1949 Indian Silver Arrow
Have you ever wondered what the end of the line looks like?
Well, this is it.
The name on the tank of this 1949 motorcycle is Indian. But below that, in faded letters, it says “Silver Arrow.” That’s only appropriate, since this is one of the weapons the once-proud Indian Motocycle Co. used to shoot itself shortly after World War II.
Decades before, Indian was the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. It developed a reputation for innovative and elegant V-twins and inline fours. But several bad business decisions left the company strapped for cash.
Following World War II, Indian was sure the world was poised for a motorcycling boom. And the next big thing seemed to be lightweight machines, like those being built by Triumph and BSA. So Indian abandoned its successful V-twin Scouts and staked its future on a new line of modular motors-a single, a vertical twin and an inline four, all sharing internal parts.
The Arrow was the base of that line, powered by a single-cylinder 218cc overhead-valve engine, while the new Scout was built around a 436cc twin.
The performance of the new Indians may have been appropriate for all those hoped-for new motorcyclists, but the Arrow and Scout hardly satisfied Indian’s loyal following brought up on 750cc-class performance.
In addition, the bikes cost more to build than expected, especially with many of them experiencing warranty problems. It was even rumored that Indian lost money on every machine sold.
In the end, Indian had to give up plans to build the new four, and borrow even more heavily just to sustain its lineup, all the while waiting for the expected sales boom that would save it.
Eventually, that boom did arrive, and it swelled into the motorcycle flood of the ’60s. But by then, Indian had already succumbed to its long-standing financial problems and gone out of business.
While this bike marked the end of the line for the company, though, it was just the beginning for its owner, Pete Bollenbach of Mountain, Wisconsin.
“My dad bought that Arrow new in 1949,” Pete recalls, “and it’s the bike I learned to ride on.”
Bollenbach sold the Indian to buy a Yamaha in the ’60s, but he never lost track of it. A few years ago, he bought it back.
Eventually, it will be part of Bollenbach’s legacy to a bigger family. He’s stipulated that this Arrow be donated to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum when he dies.
“Someday, I want my grandchildren to know there was an Indian,” he says, “and I’d like them to be able to see this bike.”