When the Indians Came from Italy
Words: John Gunnell
In 1969, the Floyd Clymer Motorcycle Div. in Los Angeles announced “The World’s Most Interesting Motorcycles are Coming to the U.S.A.” Clymer had just launched a program to bring five motorcycles, all manufactured in Europe, to the United States as “new” models. Four were advertised as Indians and the fifth was named the Clymer-Munch Mammoth. Clymer’s ads said that Indian Scout and Indian Chief models were also in the works for the next season—1970.
Clymer is best known as a publisher, but had a lengthy history in the world of cars and bikes. In 1902, his father, Dr. J. B. Clymer, of Berthoud, Colo., purchased the first car to be sold in his state north of Denver. In 1905, this single-cylinder Oldsmobile was replaced with a big 7-hp Reo. That year, J. B.’s 11-year-old son, Floyd, became an auto dealer selling Reos, Maxwels and Cadillacs.
By the early 1950s, Clymer had spent over a half century testing, racing and restoring both two- and four-wheel vehicles. President Teddy Roosevelt once referred to Clymer as “the world’s youngest automobile salesman.” He was also an Indian motorcycle dealer at one point.
In later years, Clymer’s publishing empire focused on car and motorcycle books. including 12 volumes of his Historical Motor Scrapbook. When interest in motorcycles picked up during the mid-1960s, Clymer used some of his publishing profits to move into the motorcycle business, and in this case, importing motorcycles and rebuilding an American icon.
“These machines are all foreign built in our own factory in Germany or, in some instances, assembled in Italy using British and Italian components,” Clymer noted. “We are utilizing the facilities and long-time expertise of specialists who make parts for motorcycles. It is more economical to operate in this manner.”
Clymer bought parts from firms that made them for other manufacturers. “This way, we gain the benefit of their long experience and testing facilities,” he said. “Because of their mass-production operations, their component prices are lower than we, operating as a small manufacturer, could possibly duplicate.”
Clymer had no dreams of becoming a big motorcycle maker. “There is a good demand for specialized motorcycles and that is the market at which we are aiming,” he said. “We assure you that we have many innovations that will soon appear on our motorcycles and that these features will be much talked about.”
The smallest of Clymer’s ‘69 models was the 50cc Indian Ponybike. It came in red or blue and sold for $295. This road or trail bike had five horsepower and was capable of 45-48 mph. It had a three-speed transmission. Features included a dual seat, a choice of road or trail tires, two brakes and lights.
The Indian 500 Roadster was powered by a 500cc overhead-cam, single-cylinder engine supplied by Velocette. The engine came in either normal ($1,450) or Thruxton high-performance ($1,550) versions. It was a high-output, sporty bike with Borrani rims, Ceriani forks, a tachometer and Campagnola twin-disc brakes A front disc brake was optional. The Thruxton versions could hit 117 mph.
The Indian 600 Roadster had a chain-driven overhead cam engine, dual exhausts, four-speed unit transmission, German Bing carburetors, Bosch electrics, Magura bars and controls, a speedometer and a tach. Ceriani forks and Campagnola twin-disc brakes were options. Sales of this goes-like-a-bomb bike —introduced in Feb. 1969—were slow. It cost $1,790—a ton of money in 1969.
Clymer’s 8-Valve 500cc Grand Prix racing engine was a dual overhead cam job of which Clymer hoped 50 could be built in Germany. This bike was intended for Grand Prix racing circuits only. Prices were $2,750 for just the engine and $3,500 for a complete Grand Prix Race Bike. Delivery was slated to start in March 1969 on a first come, first served basis. A $1,000 deposit was requested. Clymer’s brochure showed no picture of the engine or this bike.
With a chain-driven four-cylinder overhead-cam engine, the 1969 Clymer-Munch Mammoth motorcycle was built for going fast. This lightweight bike, constructed with space-age materials, could do 120 mph, according to Clymer. Weighing 540 lbs., the Clymer-Munch Mammoth featured a Bosch electric starter, a massive front brake assembly, dual headlights, Magura bars and controls and VDO and Bosch electrical equipment. This bike was priced at $4,000 including duty and air freight, $3,400 if shipped by boat and $3,200 if picked up at the factory in Germany. Delivery required two to four weeks.
“The Mammoth appeals to the enthusiast,” Clymer advertised. “The sportsman who might buy a Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Aston-Martin or Rolls-Royce is the type of buyer who appreciates and buys a Mammoth.”
Clymer’s Indian Scout was advertised as a 750cc (45 cid) side-valve V-Twin. The power plant was said to be a “complete new version of the V-Twin.” A 61-cid Indian Chief was also in the works in mid 1969.
The small Italian-made Indians show up on eBay from time to time, as well as at motorcycle shows. As for the Munch Mammoth, one of the biggest collectors of these models was David R. Manthey, of Portage, Wis. One of his Mammoths was exhibited at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance in the Detroit area and as it drove onto the show field, it literally shook the ground.