Friday, July 3, 2020

When Indian sold Royal Enfields to Americans

Cover of Indian brochure presenting the 1953 Royal Enfields.
In '53 Royal Enfields were Royal Enfields in the U.S.
I thought I knew the history of Royal Enfield motorcycles in the United States. I've just learned I was wrong about that.

This much I knew: Royal Enfield motorcycles rebadged as Indian motorcycles were sold in Indian dealerships in the United States from 1955 to 1959. Along with the Indian badges came American-sounding model names.

The 500cc Royal Enfield Bullet became the Indian Woodsman and Westerner. The 250cc Clipper became the Indian Fire Arrow and Hounds Arrow. The 500 Twin became the Indian Tomahawk. The 700cc Meteor became the Indian Trailblazer, Apache and Chief. The two-stroke Ensign became the Indian Lance.

There was even a role for the 350cc Bullet, as the basis for the three-wheeled Indian Patrol Car for meter maids.

Then, for 1960, the Indian connection ended and Royal Enfields were marketed under their own brand and model names.

An amazing history. But here is the part of it I didn't understand: Royal Enfield's tie-up with Indian in the U.S. didn't wait unitl 1955.

The realization came when I noticed an eBay ad from Pennsylvania for a vintage brochure entitled "Indian Presents... The 1953 Royal Enfield."

So, in fact, the 1953 and 1954 Royal Enfields sold in the U.S. were sold as Royal Enfields, with their own model names, at Indian dealerships!

The brochure boasted that "Indian distributes the complete line of Royal Enfield Models." A chart lists specifications for the Meteor 700, 500 Twin, 500 Bullet, 350 Bullet, Ensign, Model J2, Model G, Model RE and Model S51. These are all Royal Enfield model names.

Illustrations in the brochure show the Royal Enfields in Royal Enfield, not Indian, markings. But the brochure itself is "Distributed by Indian, Springfield, Mass."

The explanation for this came from Graham Scarth, chairman of the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK:

"From 1946-'49 Royal Enfields were sent to Whitehall of New York, the company run by the former Dutch importer. Mr Stokvis was a Jew who fortunately escaped from Holland to the U.S., running Whitehall until he returned to Holland during 1949 to continue where he left off back in Rotterdam.

"British company Brockhouse then took over Royal Enfield sales in the U.S. and they owned the Indian brand name during the 1950s. They sold Royal Enfields badged as such through to 1954 and, as the brochure shows, sold them through the Indian dealerships. From 1955-'59 they had Royal Enfield make the Indian-badged versions exclusively for them.

"The Indian name passed to Associated Motorcycles (AJS/Matchless) for 1960 and they received the last 200 (Royal Enfield-made) Chief machines, no doubt ordered by Brockhouse and having to reluctantly accept them as part of the take-over deal.

"From 1960 on, Royal Enfields were then sold under their own name in the USA through four distributors, although there are a few sent to them in 1959."

The potential for confusion didn't end, however, because Indian dealers kept right on selling new Apaches, Trailblazers, Tomahawks, Westerners and Woodsmans. But now these were Matchless motorcycles, not Royal Enfields.

The 1960-'61 Indian brochure Graham emailed me shows that, unlike the rebadged Royal Enfields, these model names appeared on motorcycles that clearly still carry Matchless (not Indian) badges.

There was one exception: the big 700cc Chief still shows its "Indian" markings. It was the last of the U.S. Indian-labelled Royal Enfields.

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