.

But Indian was in very poor financial condition in 1949, and could not afford the huge expense of designing and producing a new power train for the Chief. There was a solution to the problem, though, and it would come from a very well-known British motorcycle manufacturer, namely Vincent.

In 1949, P.C. Vincent was touring the United States, visiting Vincent motorcycle distributors in America. When Ralph Rogers, President of Indian Motocycle Company, learned of the visit, he arranged for a meeting in Springfield, in order to determine what they might beable to do for each other.

As it turned out, there was much they could do for each other. They conceived the brilliant idea of simply installing a Vincent Rapide unitized engine into an Indian Chief chassis. If the transplant was successful, Vincent would profit from the sales of engines to Indian, and Indian would avoid the huge cost of developing a new engine.

Basically, there were four “players” involved in the Vindian project, which was the name used to describe the hybrid Vincent/Indian. Ralph Rogers (the owner of Indian in 1949), P.C. Vincent (the owner of Vincent-HRD, Stevenage, England), Phil Irving (Chief Engineer at Vincent), and John Brockhouse (Chairman of J. Brockhouse & Company Ltd. of Birmingham, England).

Vincent and Irving were eager for the project to be successful, but they were not the decision makers. The decision makers would be Rogers and Brockhouse! Both of them, however, had vested interests in other projects. Neither of them would approve the Vindian project unless it was profitable and would benefit their vested interests.

What P.C. Vincent could do for Indian was considerable, because he was already producing aworld-class motorcycle that was very fast. A stock 1948 Black Shadow could cruise all day at 100 mph, even reaching 125 mph if needed, and a race version of the Black Shadow would set a world land speed record in 1950, at just over 150 mph. The 1,000 cc Vincent engine was the perfect engine for upgrading the Indian Chief.

The Vincent Black Shadow was a world-class machine, but it was also relatively expensive. Mr. Vincent was quite eager to participate in this project, because Vincent sales in America had been somewhat disappointing, and this created a financial problem that was threatening his continued existence as a manufacturer. That threat would be eliminated if hecould sell a large number of engines to Indian.

The exact date of the agreement between Rogers and Vincent is unknown, but a deal was struck, and a complete 1949 Chief was shipped to Stevenage, England. The 1949 Chief arrived in England in August of 1949, and promptly turned over to Phil Irving for the installation of a Vincent drive-train in the Chief frame.

Mr. Irving was the “Chief (a very appropriate title for this particular project) Engineer” for Vincent-HRD, and he was well qualified for this unusual project. He was tremendously talented, and could create a design in his head, draw it up, and then build the part himself. As an engineer, Phil Irving had already enjoyed great success in the design of race car engines, motorcycle engines, and Vincent motorcycles. He was also highly involved in designing the Rapide engine! Not only was he immanently qualified for the job….he got the job done!

Amazingly, the Vindian was ready for testing within a month, but only after untold hours of cutting, welding, and fitting of custom made parts. Most of the seat down-tube, which housedt he seat suspension springs, was removed to provide space for the Rapide engine, so the“Chumee” seat on the prototype was “sprung” with just the passenger overload springs. The Indian generator was retained in its normal mounting position, and coupled to the Rapide engine.

The battery was located in its normal position, low in the frame and just in front of the rear fender. The right-side gear change mechanism on the Rapide engine was taken across to the leftside, where it was then connected to the standard heel-and-toe pedal that normally operated the foot clutch on a Chief. Maybe not the best of all possible solutions, but certainly adequate for the first prototype.

The Vindian featured dual exhaust pipes and mufflers, which of course required the custom fabrication of an all-new exhaust system. The front cylinder exhaust pipe passed through the downtubes on the way back to the left muffler, and the rear cylinder exhaust pipe had to be reconfigured in order to clear the brake pedal on its way back to the right muffler.

Photos of the Vindian prototype machine reveals an Indian Chief that would have given Harley-Davidson a run for their money! The Chief frame looked as if it was designed for the Vincent engine, and the finished product appeared to be an American motorcycle, from wheel to wheel. It was a perfect blend of British/American features and styling that produced a gorgeous touring machine! It was a perfect for American riders on American highways. Road tests, both in England and the United States, proved the Vindian to be an excellent combination of chassis and engine that was responsive and nimble for such a large machine.

Total weight of the machine had been pared down to approximately 500 pounds, and the Vincent Rapide engine had sufficient power to provide an honest 104 mph top speed. This was abeautiful machine with outstanding performance, exactly the type of machine preferred by most American riders in 1949, and ever since! So the question has to be asked, why did Indian not produce the Vindian? Read on for the answer.

Ralph Rogers was convinced that lightweight British-style motorcycles were the wave ofthe future, and he was dedicated to that belief, so the Vindian project was never conceived in an effort to save the venerable Chief. It was merely an effort to raise operating cash during the six month delay of initial production of the Indian lightweight models.

Furthermore, Rogers was totally committed to the exclusive production of British-style lightweight Indian motorcycles! The future of the Indian Motocycle Company did not include American-style heavyweight machines, and as a result, Indian would no longer be competing with Harley-Davidson!

Their new competition was the entire British motorcycle industry, and that decision would soon become disaster for Indian. In September of 1949, at about the same time Phil Irving was building the Vindian prototype, the government of Great Britian devalued their currency. Their Pound Sterling was reduced in dollar value from $4.05 to $2.80, which created an instant 30% reduction in the American retail price of British motorcycles. This was strike one against the Vindian project.

Nineteen forty nine was a disastrous year for Indian. The year was filled with many serious problems, and it was capped with the resignation of CEO Ralph Rogers. Some of the problems included; Production of the new Indian models was delayed for six months (huge loss of revenue). The manufacturing costs were more than twice the original estimated costs (Indian retail prices were increased). Devaluation of British currency (eliminated Indian’s competitive price edge). These problems were strike two against the Vindian project!

Ralph Rogers controlled Indian from late Summer of 1945 through most of 1949, and he spent much of his personal fortune in an effort to save the company. John Brockhouse, who controlled world-wide sales for Norton, Royal Enfield and AJS, assumed control of the Indian Motocycle Company.

John Brockhouse acquired Indian for just one reason…. he needed a sales outlet that would allow him to sell his British machines in America. He had absolutely no interest in saving the Chief, or the lightweight Indian models. In fact, he wanted nothing to do with manufacturing Indian motorcycles. This was strike three against the Vindian project, as well as the Indian Motorcycle Company itself.

Ralph Rogers sincerely believed that the wave of the future was lightweight motorcycles, be we are now living in the future he envisioned, and time has proven him to be wrong. Even if the Vindian had only succeeded in delaying the eventual demise of Indian for a few years, the world would have been offered an exciting new motorcycle during that time. And who knows, with the Vindian, and just a little bit of luck, the Indian Motocycle Company might still be one of Harley’s worst nightmares!