As products of the Roaring ’20s, the AMA and this classic 1924 Indian Chief have a lot in common.
The Indian, for instance, was a landmark development for the company, but it was also a mixture of new and old technology.
The Chief, introduced in 1922, was designed to downsize the big-bike class in American motorcycling, offering 74-cubic-inch (1,200cc) performance from a high-tech 61-cubic-inch (1,000cc) powerplant. But for 1923, in response to customer demand for more performance, Indian introduced this bike, the 74-cubic-inch “Big Chief.” So, although it had one of the most advanced engines in motorcycling, the Big Chief was in some respects a throwback to the past.
The AMA, too, had one foot in the past and one in the future when it was born in 1924. It represented, at the time, a revolutionary idea for a national organization that would focus on motorcyclists rather than motorcycles. Yet it was founded as a division of the existing Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association (M&ATA), the trade group representing motorcycle manufacturers.
And both, it turns out, were created for the same reason -- to attract enthusiasts.
In the early years of the century, motorcycles were considered basic transportation, and manufacturers sprung up all over. Then came the era of mass production, driving the cost of automobiles down to compete with many motorcycles.
By the ’20s, the number of American motorcycle manufacturers had shrunk to just a few, and the survivors realized they had to appeal to an audience that was attracted to motorcycles because they were more exciting than cars, not because they were cheaper.
The Big Chief, with its enthusiast-pleasing engine, showed that Indian understood that message, and it instantly became the company’s best-selling model.
The AMA, too, was a response by the M&ATA to develop the enthusiast market. It was designed to keep the excitement in motorcycling by giving riders things to do with their machines. Seventy-five years later, the concept seems to have worked.
It’s only appropriate, then, that as the AMA approached its diamond year in 1999, Mort Wood, then a member of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum board, was asked to help locate a bike that would serve as a symbol of the AMA’s heritage. And he uncovered this classic machine, which has been restored to showroom condition by Eric Smith.
We should all age so gracefully.