Monday, August 8, 2011

Royal Enfield-built Indian Chief packs power, authority

1959 Indian Chief was a Royal Enfield with a difference.
Photos of a 1959 Indian Chief configured in New York Police Department markings popped into my email recently from Hans van Heesch in the Netherlands.

I don't think Hans has been a slave to historical accuracy here. For one thing, note the Minnesota license plate.

Police like a lot of white on motorcycles, for visibility.
The National Motorcycle Museum in Birmingham, U.K., has a Royal Enfield-built Indian Chief in NYPD markings, and it is dark like this one but has a lot of white on it, presumably for better visibility at night.

An online source on Indian motorcycles says that New York City police insisted their Indians be painted red, at least in the years when they were made by Indian in Springfield, Mass. instead of by Royal Enfield in Redditch, England. So this might not apply to Indians made by Royal Enfield.

Indian stopped making motorcycles of its own in 1953. Between 1955 and 1960 Royal Enfields were imported to be sold, re-badged as Indians. The Chief was intended to compete for police business in the heavy-weight end of the market.

Smaller, wider tires, stretched wheelbase and heavy fenders transformed the appearance of Royal Enfield's big twin.

Hans describes himself as a rider and collector of Indian motorcycles. He says he often buys them in the United States. 

"I'm going to have to write you a ticket, sir."
Pictures of Hans' machine show the image of power and authority conveyed by these motorcycles.

Somewhere underneath is a British sporting motorcycle.
At a time when most British motorcycles, including Royal Enfield, were sporting machines at heart, the Chief effectively conveyed seriousness.

In any country, the sight of this in the rear view mirror would be heart stopping.


  1. This bike looks pretty good in it's own right. It looks bigger than it really is. I could be interested in a modern rendition of this bike if it was designed to be a touring bike. Perhaps RE could introduce it as a touring bike first. Then, in subsequent years, offer a few varients. Possibly a stripped-down version (standard) followed by a Super Glide type (w/lighter ft end).
    Bob Slovey

  2. Is anyone looking for a gas tank with badges for re Indian 1959ish

  3. Anonymous6/21/2023

    We’ve recently acquired a1961 and would like to get it going again. It’s in decent shape, how would one find specifications, 700 cc Chief

    1. For questions about Royal Enfield twins, including your Indian Chief, I suggest you join and ask your questions at the online Interceptor group. Although devoted to Interceptors, members own and are knowledgeable about all Royal Enfield twins, including the unique Indian Chief. Here is the link.


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