NASCAR & Auto Racing

Indian Motorcycles roll out again on Miami streets

One of Anthony Kilissanly’s favorite things about riding the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage isn’t the torque of the motorcycle’s powerful engine or the comfort of its soft-leather seat.

He likes parking it next to a pack of Harley-Davidsons near his midtown Miami home.

“I love seeing the Harley guys bug out like, ‘Whoa, is that the new Indian?’” said Kilissanly. “If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you know about Indian motorcycles and you respect the history there, regardless of your brand loyalty.”

More than 110 years after the brand’s founding and 60 years since it went bankrupt, Indian Motorcycle again has a presence on the streets of South Florida. Polaris Industries has revived the brand and redesigned the bikes, releasing three models — Classic, Vintage and Chieftain — for sale this month.

Kilissanly’s family-run Indian Motorcycle of Miami is one of two authorized dealers in South Florida; the other is the new Indian Motorcycle of Pompano Beach. This is the first time in Indian’s history that it has had Florida dealers south of Daytona Beach, Kilissanly said.

Kilissanly’s dealership on South Dixie Highway also sells Victory motorcycles and battery-powered GEM cars. Both companies are subsidiaries of Polaris, a Minnesota-based company that also makes ATVs and snowmobiles and reported 2012 sales of $3.2 billion.

Polaris acquired Indian in 2011 and spent the past two years building a line of bikes that combine the brand’s traditional V-twin engine and styling aesthetics with modern bells and whistles like Bluetooth technology, keyless ignition and power windshields.

“If you’re someone who likes classic design with a touch of luxury, the Indian is your bike,” Kilissanly said.

Like Victory, which Polaris began selling in 1998, the Indian line is intended to compete with Harley-Davidson among American-made motorcycles. U.S. manufacturers tend to make heavier “cruisers” that are built for long-ride comfort, as opposed to sportier Japanese and European bikes designed for racing.

The new Indian line is priced at $18,999 for the Classic, $20,999 for the Vintage and $22,999 for the Chieftain.

The 2014 Harley-Davidson Road King, a comparable bike to Indian’s high-end Chieftain but with a slightly smaller engine (103 cubic inches on the Road King versus 111 on the Chieftain), retails for $18,249.

Indian was founded in 1901 by two former bicycle racers who built up sales to a height of about 32,000 motorcycles a year by 1913. It was the country’s biggest motorcycle company heading into World War I, and the U.S. government purchased thousands of Indian bikes for the war.

Harley-Davidson overtook Indian in sales in the 1920s and remained in the No. 1 spot up to and after Indian went bankrupt in 1953.

A number of attempts to resurrect the brand have failed over the decades.

The Indian Motorcycle Company of America made three models of the bikes from 1999 until going belly-up in 2003. The company issued a recall of about 4,600 of its top-of-the-line Chief motorcycles in 2002 because of a problem that could cause the rear suspension to collapse.

A London-based private equity firm took majority control of the Indian brand in 2006, and it began to produce a limited number of expensive bikes – a fully loaded 2009 Vintage was priced at $35,500. A number of 2009-2013 models — designed prior to Polaris’ ownership of Indian — are subject to a safety recall issued late this summer.

“They were overpriced, plain and simple,” Kilissanly said. “Once you start charging more than $30,000 for a motorcycle, you’re pricing out a huge portion of potential customers.”

Kilissanly is convinced that, this time around, Indian is here to stay. He tore down a mechanical bay at his dealership to make room for a spotless Indian showroom. He recounted late nights racing to finish the project before a Nov. 1 unveiling.

“We’re going in 100 percent because we really believe in Indian,” he said. “I can go on and on about the technical details and the specs of the bikes, but the truth is, it’s the history and the craftsmanship that will sell them.”

RoadRunner magazine named the 2014 Indian Chieftain its Motorcycle of the Year in its current issue, calling it “a game-changer.”

“Indian is just a classic, historic American brand,” Kilissanly said. “If my great-grandfather rode a motorcycle, chances are it was an Indian.”