Oldest Indian motorcycle heads to the auction block

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The Indian motorcycle -- A piece of American history.

The Indian motorcycle -- a piece of American history. Image: erjkprunczyk/Flickr/CC BY-SA

A 1903 Indian motorcycle, the oldest unrestored example known to exist, will be auctioned off on Saturday, April 21, in Frederick, Md., at the County Fairgrounds.

Hung in dentist’s office for 30 years

The motorcycle is part of the estate of the late Charlie Alder, Jr., whose father saw it hanging in a dentist’s office in 1950. He traded $50 worth of construction work for the motorcycle. It had hung in that office since 1920. From then on it was stashed away in garages and basements.

Has original parts

Only 376 Indians were sold in 1903. It wasn’t until the following year that the company exceeded 500 units a year. Finding one in its original condition is truly bucking the odds. Other examples on the 1903 Indian do exist, but none that has not been restored. Apart from a few nuts and bolts changed out in its early years, the Indian has all its original parts.

Steve Rinker heads up Buck’s Indian, a West Virginia firm that specializes in restoring Indian motorcycles. If there was another one of these around, he’d probably be the guy to know about it.

“This motorcycle predates the Harley — the bike most Americans associate with homegrown motorcycles. The handful of 1902 Indian models that were built were deconstructed, their parts used to build the 1.75-horsepower 1903 models. And as far as we know, this is the only unrestored 1903 still in existence.”

Fastest bike of its day

The bike even predates the color red that the Indian motorcycle became known for. From available photos, it appears to be black or dark blue. It was the fastest motorcycle available in its day, capable of tearing up the road at an unprecedented 56 mph.

Little more than a bicycle with a motor, collectors will find its crude engineering quaint. Auctioneer Josh Ruby said:

“This is one of the most primitive motorized vehicles you’ll ever see — a real peek into what innovation looked like over a hundred years ago.”

Probably never to ride again

A restored 1903 Indian won the 2011 Race of the Century in Maggie Valley, NC. All the competitors had to ride motorcycles that were at least a century old. However, most collectors would never risk putting such a valuable antique on the road or the track.

Rinker told Torque News:

“Most of these things are fully restored and have never had a drop of gas put back in them. It’s just the same with this old bike that’s going to be sold Saturday. It would be a shame if somebody took it and added back to it what it needed -– like new wires and a battery -– to get it running. It would be awesome to hear it, but kind of a 50/50 deal. Do you leave it set or get it running? Even if you do get it running, you’re not going to ride it anyway.”

Estimated value unknown

Auctioneer Ruby is not willing to hazard a guess as to what the 1903 Indian might go for. However, according to Fox News, a steam-powered 1984 velocipede sold for $425,000 at a January auction in Las Vegas.

[Buy car, sell car — This is what you’ve been looking for.]

Saturday’s auction will include other vintage motorcycles, World War II memorabilia, antique railroad items and automobiles from the 1940s. Descriptions of the items up for bid can be seen at http://www.wolfeauctions.com. Online bids can be made at http://www.proxibid.com.


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