Saturday, January 8, 2011

Trivia: Motorcycling's fourth decade - 1930 to ‘39: Motorcycles cure depression, but not The Depression

Excelsior (which made fine big V-twins) and Henderson (known for smooth inline fours) both went bust in ’31.
Indian had been acquired by the wealthy E. Paul duPont but even his resources couldn’t prevent a precipitous drop in sales. The company had sold 40,000 machines to the Army alone in WWI, but shipped just 1,660 motorcycles in 1933. Indeed, Indian never really regained sound health.
Harley-Davidson managed to get through the depression on the strength of strong fleet sales. The Motor Company dominated the market for police motorcycles and introduced the 3-wheeled “Servicar” delivery vehicle in 1932. Harley even sold fan-cooled versions of its big V-twin engines for use as industrial powerplants.
One bright spot in this otherwise, well, depressing period was the adoption of The Motorcyclist as the official magazine of the American Motorcyclist Association. The magazine, which was already well established, still exists today. Among motorcycle magazines, only the German monthly “Das Motorrad” has been published longer.
Jay Leno shows two local cops what a state-of-the-art police bike looked like in 1931. This is the Henderson I rode; Jay rode the blue Henderson four at lower right. No, they did not follow us to the garage to write a ticket. (That said, Leno does have the dubious honor of being the driver of the oldest vehicle ever stopped for speeding in California.)

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