Unusual OHV Indians

by Murray Barnard

Indians were successful racing in Britain at Brooklands and the Isle of man Europe in the early years despite the average American bike of the time being heavy and slow compared to most British and German bikes of the period.

One of the American firm's best early results came in the Isle of Man TT in 1911, when Indian riders Godfrey, Franklin and Moorehouse finished first, second and third. Indian star Jake De Rosier set several speed records both in America and at Brooklands in England, and won an estimated 900 races on dirt and board track racing. He left Indian for Excelsior and died in 1913, aged 33, of injuries sustained in a board track race crash with Charles "Fearless" Balke, who later became Indian's top rider.

The struggle for success overseas became too much for Indian eventually but near the end of their racing activity in Europe a small batch of ohv 750cc road racers were produced in 1926. The above machine one of these bikes. In speed testing one of these machines was timed at 126mph which was close to the motorcycle speed record for that time.

Bert le vack contributed to Indian's withdrawal from racing in Europe......

Herbert 'Bert' le Vack (1887 -- 17 September 1931) was a motorcycle world speed record holder throughout the 1920's and earned the nickname the 'Wizard of Brooklands' for his exploits. An expert racing engine tuner, le Vack worked for some of the great marques and in the late 1920's joined Motosacoche in Switzerland as the works rider, chief designer and tuner. Bert le Vack was killed in an accident in 1931 testing the Motosacoche A50 in the Swiss Alps. Despite his surname, Bert le Vack was born in North London and was of Scottish descent. Bert won the first hill climb he entered on a 1909 Triumph. In 1912 he competed in the London to Edinburgh Run.

Towards the end of 1920 Bert moved to the Hendee Manufacturing Co, who made Indian motorcycles in Springfield, Massachusetts. He joined their London Depot and developed the eight valve Indian engine.

Le Vack was very much in favour of using alcohol-based fuels in racing and obtained supplies from a London distillery. This led to an offer to work as an engine designer for John A. Prestwich, founder of the JAP company who produced racing engines for many top marques, including Brough Superior. Le Vack used his experience of the Indian Powerplus on which he won the famous 500-Mile Race at Brooklands in 1921 (at an average speed of 107.5 miles per hour) to help JAP develop their British vee-twin into what he called a "Yank-buster" - the 'Super Big Twin', so called because of its 986cc ohv engine. Indian subsequently dropped out of international competition.

Indian also built a 500 single cylinder OHV machine in 1928 which had no front brake!


Murray Barnard





All content remains the Copyright of the Vintage Motorcycle Club of Western Australia Inc.