1941 Indian Military Model 841
The Wigwam's desert warfare bike
When the U.S. War Department asked American motorcycle manufacturers to come up with military machines for World War II, Harley and Indian answered the call.
At first, both companies produced models with V-twin engines derived from their existing streetbike lines. But the War Department also asked for experimental designs to use for desert fighting in North Africa.
Harley opted to copy the design of BMW’s R71—which was being used by the German Army in that hostile environment—building a flat-twin boxer motor.
Indian took a slightly different route, creating the Model 841. The motor is a 750cc V-twin, which makes it sound like an American-style powerplant, except that the cylinders are turned sideways and set at 90 degrees. It’s an engine configuration that we now associate with Moto Guzzi—but Indian built it first.
The 841 also came with several other new features, including shaft drive, a foot shift, hand clutch, hydraulic girder spring fork, rubber-mounted handlebars, a sprung rear hub and 8-inch drum brakes, all of which made it onto postwar Chiefs.
E. Paul duPont, who controlled Indian, had so much faith in the 841 design that he got one for his own use. He rode it around the country, stopping to show dealers and friends, and had grand plans for turning the military 841 into a civilian tourer.
But none of that was to be.
Although Indian built more than 1,000 examples of the bike and put it through extensive testing in the desert of California, the military never adopted the machine for wartime use. The same was true of Harley’s BMW-like XA. Instead, the primary motorcycle used by American forces was the 750cc V-twin Harley WLA, augmented by Indian’s 500cc V-twin 741 and the 750cc 640B, basically a military version of the Sport Scout.
By the end of the war, even those motorcycles were being phased out as the army turned to Jeeps.
This rare 841, owned by Billy Doyle of Waterford, Michigan, was previously on display in the AMA's Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio.