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New engine a nod to OEM heritage

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Dave McMahon, Editor-in-Chief
April 12, 2013
Filed under Features, Top Stories

Thunder Stroke 111 to power 2014 Indian bikes

Riders who made their way to Daytona Bike Week had the welcome mat rolled out by Indian Motorcycle. Indian was back, and the iconic American brand had the logos around town to prove it.

But even more impressive than the branding brigade was the unveiling of the company’s new Thunder Stroke 111 engine, which will power the 2014 Indian models that will be released later this year. Dirty Harry’s on Main St. had hosting honors, and anyone who had spent any time on that thoroughfare was well aware of that fact.

“We’re bringing choice back to the American motorcyclist,” is how Gary Gray, product director for Indian Motorcycle & Victory Motorcycles at Polaris Industries, described the launch.

A fully-running, throttle-by-wire Thunder Stroke 111 engine on an impressive art deco-styled engine stand inside the bar got all the attention after the unveil from hosts Robert Pandya of Indian and Mike Wolfe of American Pickers.

“It was cool to see how excited people were just to see the real thing,” said Gray. “The crowd went crazy when they saw it.”

But rather than simply release the engine as a stand-alone, Indian also pulled the cover off its custom-built steamliner “Spirit of Munro” as part of the festivities. Gray and his cohorts wouldn’t have it any other way than to honor the “Munro Special” 1920 Indian Scout that broke land-speed record in 1967 at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Adding flair

“We were in the planning stages of the engine launch, and we thought ‘This is going to be kind of weak just to put an engine in a stand. What better vehicle to put it in than the World’s Fastest Indian? We had it kind of tucked away in the back, and it was like sardines in the bar, so there was a lot of ‘Let us through! Let us through!’ so that we could get it out.”

Eric Fox, chief designer of Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111 engine, with the final product at the Bike Week launch. (Photo by Robert Filla)

Eric Fox, chief designer of Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111 engine, with the final product at the Bike Week launch. (Photo by Robert Filla)

The launch verified the response that Indian officials had experienced during the company’s consumer show schedule over the winter.

“Most people don’t hear OEM stuff and get excited,” Gray said. “People heard and saw the new engine and were like ‘Are you kidding me?’ And to have been able to put in the streamliner really was really satisfying for all of us.”

And with the engine launch, Indian is even closer to showing off its first model-year lineup since it was purchased by Polaris Industries.

“We just bought Indian in April 2011, and to get as far as we have in two years has been a lot of work by a lot of people,” Gray said. “The engine design truly started on a clean sheet of paper, with our history defining what we did.”

With the Indian brand’s range of engines that included inline four-cylinders, parallel twins and V-twins, Gray and his team could have opted for any number of architectural directions. Some of the final engine specs were 111 cubic inches, more than 115 ft-lbs of torque and 49-degree V-twin.

“So many decisions had to be made,” he said. “A lot of us wanted to build an inline 4, since that’s what we started with in 1906. But we looked at the consumers of today, and while the parallels and 4s would have been really cool, it had to be tied to the brand, and it had to really good for our dealers. The company was pretty much built on the V-twin, and it will allow our dealers to sell them and make money.”

Gray wasn’t dabbling in unknown territory with the launch, having worked on the concept and design on the chassis of the initial bikes for Victory Motorcycles.

“I started with Victory Motorcycles in 1996, and we’re learned a lot since then,” he said. “With Indian, the brand had been challenged of late, mainly because of the engine that was chosen to power the bike. That led to trouble that the brand saw. So when I started on this engine, the most critical element to get right was to create an engine built on its heritage.”

And with the public launch, Gray said the company reached its goal of building an Indian engine “that combines heritage, premium power, premium finish and confidence. Everything inside the engine is maintenance-free.”

One engine already has hit the 1 million-mile mark between the dyno and road testing. And the company plans to hire about 150 assembly workers at its engine manufacturing plant in Osceola, Wis. Another 50 engineers have been dedicated to the Indian brand.

“People say you can’t build things here in the U.S.A. Well we’re building them,” Gray said.

 

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