With their purchase of Ace Motorcycles in 1927 Indian Motocycle acquired the William Henderson designed Ace in-line F head four cylinder motorcycle engine and Indian were not slow to put their own name on it and create the Indian four cylinder motorcycle in 1928. Indian’s four cylinder motorcycle was pretty much a badge engineered Ace which with some styling changes was called the Indian Model 401. In 1929 Indian began doing some improvements on it particularly in upgrading the engine’s main bearings from three to five and fitting of an Indian-style twin down-tube frame with leaf spring front forks, the model being designated the Indian Model 402.
The Indian four cylinder motorcycle perhaps more than any other came to symbolize the Indian name. Certainly as a child I grew up believing that Harley-Davidson motorcycles had V twin engines and that Indian had the straight four. Those were the versions of each that I had encountered. So when Jerry Hatfield, author of “Illustrated Indian Motorcycle Buyer’s Guide” states “The Four is the greatest motorcycle showpiece, the Duesenberg of motorcycling.” that is very much the image of the Indian that I grew up with.
In mid 1935 Indian’s engineers decided that the inlet over exhaust F head design was not as efficient as it could be so they tried reversing the order producing an exhaust over inlet version of the four cylinder engine. This indeed produced more power and was more efficient from an engineering point of view, but the heat from the exhaust was very high and even with a heat shield the exhaust created a significantly uncomfortable situation for the rider. Sales suffered so Indian’s engineers tried to sweeten riders back to the bike with a twin carburettor version for the 1937 model year. The Indian was a very expensive motorcycle back in the thirties and buyers were no more inclined to shell out their hard earned shekels on a twin carburettor motorcycle that fried their inner leg than they were to open their wallets for a single carburettor model that did the same thing. So in 1938 Indian went back to the tried and proven inlet over exhaust version and sales improved.
The two Indian four cylinder motorcycles in our photographs are representatives of the two styles of Indian engine. The red motorcycle has the “upside down” exhaust over inlet engine whilst the gray bike has the preferred inlet over exhaust engine.
These two motorcycles formed part of the Robert White Collection and that whole collection is to be auctioned by Bonhams on 19th September 2016 at New Bond Street, London, Britain.
You will find the sale page for the gray 1940 Indian 440 four cylinder motorcycle if you click here.
You will find the sale page for the red Indian with the “upside down” exhaust over inlet Indian four cylinder motorcycle if you click here.
Also in this sale are examples of the early Henderson and Ace motorcycles
The Robert White Collection sale provides an opportunity to acquire examples of the development of the classic Indian four cylinder motorcycles from their origin to their final form.
(All pictures courtesy Bonhams).
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.