by Tim Leary
Bob, as he is affectionately known, sparked to life in 1946 in Springfield, MA. Belying his current youthful, hot-rod appearance, Bob came dressed to the nines as 74 cubic inch (1200cc), 40hp Indian Chief with full-skirted fenders, a rear suspension, and an overall fit-and-finish that surpassed all other bikes on the market. Being just the 252nd Chief off of the assembly line after WWII, he is quite rare. Especially considering that his engine and frame numbers still match.
Making Bob even more rare is the fact that his current riding partner, Ivar of Minneapolis, has painstakingly restored Bob’s youthful appearance to be very “period-correct” &endash; it is extremely close to what a bobbed Indian Chief would have looked like in the early ’50s.
But this was not always the case. Bob’s previous owner made some modifications in an attempt to help Bob keep up both mechanically and aesthetically with the younger bikes in the late ’60s. With a larger carb, a Yamaha front end and the ultra-cool chocolate brown King & Queen seat propped against a wrought iron sissy bar, Bob had morphed into that aging barfly bachelor we’ve all gawked at with the outdated shirt unbuttoned too far, the big gold medallion and the really bad rug. Bob was struggling through a midlife crisis and yearned to regain his youth.
To help Bob in his struggle, Ivar took him in in 1997. He then disassembled Bob to begin replacing non-Indian and worn parts. Now, after five years of scrounging for 50 year old parts at antique bike swap meets, and about 5,000 miles of riding Bob around the Midwest in various stages of completion, Ivar has Bob re-Indianized. Even the rear fender is original Chief having once been fully skirted (no sacrilege was committed &endash; the fenders were chopped long before Ivar or Bob received them). The only misfits are the fishtail muffler, a cut up H-D “K” model front fender, and the 1964 Opel-Bosch 12 volt generator/coil/regulator (selected for its nearly identical size and appearance to the original 6 volt components) accompanied by a 12 volt battery hiding beneath a replica-battery cover. Ivar also made a few internal oiling mods to keep Bob’s innerds greased better, lowering maintenance. Bob is now a two-kick bike: one to prime and one to start.
After reassembling Bob, Ivar finished him off with a very period-correct paint job on the frame and sheet metal; not the glossy clearcoat finishes of today that we often see on over-restored bikes, but just a soft shine. Even Bob’s yellow and black color scheme was based on a small part of his past life: it was the color of an enormous, well-baked, yellow jacket wasp that was found wedged deep in the cooling fins under the gas tank.
The simplicity of design is one of the most attractive elements of Bob’s appearance. Everything is right out there in the open from the generator to the distributor to the carb jet adjustment knobs. And there’s nothing coming out of today’s factories that’s as cool as seeing that old generator belt spinning as Bob chuffs on down the road. “It’s impossible to ride this bike without a smile,” enthuses Bob’s Pilot.
As great as it is to just admire Bob, Ivar didn’t acquire him just to keep him tucked away. He takes Bob everywhere &endash; you’ll find them on putts in the city, long weekenders, in Sturgis and beyond. The old Indian has replaced Ivar’s 94′ ST1100 as his daily ride. “I don’t even know where the keys are for the ST,” he laughs.
Obviously an old bike requires more maintenance than today’s newfangled contraptions, but “winters are long in Minnesota so there’s time for all of that f-in’ around,” says Ivar. Two top end jobs and a main bearing are a small price to pay for that much soul. Besides, a wise old sage once told Ivar, “Motorcycles are supposed to make your hands smell bad.”