The Metamorphosis Of The Chief Ambassador

You know the saying. “The work of a biker is never done”. What about the work of a Custom Builder? And what about this project from that I published “finished” in bare steel for the first time in September 2012? You are now looking at a multi-year metapmorphosis of an old bike into a rolling piece art. As I wrote several times before, I love when Custom Builders start a project working with parts from different OEM manufacturers, parts that were never supposed to meet on the same motorcycle. The result is always refreshing…

loves old bikes. He especially has an affinity for fuller fender models (pun intended) from the 40’s through the early 50’s, an era to him that represented beauty, grace and style. The big swoop fenders and art deco shapes with beautiful hand-shaped door handles, wind- shield frames and “bumperettes” remind Bryan of the car models that came out of Detroit at that time. Like the 1939 Fords and others such as Delage, Delahaye and Duesenberg. With a strong background in car building, Bryan knows better than most, that such revered beauty can sometimes come at a high price.

As the original start of this project Bryan was looking to build something very special, and was interested first in buying a vintage Indian. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the budget for such a bike. A visit to the Barber Vintage Festival in Birmingham, Alabama helped change all that. Luckily, he met a man there named Richard Conn. Richard understood Bryan’s passion for old bikes and took pity on him. Richard’s father had been collecting Indians since a time when most folks weren’t looking for them. Indian had a pretty established history in Birmingham that inspired an entire area in the museum dedicated to this period of Indians. Bryan asked Richard if he had any extra parts laying around from the 40’s that might be somewhat affordable. Richard gave him an address and told him to come by on Sunday after the Vintage Festival to look around, and that he just might have something for him…

It was about a two hour drive from Birmingham to an old barn in the middle of the Alabama countryside. When Bryan got there, he couldn’t believe his eyes: frames hung from the ceiling, fenders laying on the ground, boxes of parts were everywhere and there were even motors leaning against every vertical surface, even bench legs. Bryan didn’t need matching pieces and couldn’t afford a motor, so Richard made him a nice deal. They found a frame from 1932, front and rear fenders, a girder front end, and a tank gauge panel that hadn’t been used. The perfect starter kit for a metal fabricator to start with some creative ingenuity…

The parts made it back to in Atlanta and then the extensive brainstorming began inside Bryan’s head. What power plant should be used? How about a Harley? Too offensive! Even the notoriously controversial Fuller won’t touch that one… What about Vintage Indian? Too expensive and not much power. Japanese? Wouldn’t sound right and not enough torque. How about a Moto Guzzi Ambassador? Perfect, he realized. The Guzzi’s have that perfect hot rod sound. Bryan says, “Of all the motorcycles I’ve ridden the Ambassador Twin has the closest sound to the old flathead hot rod V8’s of the past. A huge bonus too was that they are cheap. So, Bryan found a 1969 good running Ambassador for $3000.

The Italian steed was taken apart down to just the frame and motor for plastic surgery. Nice thing about the Guzzi is that the engine cradle of the frame also houses the foot controls. This makes it easy because they didn’t have to remake those mounts, they were built in already. The 1932 American Indian frame and 1969 Guzzi frame were trimmed to see how they fit together. Oddly enough, the 1932 and 1969 frames fit together perfectly. adds, “Just behind and under the transmission where we mated the two the width and tubing diameter of the cradle were nearly identical. I knew then it wasn’t coincidence and assumed someone had cheated off of someone else’s design.” Years go by, and no one knows why the frames are so closely related until the head of design at Indian saw the Chief Ambassador at the AIM show in Orlando. Indian had made a similar bike to this in preparation for desert warfare in World War II. It was called the 841 which had a longitudinal V-twin power plant, large fenders, and shaft drive; all to keep the sand away from vital running components. Harley got the war contract leaving only a small number of military 841 models to be built at somewhere around 1000 units. When the war was over Indian sold the blueprints and rights to produce to the Italians which eventually became the Ambassador. So now it was finally understood why the frames were so closely related… It turned out that the Indian and Guzzi are true cousins.  Even the Guzzi gas caps screw right on the Indian tank…

Once the stance was set right, the went to work cutting, sectioning, and fitting the parts together into a cohesive unit. The front girder was cut into 3 sections to fit the earlier 1932 frame. Front fender was lowered, re-trimmed, and edged with solid rod for strength and style. The side panels of the fenders were removed and bead rolled to give some style and character. Bryan found an early Plymouth car light that turned into the tail light. Vintage style re-pop brass badges were fitted to the tank. Guzzi gas caps and peacocks were used too. Almost all of the running gear was taken from it: hand and foot controls, brakes, gas caps, engine, trans, and so on. The airplane steering dampener was another swap meet item picked up around the way. Mufflers are re-pop Harley Davidson JD style and head pipes are original to the engine.

The old girl was put together and ridden in bare metal for about a year. She ran great but after 700 miles in Sturgis she spun a bearing. Bryan called an old friend and legendary motor builder, Jon Kaase to help him out. When asked what happened he said, “It’s an old motor, it happens.”Kaase is a seven time “Engine Master Builders” champion and known for being one of the foremost Big Inch Ford builders in the country. Kaase and crew took the 750cc Guzzi and put in an 850cc crank. Next they got rid of the weird Chromium cylinders and fitted it with modern steel cylinders and punched the displacement to 1000cc. Modern short skirt pistons, higher compression, and complete reworking of the heads took place, and cams were reground to make this old girl much more capable. First thing they found out was the starter wasn’t up to snuff. With some adapting, a newer model Moto Guzzi Starter was fitted and worked nicely. Master engraver Tay Herrera engraved the covers. The unique Indian head on the front pulley cover gets the most attention.

Now that the shakedown was complete, how was Bryan going to finish this bike? When I featured for the first time the Indian Ambassador in 2012, it in bare metal and before rebuilding the motor. It looked cool then and Bryan thought maybe it should stay bare, or possibly blow it apart and paint everything deep glossy black? Then along came Bobby Haas for the next chapter of the Chief Ambassador’s life. Bobby is setting up an incredible new museum called “The Haas Moto Museum and Sculpture Gallery” in the design district of downtown Dallas. It’s dedicated to rare and beautiful motorcycles including some of the best customs ever built! He visited Bryan’s shop in Atlanta and asked about what color he envisioned. A week before, Bryan was thinking of what it would be like to coat the body work in Bronze to look like a sculpture. This would make the bike look finished but still retaining the character of the vintage and handmade sheet metal pieces. Bobby had a crazy look on his face, and said, “The facade of our new museum is going to be bronze!” It was like it was meant to be. A deal was struck…

There were a few things to finish up before blowing the bike apart. The air box area was unfinished so a new one was made from aluminum, giving the engine a vintage BMW feel as it comes up and covers the alternator up top. Originally they used the Italian headlight which looked ok, but they decided to use a 1937 Ford Teardrop light instead to fit the style better. A custom steel headlight bucket was created and brass trim ring eventu-ally nickel plated really fits together nice with the piece.

Everything was blown apart for bronze, nickel, and leather. Jon Wright did a spectacular job on the plating. A local bronze artist in Atlanta took the sheet metal pieces and bronzed them. Those of you familiar with the process know it has to be patined to have the look most people like. Acids are used in conjunction with sanding, polishing, and darkening agents to get the correct look. This is an art of its own. John Whitaker covered the seat and aluminum dash panel housing the original Guzzi Tach and dash lights. He had the Indian logo laser etched into the seat. The twisted seat mount is stainless steel heated and twisted in the front attachment area.

All the parts went together at the shop using ARP stainless 12 point fasteners that are a hallmark of any Fuller Moto build. Many custom fasteners were made for this bike including hardware for the girder front end and internal head studs in the motor. What will the next 75 years hold for these old parts brought together by fate? For now, she’s going to be viewed on display at Bobby’s beautiful new museum targeted for opening in Spring 2018 where you will see her completed. . (Written with help of Bryan Fuller. All photos @ Silver Piston Photography)

33 Responses to “The Metamorphosis Of The Chief Ambassador”

  1. 1 Mdkuder Jan 29th, 2018 at 9:03 am

    I’ve always been a fan of Fullers work and this is another perfect example of his genius!

  2. 2 Lee Jan 29th, 2018 at 9:10 am

    Fuller is THE MAN.

  3. 3 Tracy Jan 29th, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Great project that not many builders would dare to tackle.

  4. 4 P. Hamilton Jan 29th, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Indian + Guzzi. Daring. Why not.

  5. 5 domino Jan 29th, 2018 at 9:27 am

    Love the story behind this build…

  6. 6 RBinTEX Jan 29th, 2018 at 9:39 am


  7. 7 boston jim Jan 29th, 2018 at 9:53 am

    I met Bryan at a Ct. Bike Show, 10/12 years ago, He had a Bottle Cap Indian Chopper & a Cool Buell !

    He & the other Celebrity Builder rode the Bikes in from a cold & snowy outside, right by my Scavenger Booth ! Bryan didn’t win, But, 10 years later , I was visiting the Barber, & there was the Custom Buell ! I was talking to a volunteer, about me seeing this bike 10 years earlier, at a show in Ct., that volunteer turned out to be George Barber, a very nice unassuming nice guy ! He asked us if He could show us his Dan Gurney Collection of Race Cars ? It was getting late, & we were staying in Nashville for Xmas, we politely declined, got a rain check ! George Barber & Bryan Fuller, two stand up Guys !!

    And, the Museum, is TOP NOTCH, a must see ! BJ

  8. 8 hacksaw Jan 29th, 2018 at 10:13 am

    very nice!

  9. 9 Boomer Jan 29th, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Great story. Great build. Although too nice to be a daily rider; it could be. That’s what I like to see!

  10. 10 BOSS HAWG Jan 29th, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Wonderful work, absolutely wonderful and a great story to boot!

    Boss Hawg

  11. 11 jim watson Jan 29th, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Great story, good looking machine. Strong Work Bryan, Thanks for sharing!

  12. 12 Boots Jan 29th, 2018 at 10:30 am

    Fantastic! The airplane is a nice addition!!

  13. 13 burnout Jan 29th, 2018 at 11:02 am

    Excellent! peace

  14. 14 Gina Woods Jan 29th, 2018 at 11:28 am

    Nice! …..Very Nice!

  15. 15 Woody's Jan 29th, 2018 at 11:38 am

    Fantastic build, a treat for the eyes. If anything detracts at all, it’s actually the silly Indian badge on the tank. This bike doesn’t need any desperate clinging to somebody else’s name, it’s good enough to stand alone all day long.

  16. 16 Kenneth Ashley Jan 29th, 2018 at 11:51 am

    Superb feature. Thanks Bryan and Cyril.

  17. 17 Seymour Jan 29th, 2018 at 11:51 am

    Love it and I agree with Woody’s

  18. 18 Dan Jan 29th, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    The same “loves old bikes” Bryan Fuller that butchered a rare 1969 Honda cb750 sandcast for no other good reason than he could? The dude that sold him that bike (for some tv show, cant remember which), looked like he was watching Fuller ruin his wife right in front of him.

  19. 19 Iron Horse Jan 29th, 2018 at 6:09 pm

    Very cool build and an even cooler back story. I had no idea that Indian had sold the 841 design to the Italians after the war. I always wondered why they hadn’t continued building that model.

  20. 20 Dave Blevins Jan 29th, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    Looks very nice.

  21. 21 Sheridan Jan 30th, 2018 at 1:39 am

    Exceptional!! A rolling piece of art you can actually ride

  22. 22 Dale Ianni Jan 30th, 2018 at 7:53 am

    A masterpiece. Bravo!!

  23. 23 Dyno Don in Fla Jan 30th, 2018 at 8:24 am

    Beautiful Build, Great Story!

  24. 24 Martin Twofeather Jan 30th, 2018 at 8:54 am

    Great job Bryan.

  25. 25 Calif Phil Jan 30th, 2018 at 8:57 am

    Bryan needs another TV show. This bike is amazing!

  26. 26 Jim Tom Stimpson Jan 30th, 2018 at 9:07 am


  27. 27 beentheredonethat Jan 30th, 2018 at 9:25 am

    a true work of art

  28. 28 highrpm Jan 30th, 2018 at 11:17 am

    i’m with you.

    – the tractor seat is great. more practical not upholstered, still who cares as it’s most likely use is for advertising and museum iconishness. not “8 hours in the saddle.”
    – great headlight design.
    – the duc engine appears an attractive option to the indian.

  29. 29 Wolfgang Schmidt Jan 30th, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    Regarding: “You know the saying. “The work of a biker is never done”. ”
    It is our protected company claim since 1979 and we are quite proud to see that it converted to a general saying. Thanks. Wolfgang, CEO

  30. 30 Hillbilly Jim Jan 31st, 2018 at 6:35 am

    I met Brian at the Barber Vintage festival several years ago and found him as approachable as he is talented! At that time he was showcasing some CB Hondas but this is even more awesome! Can’t wait to see what is next from Brian.

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