You wouldn't know it from its flamboyant appearance, a screaming yellow zonker bejeweled with leather and fringe. Like most superheroes, though, this Indian has a hidden past and a secret identity. Indian did not create this bike for civilian use, as it eventually entered. It created this bike to punch Nazis like Captain America.
Although the United States had not yet entered World War II in early 1941, it was already supplying equipment to the Allies. The undisputed king of the north African desert was the BMW R71. Its boxer-twin engine stayed cool in the heat thanks to its exposed heads, and its shaft drive never got gunked up with sand. The US Army challenged Harley-Davidson and Indian to come up with motorcycles to combat this foe. Harley pretty much copied the R71 with the XA, complete with its boxer engine and shaft drive. It's the easy way out, but it was the fastest way to provide a motorcycle that met the Army's requirements, and we can't fault them for that.
Gallery: 1941 Indian 841
Indian, however, took a more unique approach. They designed a new 90-degree V-twin engine using the same heads as the Scout, though with compression reduced to 5.1-to-1 so it could run on low-quality gas. This engine sat not longitudinally inside the frame, but in a transverse configuration, like a Moto Guzzi or Honda CX500. This allowed the cylinders to stick out in the open and gain the same cooling benefit the BMW had. It also made the shaft drive easy to implement since the crankshaft was already spinning in the proper orientation.
The result was the rather blandly named 841. The Army commissioned 1,000 of these and tested them extensively against the Harley-Davidson XA. Ultimately, the Army did not adopt either of them, and Indian sold its remaining 841s to the general public. Owners usually repainted them and adorned them with accessories like other Indians of the time. That's how this former Army brat got its distinctive appearance. This particular one goes up for auction at Mecum at the end of April. While it has undergone an extensive restoration, it's being sold "not for highway or public road use." It's still a neat piece of history with a secret identity.
Sources: Silodrome, Mecum Auctions