Husqvarna Motorcycles

Today in Motorcycle History

Husqvarna Racing in Europe and Australia, 1970s

August 2009

'Very tatty Husky'! Cor, what a windup!

That was an ex-works development hack, testing the coming fad of long suspension. Not sure now, but was it KTM who started? I recall a race in Sweden where the works KTM was covered in weird hydraulic-tubes all over the place, everyone laughing at it. Factories actually work quick and crude when it concerns development, no ultra-fine instrument-maker toolshop works of art at all. That was me riding the 'tatty HVA', by the way, Motala '75. Bit embarrassing, that pic (taken on my Practica camera by a HVA engineer who later worked for Ohlins) my leathers split just before the start and I rapidly pulled on some old mud-practicing sweatsuit pants to hold them up and keep 'Save Willy' from waving about in the breeze, getting me black-flagged! Missed a few dates there? Every jump hauled the leathers ever lower down, looked like I'd shit myself, I was laughingly told afterwards.

It was a '73 model bought by a mate via an ex-Volvo workmate of his, now a development engineer at the factory. Tatty, yes, but it had a few miles on it at the Drattinge Track in Huskvarna. I was lusting to buy the new 6-speed GP250, but decided to wait a year, to let the other stupid wallys debug it (I'd heard a few whispers that HVA had released the bike 6 months too early, sales of the '74 Mag-engined 5-speeders weren't good, Jap bikes were making rapid inroads). Cracked frames, cracked fork-legs, blown clutches, there were a few bugs.

I realised my trusty 4-speed 250 wasn't competitive against the latest bikes and tried a 360 4-speed in my 250, the 500 class not being so hot a class and I thought the suspension wouldn't matter so much (you have pics of the stripped ex-works 360, which then underwent a thorough development and cosmetic program before being sold-off after 6 or so races (the broken fin never got repaired) as it was too dangerous to race as it needed a new gearbox every 3 races, it ripped them apart. It was the fastest engine I've ever encountered, a viscious, hard-hitting powerband, never confirmed but it must have had near 50 bhp).

My clubmate was fed-up with the myraid of niggling problems and forever welding the frame on the 5-speed ex-works 400 (standard cylinder) and sold it to me. I decided to buy it as it seemed reliable enough, the guy who had it was a bit of a wally when it came to hard work, he refused to strip it to the quick and FIX the problems once and for all, he was into riding. I began a logical development program on the 400 and wasn't interested in wasting time and money in tarting the bike up until it was sorted. When finished the rear of the frame was all hydraulic-tubing, decent gussets etc, and DIDN'T flex or crack. Blew a crankcase, but that was the norm, 2-3 a year was normal fare for the 400-450 - the 250's never had that problem - but inbetween times the now finely-honed engine was a delight to thrash, even though the bike jumped around. The shocks were the problem. Expensive Bielsteins didn't cure it. What HVA had done was all wrong, note the better layout on the '75 GP's onwards.

I had thought to make a completely new frame over the winter, based on the new GP frame but using the Canadian Boulger rear suspension, and curing the crankcase problems by welding-up a steel one (yes!) using the new, smaller mag-clutch, but Bror Jauren, HVA Economic and Sales Director told me the GP 250 was now sorted, he would like me to consider buying one. So I never finished the 400, sold it off as was. Ratty, but much better than when I bought it. Why the personal touch? Jauren liked me (rarely met Helmin, he wasn't a sociable chappie and was seldom at the races, I've only really spoken to him once, when I tested the auto-250 army bike for an Aussie mag. I spent most of the time with Urban Larsson, the civil-engineer/designer who did most of the actual sharp pencil-on-paper work) as in '75 he had met Princess Anne at the horse-jumping in Gothenburg, where we were part of Scandinavia's top motorcycle show, and, as I spoke good English, I had taken Harvey Smith, John Whittaker and Mark Philips (Anne was actually on the way over in a private plane at this time, so I didn't actually meet her - shame, nice ass! She was keen on bikes, it seemed, but they wouldn't let her ride one) under my wing when he was out checking the bikes, giving a sales-schpeel - that had all the journalists desperately listening-in for some free copy! - that had knocked Jauren's socks off.

"There is no component on the bike that can be improved on - ignoring titanium, which is prohibitively expensive to use on a production machine and it's illegal in certain applications anyway, for safety reasons - HVA have only used the finest materials made to the finest standards. This is the first motocross-bike ever designed from the first bolt up to be the perfect racing-machine." Sort of thing, there was a bit more, but that say's it all. I then showed Philips all over the bike, detail by detail. Regarding the high-pressure die-cast magnesium air-filter box: "I lust to take it to bed and lick it all over..." I was brilliant! Jauren looked goggle-eyed at me, then at all the journo's frantically scribbling, the abject attention the Brits were giving my every word ...and beamed at me to continue.

He spoke so-so English, he knew some soft-soap sales-chat, but not THIS good! Philips - and both the others - rode bikes, you see, had done some MX/trials for fun, it was also expected for officers to be able to ride and drive anything/anywhere/anytime. I suggested Philips buy bikes for the Brit equestrian-team to train their reflexes for horse-trials on, saving the horses (long distance fast steeplechase-riding over rough courses and jumps). Why not the best bikes available? Husqvarnas? Cheaper in the long run that lower-quality bikes. Don't think they did, and a trials bike was actually far better, horses can only do 35mph and a trials bike easily tops 70. But I'm sure they did use bikes to train on, helping them win Gold at the '76 Montreal Olympics. The HVA GP 250 was my first and only new bike. The DOT came close, barely raced, but it was secondhand, sold as it was slow. I wish I still had the GP and the DOT.

I was up in Manchester at the factory in '71, hoping to sweet-talk my way into a job, why I kept the bike, to impress them (went free as bagage on the boat) but there was no production going-on there, only Burnard and Michael Scot-Wade were left. Michael is wheelchair-bound, by the way, always was. Burnard was a brillant engineer, in my opinion, with a 'feel' for bikes. But never got it totally together, he should have gotten out more and visited the other European factories and checked-out the scene. For I'm sure, especially looking back on it now, experienced as I became, that with a few mods the DOT was still competitive to all the other makes at the time, with the potential to stay there.

I'd only changed the rings on the bike once, and not being very worldy at the time hadn't looked too closely inside. Michael arranged a rebore for me as it seemed I'd put up enough miles for it to be long overdue, "Twice a year is more normal than once every 2 years," he said, dryly, and they were rather put out at what they saw. It turned out now factory was closing the lads weren't fussy about what they were doing, and nobody was checking them anyway, and they banged-in a TRIALS cylinder-liner. 18bhp, not 27bhp (DOT had their own dyno, now sold). "Sorry, we don't have the correct liner just now," they told me. "We suggest you get somebody to grind-out the liner to match the port-shapes." The S-W's were now reduced to handmaking shocks for CCM, welding-on extensions to the shafts and grinding them off, and made occasional spares from the piles of castings etc. I was there alone once, checking-out all the floors, the piles of castings, rusting frame-parts, whatever. It looked like a scrapyard. S-W still kept the experimental parts he'd tried, cylinders, cylinderheads that looked more like diesel components, whatever, and I wondered why he didn't sell them off for scrap and get the money in. But it seems they had money, were wealthy, it didn't bother them. No, I didn't steal anything, I could have done, yes, could have loaded my van up to the gunnels, but I'm not like that and there was nothing I could use anyway, other than basic frame and fork items, the White Strength was the last development and they'd obviously used up all the components ordered for that. There were parts for older models, but they were no good to me. Looking back at it, looking at my (excellent) photos, as I've said, the DOT was as good as, if not better than, a Greeves (maybe not the last Griffons) and equal to HVA, Maico, CZ, at that time, and, argueably, with a bit more investment, potentially better. I'm looking at pics of my 250 HVA and thinking the engine, wonky gearbox and clutch notwithstanding, would have been better in the DOT frame, as would the 360 HVA atom-bomb (with a stronger gearbox). The HVA frame always looked like a bodge-up, bits added-on willy-nilly (to be truthfull, that applies to the engine too!) Why did DOT stop making bikes?

(Answer: perhaps because B S-W hadn't assembled a good design/engineering team around him, as Helmin did at HVA, B S-W doing all the work himself with the help of some friends who raced the bikes for him and gave feedback. HVA could have survived without Helmin, but DOT died with B S-W, there being nobody to take over from him. He was old, he realised this, he realised it was getting so competitive he needed to invest lots of money and time, time he didn't have, and pulled-out, to save the good name of DOT).

Anyway, nice you got the correct pics. Shame I didn't take more, I 'd prefer to mull over golden memories with more pics to remind me. Especially regret not tarting-up the HVA works experimental 400 with a decent paint-job and polish and not taking more detailed pics of 'before and after', especially regret not making that steel-engine and new frame. Maybe when I win the lottery... But I was working full-time in the shipyards, spending hours in the workshop learning about bikes and engines, not to mention all the physical training needed just to keep up in the races, let alone RACE. Just happy i did find the time to take the pics I have.

Have a nice day,


Noticed a few spelling mistakes, but what the heck, you Yanks can't speak English properly anyway. For REAL professional use the article would need careful rewriting, it is a bit over the place. Technical-writing has always interested me, but it does take a lot of work to get it that good. Try rewriting an instruction-manual for a TV/stereo/DVD sometime! First you have to understand it.
Yes, the pic of me on the DOT was taken in '69 at Berwick, Melbourne, Oz, at the track Dandenong MC leased from a farmer. "Don't worry about the cows, just weaving in-and-out of them, they'll move eventually."

Added a few more jpegs, some of the 400, some of the 360 engine. All before they got modded and sorted. Plus a couple of my beloved CR250, the Ohlins expansion-chamber didn't arrive for a few months, no pics of that at all.

nr 13 is my 4-speed 250 HVA, nr 13 is my CR 250 (different files, same numbers!) nrs 20/54 is the 360, the others are obvious? Oh, the guy wheeling up a draw is the Volvo engineer I bought the 400 off, Soren Jeansson, who worked at the Truck Division (can anyone tell the difference between a Volvo car and a truck? Volvo cars were always referred to as Hisingen-tractors or tanks. Hisingen is the area where the factory is).


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