Bike of the Month
1948 Indian Big Base Scout
by George Lindesmith
The history of this particular scout was unknown when I acquired it from my next door neighbor in 1972. The story he tells is that he had purchased the bike from a “Joe Smith” in San Jose, CA. a few years earlier. The bike at that time was basically a roller. He brought the bike back to Reno and went through the engine. Upon completion and starting the bike it didn’t run right, so he lost interest and the bike sat parked inside his garage, which is where I noticed it. A couple of years later he came over and asked if I would be interested in purchasing the bike. I said yes, as I was excited at the opportunity to own an Indian.
I purchased the bike, which at the time consisted of the 648 motor in a 1934 scout frame. The bike had a Honda 350 rear wheel fitted, a BSA front fork with electrical tape wrapped around the stem to fit the bearing in the neck of the frame. It was also equipped with a fiberglass flat bottom Sportster tank, a custom aluminum oil tank and a ribbed rear fender. The bike also had a flat front tire.
Upon inspection of the bike, it was discovered that it was miss timed and had a blown front head gasket. I found a source for new gaskets (Sammy Pierce in Monrovia) and ordered a complete gasket set. I also provided him with information, what little I had, on the bike in order to learn more about it. I was told it was a probably “Daytona” or “Big Base” Scout, but I really had no clue as to what the real history or value of the bike might be. I pulled the front head, retimed the motor and after reassembly the bike started on the second kick and ran fairly well considering that the Linkert carb was only adjusted with the bike stationary. At this time the bike still didn’t have a functioning front fork.
A year or two later, I met Jim and Jerry Meadows. Jim was very helpful with getting the bike rideable. I was able to locate a custom front end and fit it to the bike along with a front wheel with a small front brake of unknown origin. The bike was now rideable, but I only had a bill of sale, no title. Jim and Jerry helped guide me through the process of obtaining a title for the bike in Nevada, which at the time, wasn’t very difficult. It just took time. Finally I had a title and headed off to DMV to license the bike which went without a hitch.
Somewhere near the fourth of July in 1975, with the bike licensed it went on its first road trip. The Meadows families, 45 Ray, and a couple other bikes headed off to Downieville, CA for a weekend of riding and camping. The bike ran well. This was the first of many camping trips that we went on that summer. We went as far south as Sonora Pass and spent quite a bit of time riding up and down Highway 49. The bike was now pretty much my daily ride.
As time went on I made changes to the bike to improve it. I picked up parts when and where I found them to make the bike more original. I found Scout tanks to replace the Sportster tank. A 741 front fork along with Scout wheels and brakes. I was moving from the chopper 70’s into more of make it more original again. I wish I had understood more of the history of this bike in the beginning. It would have been much easier to obtain racing parts for this bike in the 70’s and 80’s than it is now.
The first 25 years of owning the bike, information was scarce and very hard to find. The internet has proved a source of pictures and information in large quantities over the last 15 years or so. On line I found a gentleman that has made the preservation of the history of these bikes a primary project. He has established a data base to try and locate or account for all 50 of the original bikes built by the factory. Since I had the bike apart to some extent, to fix a failed oil pump, he told me about different markings inside the motor that might provide more clues about the bike. I was able to provide him with pictures and information about my engine and he provided me with information on the builder who modified the engine for racing, where the work was done and the probable name of the rider who raced it. I also was able to do some machine work on the heads to match them up compression wise and I replaced the stock scout pistons with the correct “Big Base” pistons which raise the compression ratio considerably. I am currently awaiting the return of my rebuilt magneto, which should allow me to get the bike running again.
Another “Big Base” owner in South Dakota is helping me track down Joe Smith to see if he can add to the history of this bike. Evidently Joe was in the Bay Area around the early 70’s. He was also a fairly well known drag racer. He raced both cars and motorcycles in southern CA. for many years. My friend came across an article about him in a recent magazine and having heard the story about Joe, he told me about it. I contacted the magazine to see if they would provide me with contact information or provide Joe with mine, but no word yet.
A few details about the engine. It was built by an engine builder in Illinois named Dick Gross. He was famous for building very light weight high revving engines. He also replaced all caged rollers and bushings with ball bearings. The rods on this bike are drilled to reduce weight and polished. The cam followers are lightened and polished. I’m currently looking for some cams to replace the pretty much stock cams in the engine right now. The clutch hub has been turned down from a three row chain hub to a one row hub, with the back of the hub and the clutch disks drilled to make them lighter. I’m told that Dick set up his motors to be turning near 8000 rpm at the end of the straight away. I’m looking forward to getting this bike on a dyno just to get an idea of its capabilities.
Over the forty five years or so that I have owned the bike it has been very reliable. I rode it for years with a battery coil ignition system which was very reliable. A six volt Volkswagen generator provided electricity, but not much light. The oil pump failure about four years ago is the only real mechanical problem I’ve experienced with the bike. I’m looking forward to restoring the bike back to more of its racing heritage.