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Harley v. Indian rolls into Petersen Automotive Museum

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An Indian motorcycle once owned by Steve McQueen is part of the new Harley v. Indian exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

New exhibit spans a century-long rivalry between the two legendary American motorcycle makers

It’s a rivalry that’s gone on for decades. No, it isn’t Coke versus Pepsi. It isn’t Star Wars versus Star Trek. It’s Harley versus Indian. Opening this weekend, the new exhibit at the Petersen Automotive Museum will explore the century-old rivalry of the two legendary American motorcycle makers.

"With the fairly recent reintroduction of the Indian name plate on the American market, we thought it would be a really good idea to trace the history of Indian and their arch rival back to the early part of the 20th century," said Leslie Kendall, chief curator for the Petersen and the Harley v. Indian exhibit opening Saturday, March 4.

Indian Motorcycle dates back to 1901, Harley-Davidson to 1903. Indian, however, went bankrupt in 1953 and changed hands several times in the following decades. Now owned by Polaris Industries, Indian has been back on the market since 2013.

The oldest motorcycles in the exhibit are a 1902 Indian Camelback and 1908 Harley-Davidson Model 4, both of which show motorcycles in their infancy.

In the early part of the 20th century, "There were dozens of American motorcycle manufacturers," Kendall said. "Most of them started by building bicycles. Today we would call them glorified mopeds because they all had pedaling gear and that’s usually how you got them started, you didn’t have a crank or an electric start. You’d pedal them to get them going."

Today, both Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles are characterized by massive V-twin engines, but that wasn't always the case. Indians were powered with one, two -- even four cylinders, such as the very first Indian Ace motorcycle from 1927 that's included in the new Petersen exhibit.

Harley and Indian both made three wheelers, as well, including a Harley Servi-Car -- a precursor to the Harley trike -- and an Indian Dispatch Tow, used for towing. The three wheelers are among the 28-vehicle display that also includes midget race cars powered with Indian and Harley engines and a 1993 Harley HRM gifted to museum namesake, Bob Petersen, on the 45th anniversary of Hot Rod magazine.

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