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Blue Dog Diaries: Déjà vu all over again

By Terry Roorda

BlueDogDiaries

Fresh off Indian Motorcycle’s spectacular Scout launch in Rapid City, Sturgis, and the Black Hills environs, I sit here writing this column while wearing my rare commemorative Scout launch T-shirt. I had to do some digging to find this one, though, because it reads “Monterey to Big Sur Indian Scout Launch 2000.”

That’s right, 2000.

So, yes, I’m an old hand at Scout revivals, and as lavish as this year’s event was, and as commodious and accommodating as the base hotel of the deal, Rapid City’s historic Hotel Alex Johnson, was, the deal in 2000 was one for the ages. Based out of a luxury hotel in luxurious Monterey, California, the launch involved a relative handful of moto-journalists compared to the multi-national and multi-genre mob scene that materialized this year. Gilroy’s Indian Motorcycle Company was barely a year old then, but already making big waves in the volatile American V-twin scene, spending big bucks, and exciting a good deal of nostalgic interest among the biker community.

And for good reason. The Gilroy crew, led by CEO and President Rey Sotelo, had just the previous year transformed his California Motorcycle Company, best known for producing convincing knock-off clones of the undersupplied Harley-Davidsons, into the Wigwam of the embattled marque, and convincingly so. While the current stewards of the War Bonnet in Medina, Minnesota, are at pains to disavow that chapter of the brand’s checkered past, and make no mention of the 15th anniversary of its first authentic revival effort, their chain of provenance to the marque traces back straight through downtown Gilroy. And an outfit every bit as enraptured by the brand and as dedicated to restoring it to its former glory as the Medina crew obviously is now. Those guys even had Indian tattoos. Fresh ones.

That Scout back in 2000 was not a great bike, but it was a pretty good one for the time—depending on which one you rode. Quality control was lagging behind the company’s ambitious development curve, and the Gilroy-assembled S&S 88-inch motors with frequently mismatched components suffered for it. But if you got a good one, it really was a delight to ride.

I got a good one for the press ride down the legendary Highway 1 in Big Sur, and while “legendary” has become a tired and abused adjective, in this instance it’s inarguably appropriate. The lunch stop was at—here we go again—the legendary Nepenthe restaurant on the bluff above the—one more time—legendary beauty of the Big Sur coast. Henry Miller immortalized the place in his classic Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, which by sheer happenstance I had just finished reading.

My dining companion was none other than renowned LSR racer and Santa Maria Harley-Davidson dealer Vance Breese, who had caught the Indian fever and was promoting the effort. Later that year, at Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats in August, I was in attendance when he set a new land-speed record aboard a Gilroy-sponsored vintage Indian 80-inch flathead.

Supper that night after the Big Sur ride was, believe it or not, a lockout affair at the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, where a catered feast was served on white linen beneath the mind-bending Outer Bay tank. I think we had seafood.

That was, in retrospect, the high-water mark of the Gilroy adventure. And although they continued to develop new models, and even the proprietary retro-inspired Powerplus 100 motor, and spend beaucoup bucks (at one point they had, as I recall, something on the order of 10 vice presidents on the payroll), and sold thousands of bikes, they had lost the original mojo and become a creature of the suits.

You know the rest of the story, but what you might not know is that the last model the company created was the Scout Sport—a hardtailed, sissy-barred, blacked-out barhopper that was paraded for the press poolside at the Woodside Marriott but never produced as the company unraveled into an unceremonious bankruptcy.

I was also in attendance at the premiere awards breakfast in Sturgis kicking off the nascent Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame in 2001where Rey Sotelo was awarded the inaugural J.C. “Pappy” Hoel Outstanding Achievement Award for his efforts to bring the Indian marque back to the market. The following year as the boardroom intrigues of the IMC heated up, Rey parted ways with the company of his creation, and after 2002 had pretty much fallen off the industry radar screen. He pursued another passion of his for an extended period, that passion being golf, and I lost contact with the guy. Until, that is, a few months ago when he called me up out of the blue with the somewhat startling news that not only was he back in the game, he had acquired the Indian Motorcycle franchise for Hollister and was throwing a grand opening bash complete with demo rides of the three 2014 Indian models, and an appearance by another Gilroy IMC stalwart and their national spokesman, actor/musician Branscombe Richmond. He made an encore appearance at the dealership during this year’s Hollister rally, where Rey’s Hollister Powersports dealership was one of the main attractions, and the site of both the Indian and Victory demo rides.

With those players back in the game and a new Scout unveiled for 2015, it feels as though the modern Indian saga has come full circle. The more things change, the more they remain the same, no?

It’s all right here in the diaries…

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