May 2000 Bike Feature   
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   Chief Project
   By Stan Jessup
   Not everyone is willing to tackle a basket case Indian, but since I've restored both complete runners and severely neglected baskets, I don't have the same apprehension. A word of caution here; a basket case (bastard case), will not usually save you any money. The primary advantage for me, is that when something is wrong, you know who caused it. You will also know the bike from the inside out, and if you encounter any problems, you know how to deal with it. Since I've done this many times, I have a pretty well equipped shop, so I don't need to farm out several things that the first time restorer would. As things on this project progress, I'll update the cost analysis, so that you can see what's actually involved in putting one of these relics back on the road.  I once purchased a bike that was reported to be a runner, with recent rebuild. With the tappets set at around a 1/8" clearance, I doubt the bike ever ran, and the "rebuilder" never used a single new gasket, but he did use several tubes of RTV sealant. Since this episode, I don't rely on the abilities of any seller that tells me the engine was just rebuilt. I assume that everything will need attention, and a bit of downgrading needs to be employed when interpreting the sellers assessment of how complete the basket is. Also keep in mind that the last 10% of a 90% basket will cost more than the original basket cost, not including the small items that you'll need. It is currently possible (with a few minor exceptions) to build a complete Chief without using original parts, however, I would estimate that the cost would far exceed the cost of a beautifully restored original.  

This particular project will use many reproduction parts, and cost saving is not the primary goal as I want to incorporate some changes to the bike which will necessitate spending more than required to simply restore the bike to running condition. On the cost sheet, items that were not required to make this bike a runner are noted with an asterisk*, and some of the original parts could have been sold to offset other costs. Major items such as cylinders, pistons, rods, front wheel assembly, flywheels and generator will be stored so that the bike can be returned to stock configuration if I ever decide to (or maybe another project on the horizon?).  

    I started thinking about a new project several months back but I had a space problem to deal with because of an excess brand X bike that was occupying too much real estate in my shop. I went to work on the problem, and eliminated it so that this project could occupy the newly acquired space. I want a good solid rider, which could be used in heavy traffic, and I didn't care if it was "correct" but I'm not a chopper or bobber fan, so it needs to be correct from an "appropriate distance". The primary alteration has to be adding disk braking. I thought about the engine a little, and even considered the Aussie Overhead Valve kit, but the price versus value just didn't seem to make much sense. Then I ran face first into a set of cast aluminum cylinders at a fair price. Hmmmm, now we have something genuinely different and very feasible, so I bought them. Now, you need to realize, these are, for all intent and purpose untested parts, so I have a bit of risk, and trial and error involved to make everything work, but it still appears to be something that should work (famous last words). At this point, I decided that to protect the investment, nothing but top notch parts could go in the lower end, so I inquired about a set of JE forged pistons. I found that since I wanted to make this an 80" engine, it was possible to have pistons made in a flat top design by changing the piston pin location. This would allow for the use of the standard 74" heads, and also cut down on the rocking motion of the pistons in the bore. Seems to be a good fit, so I bit the bullet, and ordered them up with an estimated 8 week delivery.  

    I intend to have this bike together, and all of the details (problems) worked out by the Spring of 2001 since the goal is to use this bike for the 100th anniversary ride to Springfield. The bike needs to be able to cruise at about 65 mph for long periods, be very reliable, comfortable, and safe. I don't want any modifications that can't be returned to their original state, so there won't be any cutting or welding on any major components. I want to use a modified alternator and 12 volt charging with Halogen lighting system, but otherwise, stock electrics.  

    At this point I'm only short one item...... the bike! Time to find a basket Chief to bring back from the grave. I want to use a 46 or later bike, because I think they ride better than the earlier leaf spring front end. Assuming I would be able to find a good 46-48 basket within a short time, everything will come together at about the same point in time. This hasn't proven too difficult, except that (as usual) I live on the left coast, and everything I am interested in is on the wrong coast. The west coast is a beautiful place, but as far as swap meets go, they mainly involve HD parts, and even then, there aren't any big swaps here.  

    Well, I unearthed several basket cases in various degrees of completeness, and after sorting through the offerings, I decided on one in Atlanta, GA.. The bike is a mixture of parts from a 47 Chief engine, to a 50 Chief chassis, and of course, no sheet metal or dash. That's OK, because the engine has a fresh rebuild, and it came with the generator, so I have all of the engine internals, and generator that I can use as trading stock if I need to. I already have a set of tanks, but the right side is from a Scout, so I'll trade it for a Chief tank, or modify it to use it as is. It usually takes about two weeks to transport a bike across the country, and the cost is in the $5-600 range. Since I've shipped several bikes this way, I don't worry about it too much. I located a 52/53 Corbin speedo to use on the bike, so most of the tough stuff is taken care of. Due to problems with the disk braking system on the Indian rear shock setup, I've decided to use a rear drive speedometer, and only adapt the disk brakes to the front end. Considering that 70% of the braking efficiency on a motorcycle is derived from the front brake, I think the drum rear brake will be sufficient, and the front disk should give the bike superior stopping qualities.  

    Ok, now I have the basics in motion. I talked with Kiwi, about the new 80" T&O flywheels, and Carrillo style rods, and found that the flywheels are ready, but the rods aren't. No big deal, we'll wait for the rods. I also remembered that they were supposed to have CNC bent stainless exhaust systems available, so naturally we'll have to have a set of those! When a dealer is as helpful as Kiwi, Starklite and Greer have been, I become very faithful to their products, so we'll use anything new here that I actually need for the project so I can get a feel for the quality of any new developments. I'll try to go over any assembly issues with the new products as I move through the process. Some parts are purchased from other sources because I have used the particular part or vendor, and I like how it worked out. Bolts are one such item. The dealers will supply them, but they are the typical hardware store variety, so all bolt kits will come from Ed Glasgow. Besides, Ed's a really nice guy.  

    At a local swap meet, I found a 16" dual disk front wheel assembly for $20.00, and once I do a little machining on the hub, this will take care of the front wheel. Another $20 for a good rotor, and $28 for a repro Indian fender light. Not a bad day for parts scrounging (except for the $10 admission, $7 hamburger and $3 coffee). Now, I need to locate a very small caliper, and master cylinder, which I probably won't find at a local swap meet since in this case, "size does matter".  

    Paint and body work are always an issue! If you don't do your own, you better get all your fitting done early, because I think body guys use some sort of ancient calendar. If they give you the standard 4 week line, plan on 8 weeks! Since I won't have original fenders for this bike, and originally each was hand fit at the factory, I'll need to take care of the fitting fairly early on. I have painted bikes before, but I want a higher quality paint job on this than I have the time or space to provide, so I'll probably farm that out. Since this project isn't going to be a "chrome queen" I won't have a lot of dealings with the other guys that work by mystical calendars (chrome shops).  

    Well, we made it to basket arrival day! I located a set of fenders, so now it's time to take inventory, and figure out what I still need. As usual, the seller was a bit more enthusiastic about what he had, than reality would dictate. Next month, we'll be sorting, inspecting and cleaning parts. Then we start rough fitting things together. Until next month, ride safe, and sane.

Wrapped Basket  
Project Cost Sheet   
Frame and parts  
More parts  
Engine left  

Engine right  
Rusty flywheel  
Trans top  

Stan's Military Chief
Travels with Barney
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