Built to run: 1940 Sport Scout rides as good as it looks

Call it a two-wheeled Woodstock. The Quail Motorcycle Tour and Gathering, held annually since 2009, attracts a special kind of enthusiast and their bikes to Carmel, Calif., in early May. Sportbike riders, cruiser owners, Italophiles, restorers, customizers, Anglophiles, and preservationists all share an intense common denominator: a passion for motorcycling.

Into this remarkable happening (May 5-6, 2017) rode independent Hagerty sales agent Nick Dounias, aboard his 1940 Indian Sport Scout.

Dounias found Indian motorcycles as a second love, following a long-term relationship with a 1967 Camaro SS/RS convertible. Indians appeal to him due to their American heritage, their unmistakable style, and because they’re “the other” big U.S. bike brand. Indian was Harley-Davidson’s archrival for decades, beginning more than a century ago until 1953, when the Massachusetts-based firm closed. Of course, the name has recently resurfaced under Polaris ownership, but that's another story.

The ’40 Sport Scout that Dounias brought to The Quail is unique in that it was the first year for Indian’s famous skirted fenders, which came to visually define the brand, and the last year for the model’s rigid rear frame. Complemented by a sturdy, low-compression 45-cid (750-cc) engine, the Sport Scout is old but not ancient, stylish but not prissy, and fully highway capable. In short, this one-year-only Indian configuration had it all for Nick. And after five years and 3,500 miles of ownership, he was eager to ride it in the springtime 100-mile Quail Motorcycle Tour.

Picking up the pieces

This particular Sport Scout was built from parts by Indian specialist Matt Blake over a 10-year period. Blake first found a proper engine, followed by a frame. From there he worked diligently to acquire, rebuild, and assemble the rest of the components, using as many authentic and period-correct items as possible.

The Sport Scout’s original skirted fenders are like hen’s teeth. Fortunately, Blake’s business, Iron Horse Corral, manufactures the exact sheet metal. So Nick’s Sport Scout proudly wears a set of handmade steel fenders, constructed with 16-gauge steel on top and with lighter, 18-gauge steel for the side valances. The twin fuel tanks were made by Iron Horse, too. Also specially built for the bike: a period-correct speedometer with an optional resettable “max hand” that shows the top speed attained. During a period when performance credentials were becoming essential in the marketplace, it was a prestigious feature.

Six solid colors were originally available for the 1940 Sport Scout, including Indian Red and Fallon Brown. Blake liked the two so much that he decided to paint this Indian in a nonstandard two-tone color scheme, with red on top and brown on the bottom. While earlier Indians use nickel plating to protect certain parts, chrome plating ruled in 1940, and the Sport Scout’s handlebars, exhaust system, hard-to-find rear crash bars, and trim all received chrome finish.

Renewed and improved

Metallurgy, machining, and engineering have obviously advanced significantly since 1940 when the Sport Scout was originally produced. Although the V-twin is not a high-revving engine, during its rebuild Blake made certain internal upgrades that improved its usefulness and durability, including the use of modern bearings and modern aluminum pistons, and paying careful attention to tolerances and fit. The bike uses straight 50-wt. oil in the engine, and either 30-wt. or 40-wt. in the primary drive and gearbox. “Whenever I stop, it marks its spot with oil out of the crankcase, primary cover, and various and sundry spots,” Dounias said. “In other words, it’s normal.”

Most classic vehicles have their own particular starting drill, and the Sport Scout is no exception. “Cold-starting an Indian is never first kick,” Dounias explained. Actually, firing up the motor is the final step of a detailed process. “First turn on the fuel, then put the choke on full, open the throttle all the way, and kick through two or three times” to prime the engine. “Then set the throttle, retard the timing, turn on the ignition, and finally kick and hope. Whether or not it starts depends on how many people are watching!” Fortunately, Dounias’ Sport Scout is a ready starter when the steps are correctly followed.

Sport Scout on tour

At 8:30 on a Friday morning, after a pre-Quail Tour briefing, the Indian started nicely, and Dounias joined the 100 other riders, split into two groups led by CHP escorts. He cruised along happily near the back of the second pack, often running behind a shiny Morgan three-wheeler and, for a time, a Kawasaki two-stroke triple. While the Indian can leave a little oil on the ground, the Kawasaki left ample oil smoke in its wake, forcing Dounias to accelerate past to get into clean air. No wonder two-strokes were ultimately exiled by the EPA.

The Indian ran flawlessly on the Tour, a testament to Blake’s quality work and Dounias’ dedication to maintaining and caring for the bike. As it turned out, the Sport Scout was also the most “vintage” motorcycle on the ride—nearly a decade older than the next bike, a 1949 Triumph twin. It seems that regardless of which motorcycle decade you’re passionate about, expertise and intelligence can build (or rebuild) a bike that you can use and appreciate. And there’s nothing better than that.