History of Starklite Cycle: The Relics

Restoration of the Relics


Reprinted with permission from Road Rider, April 1972


Bob Stark looks up from his sweeping chores and smiles his recognition. "Hi, " he says. "Just trying to get the place back in shape. You wouldn't believe the mess we've had in here the past couple of days . " He hands the broom to his wife, Mary Lou, who takes it good-naturedly and begins sweeping where Bob left off. "I just got back from Texas, " Bob explains. "Picked up a dozen Chiefs down there. " He shakes his head slowly. "They were in terrible shape -- we just managed to get them into rolling condition this morning. But it sure messed the place up. Come on in. there's a cup of coffee in the pot. "

In a world gone slightly batty in the search for better mousetraps, high-gain low-quality production potentials, and methods of making the modular concept work, it's kind of nice to find a place of business where the owner drops what he's doing and offers you a cup of coffee. Bob Stark is that kind of a guy. Reserved, soft-spoken -- he's never too busy to answer a question or look up a part number or a statistic. His role in the story of Indian Today is one of dedication that paid off.

"Let's see -- my first bike was a Whizzer Motorbike, " Bob recalls. "That was back in 1946. My father was a motorcycle dealer in Akron, Ohio then. He handled Indian, Ariel, Zundapp and Triumph. Even though he'd been an Indian dealer since 1918, for some reason he didn't want me to have a motorcycle of my own. the Whizzer was okay, or a Cushman scooter would have been Al right. But no 'real' motorcycles.

"So I had to keep my first Indian a secret. " Bob smiles. "I guess it was wrong, but I just had to have a motorcycle.

I bought this dilapidated old converted Army Model Scout in 1950 for next to nothing It was a mobile disaster area. Rust and broken pieces and the fenders falling off. But I was proud of it -- in a secret sort of way. I owned it for almost six months before my dad found out about it He'd seen me riding around on it once too often and figured I belonged to it I had to confess.

"It was in such terrible shape that even though he gave in to the idea of my owning a cycle, he didn't want me on the Scout. So he offered me a straight-across trade for any bike in his shop. I traded even for a 1950 triumph 650 cc Thunderbird ! But there was something about the old Indian that wouldn't let go, and within two months I bought a '46 Chief and a'48 Chief. I've been an Indian fan ever since.

"My father died in 1954, and then in 1957 I reopened the shop in Akron at the same location. I handled-- let's see -- it was Royal Enfield, Parilla and Matchless. I even raced the little Parillas for a while. But I sold the shop to my brother in 1960 and moved to Florida for my health "

While we are talking, four young men come into the shop and browse around for a few minutes, impressing each other with their Indian lore. One of them finally starts looking around like he wants to do business, and Bob excuses himself and goes over The young customer is looking for an Indian he can "make into a chopper". He asks some questions and eventually gets around to the big one: How much is something that runs? Bob mentions a figure which is received with obvious disappointment. there are a few more half-hearted questions, the quartet mills around for a few more minutes and then leave. Bob comes back over and sits down.

"That happens all the time, " he explains. "People still think that they can find a 75-dollar Indian that runs. " He shakes his head. "Not any more The market is going up like a rocket-- increasing every year. Bikes I sold four or five years ago can be sold right now for over twice what I asked for them. the value just goes up every year. Most guys that are buying Indians these days consider them as investments. They buy knowing that they won't lose money. That's why you find more and more professional level people in the motorcycle collecting field. Doctors, Lawyers, Businessmen, conservative people who want original restoration, not modifications or stray parts taken from other motorcycles. It's a thriving business, but there's a problem -- the demand has created a lot of small businesses like this one, but in many cases the work isn't up to par, they're just slapping parts together.

Bob prides himself on his work. "If I wouldn't want to own a bike I've restored, " he states, "then it isn't good enough for the customer. Sometimes it takes a little longer; sometimes it costs a little more -- but when it's done, it's done right. "

How long has he been building Indians? "Well, not counting the machines I build for my own personal use, I've been restoring them and selling them since I moved to California in 1962. The shop itself--" he waves his hand in an inclusive arc, "-- is only eight months old. It just got to where the demand was such that we felt we had to answer it. So far, so good.

"Problems ? " Bob frowns, then nods his head . "I guess the biggest problem is the nature of the business itself. The old Indians are getting harder and harder to find. Every once in a while you can find a windfall -- and there are still some setting around in barns here and there. But sometimes it's pretty sad. Like these old Chiefs I got down in Texas. They were in terrible condition. What it amounts to is that I went down and bought twelve rusty hulks! They're restorable, but it won't be easy.

What usually happens is that someone will have a few old bikes sitting around. He's probably aware that there is a potential value on the collector's market. So he just hangs on to them, figuring that the longer he keeps them, the higher the price will go. But what he doesn't realize is that they have to be kept up in order to keep them from deteriorating entirely. A machine -- any machine -- has to be run. You can't just neglect them. Just sitting there under a tree someplace, they rust out and become worth- less. It's a shame.

"And there's the parts problem of course. As far as engine components are concerned, that's not much of a real problem. " Bob smiles. "Actually there's a rumor going around that an Indian owner can get parts easier than a Harley owner I know of several people who are currently making some parts too. I think there's probably three to four times as many parts available today than there was -- say -- five or ten years ago. The things that are the hardest to find are the sheet metal parts and trim, things like that. That's why we're trying to get our Indian group together. "

Bob reaches into the shelves behind him and picks up a small polished metal piece. "This is a fender tip for the Chief, " he explains. "It's identical to the original item, but we made it ourselves. The only drawback to making parts is that the molds cost so much to make. What we're doing is organizing under the name Indian Motorcycle Club of America. Most of the membership dues will go into the manufacture of molds to make hard-to-get or obsolete parts. Then we can sell the parts back to members at a pretty fair discount. the more members, the less the cost per item will be. We're already in production on battery hold-downs, distributor covers, exhaust mufflers for the four cylinder models; gear-shift knobs and foot board extensions . It' s one way to beat the scalpers -- they charge you a small fortune if they know you're having a tough time finding a part.

"Also we're putting together a complete file on everything pertaining to Indian--history, specifications, everything. That way we can setup a question and answer service, so that if a member wants some information on any given model - for instance, a list of Accessories or the original paint options -- we can simply Xerox a copy of the particular information he wants and send it back to him . "

The idea of being able to tell anyone who's interested anything they want to know about Indian appeals to Bob Stark. At present, he's a very happy person -- an industrious, polite kind of guy who has found a niche in the mad mad world to do what he enjoys the most. But Bob's part in the story of Indian Today doesn't end with his new and growing business. And it would be unfair to categorize him as being representative of the swelling ranks of Indian restorers without letting you see a few of the samples in his personal collection.

Well known to Southern California enthusiasts is Bob 's beautiful Rainbow Chief, a 1948 seventy-four which features a 1950 front end and a unique hand-clutch/foot-shift arrangement which took him two years and ten failures to perfect A striking maroon And sunburst machine) a judge 's delight.!

All of the bikes in Bob Stark's collection are built to be ridden. Nothing is strictly for show. The Rainbow is ridden annually to Indio and other California motorcycle shows, is displayed and ridden home again. Matter of fact, after winning the number one trophy in his class, Bob rode the big twin to second place finish in the Indio field meet competition last Year!

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