1901 Indian F Head Single
Lot 214
Ex-Otis Chandler, one of the earliest Indians built,1901 Indian F Head Single 'Camel Back'
Sold for US$ 133,500 inc. premium
Lot Details
Ex-Otis Chandler, one of the earliest Indians built
1901 Indian F Head Single 'Camel Back'
It is an extremely rare moment when historically significant vehicles become available to the public. Harley-Davidson had unknowingly owned their very first commercially-made motorcycle for decades before research and restoration revealed its exciting history. Now one of the original prototype Indian motocycles offered for sale here.

The early history of Indian has been well documented. Retired bicycling champion George Hendee in 1889 began manufacturing bicycles under the Hendee Manufacturing Company name in Springfield, Massachusetts. Ten years later, Oscar Hedstrom developed a pacing motor bicycle for velodromes using his engineering skills to improve the DeDion engine and carburetor. His machine was a huge success and attracted Hendee who shared his vision of a commercially viable gasoline powered two wheeler. An agreement was formed in January of 1901 for Hedstrom to create an experimental machine.

The first Indian motocycle was not made in Springfield as many would believe, but however in a leased tool room in the Worchester Cycle Company located in Middletown, Connecticut. Oscar Hedstrom modeled his engine on the DeDion motor but vastly improved it for use in a new motor assisted bicycle. The new engine featured sophisticated inlet over exhaust valve arrangement with a demountable head. Hedstrom produced his own patterns for the engine cases and turned down his own cylinder on a lathe. Two significant assemblies on the motor contributed to its success, and they were the crank driven points block and Hedstrom's own carburetor. Both allowed the engine, rated at 1 ¾ horsepower, to operate smoothly and reliably.

Using one of Hendee's own safety bicycles for the chassis, the engine replaced the rear downtube of the bicycle to become a stress frame member. This not only stiffened the chassis but it also located the engine centrally for proper balance. Gas was carried in a hump shaped tank located above the rear fender and created the moniker "Camel Back" Indians used for all diamond framed Indians from this period. Oil was contained in a small tank forward of the gas tank. True to its bicycle heritage, the Indian rolled on wooden rim wheels. Indian deviated from most motorcycle manufacturers of the time by using chain for the final drive instead of leather belts. Chains were vastly superior as they were not affected by bad weather or oil spraying forth from a running engine, and chains did not stretch as did over worked leather belts. A unique feature was the ignition timing control, the primary speed control, using a right-hand twist grip. The motorcycle weighed a mere 98 pounds.

The first Indian prototype was completed on May 24, 1901 and shipped to Springfield to be demonstrated in front of investors on the famous Cross Street hill. Hedstrom easily conquered the 19° grade hill and was able to slow down in the middle and still climb the steep hill. This first machine was dismantled for evaluation and many of its parts used in the creation of two subsequent prototypes. One machine was shown by Hedstrom at various velodrome exhibitions throughout the northeast of the United States. The third prototype, offered here, was shipped to England for exhibit in the annual Stanley Bicycle Show in London. It was subsequently purchased by a Scotsman named McDermott who brought the Indian with him when he immigrated to the United States. The Indian was later obtained by Gordon Bennett in Oakland, California and had the motorcycle restored by Billy Ray Wilburn. Wilburn was later bequeathed the Indian by Bennett and who ultimately sold it to Otis Chandler. With the motorcycle showing its age, Chandler had famed restorer Steve Huntzinger perform a new concours restoration befitting the importance of this early Indian. The current vendor acquired the motorcycle from Chandler in 2006 and has displayed it in a private museum since then.

In the nearly 110 years, this 1901 Indian prototype has had only four owners since new. Its procurement will be one of the most important motorcycles sales in modern history. Offered on a bill of sale.

Saleroom notices

  • New information presented to us suggests that this well-known, ex-Otis Chandler machine may be fitted with a c. 1901/02 motor. Conclusive dating on these earliest machines is difficult due to lack of number stampings, however, while this motorcycle has been restored over the years, it is certainly one of the earliest and most significant American motorcycles in existence. It is sold strictly as viewed.
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