Year Built: 1941
Engine: Inlet over exhaust, four-stroke, Inline four-cylinder
Weight: 568 lbs.
Displacement: 77.21 Cubic Inches (1265cc)
Transmission: Three-speed, hand-shift, chain final drive
Owner: Barry Stelford
A cop on a motorcycle.
There was a time when that image was as American as apple pie.
In the early years of the 20th century, most police departments relied heavily on foot patrols, bicycles and horses. But as motor-vehicle use became more commonplace, the need to enforce traffic laws and track down criminals in fast-moving cars forced many departments to update their fleets.
The obvious choice in many areas of the country was to purchase motorcycles. Their capabilities were superior to most automobiles of the day, and they were better at handling the bad road surfaces a policeman might encounter.
Indian was involved in the police market from the earliest days, producing special law-enforcement versions of its V-twin models. But after the company acquired the rights to the Ace Four in 1928, that machine became a favorite among many motor officers.
The Indian Four continued to evolve over the years, and by the early ’40s, it was a truly luxurious machine, with a 77-cubic-inch (1,265cc) four-cylinder engine, a three-speed, tank-shift transmission and Indian’s trademark skirted fenders.
The main modifications in the Police Special included red and white spotlights on the handlebars and a siren driven by the rear wheel. And in spite of its hefty 568-pound weight, the police Four still delivered performance, with the ’41 model reportedly good for 90 mph.
But speed wasn’t necessarily a concern for this particular machine, which saw service with the Marshall, Michigan, Police Department. Barry Stelford, owner of the bike, previously on display in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio, says most of the time, police Fours like this one spent their days just cruising around town.
Still, with its smooth-running powerplant, its reputation for easy starting, and its pothole-absorbing 5-inch balloon tires mounted on 16-inch wheels, the Indian was perfect for that duty, too.
A year after this machine was produced, Indian abandoned the Four and, like its rival, Harley-Davidson, concentrated on twins. It’s not certain how long this machine remained in official use, but Stelford bought it in 1972, at a time when many departments were phasing out motorcycle patrols.
In recent years, though, some departments have rediscovered the advantages of motorcycles in getting to accident scenes, particularly on increasingly crowded urban expressways.