Friday, July 11, 2014

Museum's Indian Warrior is a tribute to Vaughn Monroe

Vaughn Monroe's Indian Warrior motorcycle is in the Elliott Museum in Stuart, Fla.
Just before it gave up making its own motorcycles and started selling rebadged Royal Enfields to Americans, the Indian motorcycle company tried producing vertical twins and singles that mimicked the lightweight English motorcycles just becoming popular in the early 1950s.

Stuffed into a corner under a stairwell in the Elliott Museum in Stuart, Fla. is one of these rarely seen but probably not very coveted motorcycles: a 1951 Indian Warrior — a pristine, unrestored original with only 426 miles on it.

It's not one of the legendary Indian straight-fours or famous V-twin models with swooping fenders enclosing the wheels. The 1951 Warrior is a 500cc vertical twin.

Indian badly needed new products to survive, but these vertical cylinder models were underdeveloped and fragile. Instead of saving the company, they took it down. One online history of Indian refers to these events as "The Warrior Debacle."

So... um... what's this Warrior doing in a museum?

The answer is that it was donated in 1969 by a famous local resident, singer and bandleader Vaughn Monroe. Monroe had many hits, among them his 1956 version of the motorcycle ballad "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots." The "teenage tragedy" song told the story of a "fool" motorcyclist who rides to his doom on Highway 101.

The chorus ("He wore black denim trousers and motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back") virtually set the dress code for dare-devil motorcyclists.

Monroe was photographed riding an Indian, reportedly for publicity shots for the song.

Dressed for the part: Vaughn Monroe.
Monroe was a confirmed motorcyclist and self-appointed spokesman for motorcycle safety. There's a long interview with him you can read in the June, 1962 issue of American Motorcycling magazine. In it he talks about becoming a motorcyclist in 1943, when wartime gas rationing made it hard for him to get to the studio where he was filming the movie "Meet the People."

In the studio parking lot he noticed all the stars rode motorcycles — so he got one. This eventually led to a long and friendly association with Indian. The company presented him with more than one motorcycle, the last of them perhaps this 1951 Warrior.

Monroe died in 1973, and is buried in Stuart.

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