1939 Indian Traffic Car
Motorcycles weren’t always about fun and games. Many worked for a living—and worked hard.
Consider this 1939 Indian Traffic Car. Part delivery van, part motorcycle, this half-ton vehicle was robust enough for the questionable roads of the day, and big enough to deliver just about anything.
Like all Traffic Cars built at the Indian Motorcycle factory in Springfield, Massachusetts, it started life as most of an Indian Chief, powered by the same 42-degree, 74-cubic-inch V-twin as the two-wheeled model. But then, workers bolted a massive steel subframe to the rear of the bike and installed a jackshaft where the rear wheel should go. Sprockets on each side of the jackshaft turned drive chains to each rear axle, offering two-wheel drive.
As was common practice at the time, Indian made the chassis, then contracted out the coachwork for the van-like body. Solid oak flooring was bolted to the deck, while the sides were made of 20-gauge steel over an oak frame. Two full-length doors in back completed the carrying space.
The roof was made of wood ribs covered with canvas. The overhang in front gave some protection to the operator, but it had one drawback: tall riders need not apply. Built for work, not for performance, the bike came with a three-speed transmission, a reverse gear and a hand brake.
Traffic Cars were rare even in their day, and surviving examples like this model, in factory “World’s Fair” colors, are rarer still. Originally bought new by shop owner Norman Bent in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the rig saw duty for years as a delivery van and as a billboard for his business.
Eventually, it was bought in the 1970s by collector Fred Dauer, who had become enamored of Traffic Cars after seeing pieces of one at an Antique Motorcycle Club of America meet. When this one turned up through an Indian parts company in Illinois, he didn’t hesitate.
“The shop sent pictures while I was traveling, and my wife had a suitcase packed when I returned, figuring we were going to get it,” Dauer says. “She was right.”
Believed to be the best original example of a Traffic Car anywhere, this unrestored rig has been valued at well over $100,000. But Dauer wanted this rolling piece of history preserved. So he donated the bike to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio. It is currently on loan to the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.