21st Century Buell
Say Goodbye To The Air-Cooled, Pushrod Sportster Motor-Next-Generation Buells Will Be Powered By A Liquid-Cooled, DOHC Rotax
If loose lips sink ships, Buell won't be emulating the Titanic any time soon. While the Wisconsin-based manufacturer has announced that it's developing a Rotax-powered dirtbike (Motorcyclist, June), speculation about the company getting Austrian power for its street line was largely wishful thinking. Well, there have been some rumors, and a few message board posts, but no one at Buell or parent company Harley-Davidson would dare comment, and even off-duty employees plied with cocktails clammed up.
The only thing we know for certain is that Buell is hosting a press introduction for a new 2008 sport model at Laguna Seca Raceway on August 21-22. Pressed for details about the bike being introduced, a company spokesman let slip that they "would like to keep the air-cooled line alive," which we'll take to mean the new model is liquid-cooled. Another Buell associate confirmed the existence of the Rotax-powered machine, describing it as "about the coolest motorcycle ever" before realizing that he probably shouldn't be saying that to a moto-journalist.
The idea of a Rotax motor winding up in a Buell product isn't at all far-fetched. Harley-Davidson has in the past built Rotax-powered singles for the military, and Wood-Rotax dirt-trackers were routinely campaigned by the Harley factory team in short-track and TT races. Moreover, with Piaggio building the engines for Aprilia's new Shiver and Mana models, Rotax may need a new engine customer in the future.
Whatever Happened To...
Hasn't this brand suffered enough?
By 1914, Indian Motorcycles held every speed record imaginable and employed 3000 workers at its 1 million square-foot "Wigwam" factory in Springfield, Massachusetts. Iconic Chiefs and Scouts poured off the assembly lines until '53, when post-war struggles forced the company out of business.
It's been downhill ever since. The '50s and '60s saw the British Blockhouse Corporation and American publishing impresario Floyd Clymer use the Indian brand to sell rebadged Royal Enfields; Italian Italjet mini-bikes were sold as Indians in the early '70s; and things really bottomed out later that decade when the name was whored out to move Taiwanese mopeds and go-karts.
The '90s seemingly brought another Indian revival each year. Some were pure goldbrickings (anyone still owed money by Philip Zhangi or Wayne Baughman?), while others-like the innovative Eller Indians designed by James Parker, engineered by Rousch Racing and financed by the real Indians of the Cow Creek Umpqua tribe-were more compelling. Unfortunately, in '98 the Eller crew lost a courtroom battle for trademark rights to a consortium of California chopper builders and Canadian T-shirt makers who went on to build what could charitably be described as Harley clones wearing Indian fenders. This group went bust in '03. Would the Indian name finally rest in peace?
Not a chance. At the recent Legend of the Motorcycle Concours, we got news of yet another Indian revival. We were optimistic: Stellican Limited, the London-based private-equity firm that recently resurrected Chris-Craft boats, is the latest player. And word is some key engineering staff has been lured from Harley to Indian's newest Wigwam in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, by 50 percent pay increases. But one look at its 2008 Chief prototype made us gag: a limited-edition "Champercycle," created in partnership with Moet & Chandon, replete with onboard champagne cooler and "Be Fabulous" motto on the exhaust.
Anyone else need a drink?