2012 Indian Chief Vintage vs. 2012 Harley Davidson Softail Deluxe

Frozen In Time

Styles come and styles go, but there are some designs—seemingly frozen in time—that remain classic over the years. The two classically-styled motorcycles we gathered here are such animals. They’re both new 2012 models, but pass this Indian Chief on the freeway, and one could easily mistake it for its 1940s skirted-fender predecessor. The U.S.A.’s biggest brand, meanwhile, has always stayed close to its roots, and the Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe is no exception; it’s the epitome of classic Harley styling. We decided to take these ultra-retro machines from America’s two oldest and most storied marques for a spin to see how vintage visages play in the real world.

Here First

As you undoubtedly know by now, Indian Motorcycle was snatched up Polaris Industries last year, so the 2012 models have a limited production run. Units will be numbered 008 – 110, in honor of Indian’s 110-year history, and special badging and certificates will accompany these first machines rolling off the line under Polaris. (Frank and Patti Heiland of Minnesota purchased the very first 2012 Polaris Indian sold to the public, SN# 008.) For the 2013 model year, production numbers are projected to be around 300, and for 2014 the Indian brand will debut an all-new engine, thus ending the PowerPlus bottle-cap (due to the rocker covers’ shape) engine era. Polaris has already shut down the Kings Mountain plant and moved Indian production to Spirit Lake, Iowa; Blackhawk and Roadmaster models have likewise been discontinued for the near future. This leaves the Chief Vintage, the Chief Dark Horse and Chief Classic models to flesh out the current offerings.

With its whitewall tires and fabulous fit and finish, this bike really is the pinnacle of modern vintage

The Vintage is a big motorcycle, but even with 753 pounds (dry) to move around, the 105 c.i. PowerPlus engine does a good job managing the mass. By the way, that rigidly-mounted engine uses no counterbalancers, so get used the sensation of vibration. Fuel economy isn’t listed anywhere but I get the feeling it’s probably in the mid 30’s; with a 5.5 gallon fuel tank, hitting the 200 mile range may be difficult. I didn’t get to spend my usual 1000 miles on this bad boy, but in my short time, I found it corners well, with respectable lean angles. Slow-speed handling felt sluggish—no doubt due to the relaxed 34-degree rake—but the floating-rotor, dual-caliper Brembo brakes up front were respectably firm and responsive. The clutch was a real workout on the Vintage, but all the controls are where you’d expect, right up to the center console knob. The six-speed transmission offers a comfortable rpm at freeway speeds with no surprises and no letdowns (except maybe for the persistent vibes). The large (and easily detachable) windscreen did its job nicely. With its whitewall tires and fabulous fit and finish, this bike really is the pinnacle of modern vintage, from the fringed leather quick-release saddlebags and massive teardrop headlamp, to the intricate Indian head fender ornament. Wearing a classic police motorcycle jacket is mandatory, though a passenger pillion is optional.

Indian is America’s oldest motorcycle brand and reams of documentation are available on its iconic past. Polaris is paying close attention to that past and, no doubt, to Indian’s future. And what about that future? With the many changes looming for all motorcycle manufacturers from CARB and the EPA come 2014, well, who knows—maybe I’ll see my dream of getting on a 200 horsepower, inline-four water-cooled Indian Chief…but that’s just me. There’s no question that whatever Polaris does do will be done with great consideration to the heritage of this iconic brand.

This bike handles well, has lots of power and looks great.

Don’t Call Me Soft

The 2012 Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe may not bring the same over-the-top opulent nostalgia as the Chief, but make no mistake, this FLSTN is all retro. Key features that set this motorcycle into the Classic category include vintage-style chrome front brake disc covers, whitewall tires, spoke wheels, a chrome oil tank and a cool luggage rack snaking directly off the back of the passenger pillion. And let’s not forget that classic tombstone tailight. The Softail Deluxe really looks like it was snatched right out of an H-D history book, yet it also comes fully adorned with modern technology.

New for 2012 for the Softail is the counter-balanced Twin Cam 103B powerplant, offering 98.7 ft-lbs. of torque at 3000 rpm. Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection provides a lively throttle and punch that you’ll appreciate when passing, climbing hills, or rolling with a passenger. Cruising rpm is also now lower, so you ride more smoothly, with less engine vibration and supposedly better highway fuel economy. Power is delivered to the rear wheel via a 6-speed Cruise Drive Transmission. Personally I am a huge fan of the 103 and on a motorcycle that’s 84 pounds lighter than, the Road King Classic, the Softail Deluxe feels mighty punchy. But I’m probably a bit too throttle happy, as I struggled to get near the claimed 42 mpg fuel economy.

One of the most confidence-inspiring of the Big Twins, the new Softail Deluxe features an extremely low seat with collapsing sides, pullback handlebar atop a tall riser and a new extended, easy-reach kickstand. Harley’s addition of the new Security Package option also means riders have the choice of adding anti-lock brakes, giving even more functionality to all this form.

Softails have always been a favorite of mine because of their solid ride and agile feel. The passenger pillion looks like an afterthought, but like the Indian Chief, this bike is probably best ridden solo.

The New Cost of Lookin Old

The most practical of these modern classics is the $17,854 Harley; it’s a motorcycle you can ride across town or across country. The Indian Chief Vintage, on the other hand, is hands-down the more stylish of the two—but at $35,999, it’s also far more expensive (Stablemate Indian Chief Classic ($26,499) can be had for less.)

Both bikes sport classic looks and vintage style married to modern technology. So what price are you willing to spend to look old? CR


BASE PRICE $17,149 ($18,024 as tested) $35,999; ($38,899 as tested)
COLORS Black, blue, red; two-tone white/red; white/black; Tequila Sunrise Orange Black, red; green/cream; two-tone
red/cream; turquoise/white
WARRANTY 2 Years, unlimited miles 2 years, unlimited miles
TYPE Air-cooled 45° V-twin Air-cooled 45° V-twin
BORE X STROKE 1690cc, 98.4 x 111.1mm 1720cc, 101x108mm
VALVE TRAIN OHV w/pushrods; 2 valves/cylinder OHV w/pushrods; 2 valves/cylinder
COMPRESSION 9.6:1 9.0:1
TRANSMISSION 6-speed 6-speed
OVERALL LENGTH 94.7 in. 100.5 in.
WHEELBASE 64.5 in. 68.4 in.
WET WEIGHT 726 lbs. 753 lbs. (dry)
SEAT HEIGHT 25.9 in. 27.25 in.
RAKE/TRAIL 32 °/ 5.9 in. 34° / 5.92 in.
WHEELS Laced steel Wire spoke
FRONT TIRE D402F MT-90-16 130/90-16
REAR TIRE D402 MU85B16 150/80-16
FRONT BRAKE 292mm disc; 4-piston caliper Dual 292mm discs; 2-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE 92mm disc; 2-piston caliper 292mm disc; single-piston caliper
FRONT SUSPENSION 41.3 mm fork; 5.1 in. travel Inverted 41mm fork; 4.25 in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Horizontal coil-over shocks; 3.6 in. travel Monoshock; 2.9 in. travel
FUEL CAPACITY 5 gallons 5.5 gallons