1912 Indian Eight-Valve Racer
So here you sit in the 21st century, feeling oh-so-smug about modern technology. You’ve got your four-cylinder engine. You’ve got your liquid cooling. You’ve got your four-valve heads.
Aren’t you cool?
Except that it’s all been done before—long before you were even born.
Four-cylinder motorcycles? A Belgian company by the name of FN was doing that in 1905, and with shaft drive to boot. Liquid cooling? The Scott motorcycle had that down—on a two-stroke engine, no less—in 1908.
And four-valve heads? Take a look at this machine, an authentic re-creation of the factory racers the Indian Motocycle Company was producing in 1912.
Based on the Indian twin-cylinder engine introduced in 1907, the eight-valve (four for each of the two cylinders) was created strictly for competition purposes. The few that were made were reserved for the stars of the factory’s Class A racing program and for qualified customers.
These machines were used mostly in board-track racing, in which riders chased around steeply banked ovals built from wood planks. At speeds of 90 mph or more. On skinny 2 1/2-inch tires. With no brakes.
“It was real daredevil stuff,” says John Parham of Anamosa, Iowa, the owner of this machine, currently on display in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio.
Parham notes that the controls were rudimentary at best. The rider spun the pedals or got a bump-start to light the engine. Then he had only three things to operate: the right handgrip, which functioned as a standard throttle; the left handgrip, which worked a spark advance and a compression release; and a kill switch.
“Often,” says Parham, “they’d leave the throttle wide open and hit the kill switch for speed control.”
Parham notes that this particular machine was never raced. Instead, it has been painstakingly assembled out of parts from that era.
It was built for him by Dave Ohrt, starting with a rigid chassis, which is the style all the racers wanted.
But the really trick bits are those exotic four-valve heads, operated by a pair of slender push rods. At the time, most motorcycles were using inefficient inlet-over-exhaust valve designs, and these were the unobtainium factory parts of their day.
Parham’s spectacular eight-valve racer is one of the centerpieces of the new exhibit: “A Century of Indian,” opening as you receive this issue. It’ll remain on display in the museum through 2002.