Bob Stark’s Rainbow Indians Had a Family History
Words & Photos: John Gunnell
Bob Stark was a driving force behind a resurgence of interest in Indian motorcycles in the mid-‘90s. According to the Autumn 1995 issue of Buzz Kanter’s Indian Motorcycle Illustrated magazine, Stark was a “meticulous workman, a talented craftsman and an artist.” Stark’s artistry really came to life best in his Rainbow Indians—a series of restored Indians with an individual streak.
Stark’s father, Charles, established an Indian dealership in Akron, Ohio in 1918. That was the same place where John Polivik created the first Rainbow Chief in 1941 or 1942. The name comes from a paint scheme that blends colors in a rainbow-like effect on the Indian’s large tank and skirted front fender.
Around 1946, Bob Steiner—a factory representative for Indian motorcycles—saw one of Polivik’s Rainbow Indians. He talked with Polivik and studied the details of his paint scheme. Then, he passed on what he had learned to factory painters and began taking orders for new Rainbow Indians. Unfortunately, the factory painters could not duplicate the genius of Polivik.
With orders in hand, Steiner decided to have the paintwork done at the Akron dealership. Tanks and fenders were shipped there to be custom painted before final assembly of the bikes in Massachusetts. Polivik eventually got sick of doing Rainbow Indians and around 1960, he taught Bob Stark how to do them.
Stark learned how to create the Rainbow effect himself and he eventually turned out about 30 Rainbow Indians between 1960 and 1995. Most of them were Chiefs, but a few Rainbow paint jobs were applied to Indian Fours.
According to Indian Motorcycle Illustrated it took days, rather than hours, to create a Rainbow Indian. Stark eventually got into resurrecting vintage Indian motorcycles, first in his father’s old dealership in Ohio and later in California, where his company Starklite Cycle (www.starklite.com) continued restoring Indians and also sold parts for them. Today the company is the largest supplier of vintage Indian motorcycle parts.