At the beginning of the 1950s people were still rebuilding after the second world war. Most had their thoughts on productivity and looking for an improved standard of living. There were exceptions however – some people were striving for something to happen. A Swedish military lieutenant by the name of Kaj Wessberg, and his wife Mary, set off on an American adventure in the summer of 1954. They traveled 2000 kilometers through 10 countries on their Husqvarna ‘Dream Machine’. But let’s start from the beginning…
Being adventurers, the married couple were keen to broaden their horizons. They wanted to experience more and set their sights on North and South America as their dream goal – but how would they fulfill this unusual idea? It would take more than a holiday to conquer these vast continents and the two were aware of the transport problems. How would they move around freely and cover long distances without delay, and how about the risks and obstacles the couple would encounter on their trip? Kaj and Mary were used to their home in Smaland – a southern county of Sweden – where they lived a safe and uneventful life together, with high living standards.
The answer came from unexpected help. Kaj Wessberg had good contacts with Husqvarna and mentioned his plans to the directors at the factory. They showed interest in this adventure and offered to provide the couple with a motorcycle, should they prefer to go on two wheels. The offer was of course tempting and also economical as the factory support would lower the cost for their journey substantially.
The bike would be delivered to the port of New York free of charge, but should in turn be given back to Husqvarna for publicity reasons. An opportunity like this was most exclusive and would provide good advertising material for the factory, who were trying to strengthen their market share. In the beginning of the 1950s, Husqvarna had more than one Swedish competitor on the market and also faced opponents from overseas manufacturers.
The motorcycle at hand during this after-war period was the ‘Dream Machine’, with the internal code Type 281. The colourful ‘Drombagen’ (the domestic name) was a totally new model and had only a little carry-over from the previous Black and Red-Qvarna 118cc models. The Dream Machine had a brand new 175cc engine, which was designed by Olle Edlund. He developed a reliable and robust power source that would turn out to be unbreakable. The power package had a performance of seven-and-a-half HP at 5,000 rpm and would last a lifelong period.
In the 1950s the big four-stroke singles dominated the market, but this was a two-stroke engine, evolved with a small displacement capacity. The motorcycle gave young people an affordable alternative and the bike proved to be successful. The Dream Machine weighed in at 100 kilos, and was capable of running at a top speed of 100 km/h. It was introduced in 1953 after the prototype had been shown a year earlier. Sales started in the spring of 1953 and it cost approximately 2,000 Swedish Kronor at the time (around 400 USD). The production lasted over six years, during which time Husqvarna managed to wring out more than 6,000 units.
There were actually two models of the Dream Machine – the Tourist model and a Sport version with dual exhausts and more power. Both were supplied with a three-speed gearbox. However, it was the Tourist model that appealed to the Wessberg couple and it was decided that this machine would serve as transport for the adventure. Details of their Dream Machine included a tubular and stamped-steel frame, advanced front forks with leading link together with rubber links, while the rear suspension consisted of tubular shock absorbers including coil springs and rubber cover for safety. A streamlined headlight and two stylish side-covers completed the design, which made it look modern. This motorcycle was the image of European styling.
Being adventurers, the married couple were keen on broadening their horizons and wanted to experience the sights of North and South America. But it would take more than a holiday to conquer these vast continents on a motorcycle. There were no purpose-built touring machines around in these days. After receiving support from the Husqvarna factory, the ‘Dream Machine’ was shipped to the west coast of the United States. In New York, the start of this epic trip began with a time-consuming visit to the American Customs authorities. The Wessbergs had arrived to pick up their machine in the harbour, which proved to be all but simple. The Customs officials asked a lot of questions and were keen that the Swedish machine would leave the USA and not be resold here.
“The worst nightmare was to find our way out of this Metropolis,” Kaj Wessberg told the reporters who covered this long-lasting event. “We had troubles finding the right way out of the big city.”
Heading southward, after some delays, the couple were on their way and rode towards Florida, which would be their first stopover. Having completed this distance without troubles, it was nice to experience the hot summer winds of the Florida coast. The couple enjoyed the sun before continuing to Texas. After this big state, they once again turned south heading into Mexico and on towards Guatemala.
“The roads were often very bad and we struggled along, sometimes physically exhausted.” Mary wrote home. But camping life worked out well since the Wessbergs had been thoughtful, bringing adequate equipment for their tour. One of the less pleasant experiences occurred in Mexico when the couple were staying with the Swedish Consul General.
“When we woke up in the morning, everything had been taken away from us,” Mary told in a sad voice. “The theft meant that we had no money, no passports, no binoculars, no camera, and so on. It took us two weeks to replace everything and be on our way again. Very frustrating!”
The media had a keen interest in the adventurous voyage and followed the progress closely.
“It was of great value having press clippings when we had to contact local authorities for help,” said Kaj Wessberg. By the time they reached Nicaragua, the political situation was in turmoil. Luckily the Husqvarna mount received military escort through parts of the instable country. It was ordered by Nicaragua’s leader himself, Anastasio Somoza! The tour went on through the Central-American countries of Costa Rica and Panama before the next objectives Colombia and Ecuador.
“The people in the countryside were overwhelming and supported us all the way,” Mary told. “They were spontaneous and often took their instruments to entertain us with their local music. Despite camping during the entire voyage, we were never molested in any way.”
During the journey, the couple also came to conquer the Andes on their Husqvarna Dream Machine. The 175cc engine was a bit weak in higher altitudes and Mary sometimes had to get off the bike in order to continue by foot. It was sometimes necessary for her to push in order to make the steep hills. At Pico del Aguilla they reached an altitude of more than 4000 meters where the gravel roads were almost non-existent. Oil-mixed petrol was sometimes scarce, but in the end, there was always a local farmer who had fuel available. A full tank contained 13 litres of fuel, including a one-and-a-half litre reserve. Generally, petrol was extremely cheap.
On one occasion, the Husqvarna was pushed onto a trolley and they rode on the railway from a banana plantation in Colombia to the final destination of Venezuela. After ten long months, the adventure was over and it was time to return to Sweden. The Husqvarna and its riders had covered more than 2,000 kilometres before the bike was shipped back on a container ship. It went from Caracas to its home country and was immediately shown at the Swedish Fair in Stockholm, where visitors could admire this precious gem at the factory’s own stand.
“The only mishap with the Dream Machine came after a small crash when the throttle cable was damaged and had to be replaced with a new wire,” Kaj and Mary Wessberg stated with pride. “Otherwise it was full throttle all the way.”
Story by Kenneth Olausson, Husqvarna Motorcycles.