1999-2003 Indian Chief

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by James Brown

Ready to trade that dead-reliable oil-tight ride for a revisionist history lesson? Track down an Indian Chief built between 1999 and 2003. You'll be about as close to America's first motorcycle as the imitation Indian's Gilroy, California factory was to George Hendee's original Springfield, Massachusetts Wigwam. Don't confuse these renegades with the tribe that started building Indian motorcycles in South Carolina in December of '08 or you'll end up with a respectable American V-twin. If schlock is what you seek, insist on a Gilroy Indian. Accept no substitutes.

Named for Indian's legendary 1000cc side-valve V-twin of 1916, this Powerplus was intended to silence critics-like us-who dismissed the earlier Chief twin as an obstinate amalgamation of cloned H-D parts. It didn't work. Marked by a chronic inattention to detail, many Chiefs were apparently assembled in the dark. The 1638cc twin powering the last of the Gilroy Indians was reasonably smooth for a solid-mount 45-degree V-twin without any internal vibration-canceling apparatus. Pages snipped from Harley's Evolution Big Twin playbook meant the basic design was sound. Implementation, however, was not. Let's just say quality wasn't exactly job one. Oil leaks come with the territory, along with loose bolts that contribute to an ingenious weight-loss program by allowing various bits to fall off at random intervals.

Despite a 36-inch-wide handlebar that would feel more at home behind a plow, handling is too kind a word for the 736-pound Chief's ungainly urban conduct. The stock seat is pretty comfortable, but following in the wheel tracks of other timeless American classics-the Conestoga wagon for instance-it's most comfortable traveling in a straight line. At least until the first stiff crosswind gives that swoopy front fender a nasty shove or your left knee succumbs to repeated contact with the invasive plastic airbox. Covering a quarter-mile in a leisurely 14 seconds, acceleration is less enthusiastic than a corresponding Milwaukee twin. Lucky for you. To paraphrase our estimable brothers over at Motorcycle Cruiser magazine, the Chief's front disc generates all the power and feel of something in the grip of solid-oak brake pads.

We thought a basic '03 Chief was overpriced at $20,995 because it was. Even then, the smart money was on a Harley Heritage Softail Deluxe for thousands less, and you know what? It still is.

Cheers
Occasionally mistaken for a Harley...from a distance...at night.

Jeers
Inattention to detail, lackluster acceleration and brakes.

Watch For
Oil leaks, missing parts, laughter from small children.

Verdict
The sort of Indian Tonto would wish on the Lone Ranger.

VALUE
2000 $11,325
2002 $12,815
2003 $13,600

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