GOOD OLD TIMES BLOG – 80 YEARS YOUNG
By Kenneth Olausson
Being in his prime years in the 1950s, Bengt Olov Wessman from Frövi in mid-Sweden entered 27 races in three years. He was riding a modified 175cc Silverpilen, which never let him down. Today, Bengt Olov Wessman is 80 years young, still riding a 250WR Husqvarna. I met him outside Stockholm for a chat…
“You should have contacted me earlier,” said Bengt when I entered his flat in Täby outside of the Swedish capital. “The Silverpilen had a 50 year-celebration in 2005 and then became 60 years old 10 years later. That’s when you should have written my story,” Bengt Olov told me. This is not a history about the famous Husqvarna Silverpilen, but rather a personal article of a young enthusiast.
He was caught by the Silverpilen bug in the middle of the 1950s when this machine appeared on the market. “I had been interested in riding for a few years when I discovered the Husqvarna, which soon became my obsession,” Wessman remembers. “I sold my old Monark Blue Fighter, which I had raced a few times during 1954 and 1955 before changing.” At the time, Wessman made his living from working as a butcher in a grocery store.
Born in 1937, Bengt Olov Wessman grew up in Frövi in the county of Närke, where there has always been a great interest for motoring. Some of the biggest stars in racing grew up around this area. Bengt Olov Wessman invested in his future motocross and enduro career in June of 1955, when he bought his new 175cc machine. “I had seen reports and tests in the motoring magazine “Racing” which was the ultimate motoring newspaper at the time.” During the winter of 1954, this weekly presented an in-depth story of the recently introduced motorcycle, which was to become a big success for the company. But that happened much later. In April of 1955, two Husqvarna riders entered a race near the town of Huskvarna and came first and second with their new Silverpilen. “I was of course impressed and decided to buy a Husqvarna in the spring of 1955. But I had to wait for more than a month before picking it. It had the registration number T 1179, which I can see from photographs that I kept from that era.”
At the introduction of the Silverpilen, there were no race-prepared enduro machines to be bought. And the options available for racing, were negligible as the machine weight of 75 kilos had to be respected. Tyres and handlebars were significant parts to exchange. In the autumn of 1955, it was not impressive to turn up racing a 175cc Silverpilen. Most good riders straddled big four-stroke machines with a displacement of 350 or 500cc. “I think the people from Husqvarna did not know at the time what a good racer they had produced,” tells Wessman convincingly. “In August 1955, I met with competition manager Bror Jaurén from the factory who also had been racing previously. He attended an enduro event in Stockholm and brought a Silverpilen, which was raced by an unknown rider. I told Jaurén about my machine and complained about the front forks rubber, which were too soft to give any good suspension on the wooden trails. He promised to get me improved parts, which would enhance my front suspension. A few weeks later I met with the Husqvarna engineer Ruben Helmin, who brought me new rubber. But he said: ‘If you’re going to race with this machine, you have to blame yourself. The Silverpilen is not made for racing.’ To some extent, he was right, but the future proved him totally wrong as this motorcycle was the beginning of a new golden era for Husqvarna.”
But this fact was not known at the time. Junior rider Bengt Olov Wessman went on with his career, racing his Silverpilen during weekends in autumn of 1955. His first victory came in the “Bergslagsrundan” which was run in Kristinehamn. “I gritted my teeth and went on to the bitter end,” Bengt said with a big smile after his first win. A month later Wessman dared entering the famous “Novemberkasan”, this year held in the Stockholm area with the start in the capital’s stadium. “I didn’t have much experience and so thought that I would rest after my timecard was full during the 300 km night stage. But the organisers simply gave me a new card and I had to continue riding. It was a tough night.” But the youngster made an impressive ride, finishing 18th among the juniors. It had been a remarkable start for the promising novice.
During 1956, Bengt Olov did 13 motocross and enduros, finishing all but two races, “But it was not because my Silverpilen let me down, but rather due to errors from me,” stated Wessman, who by now would enter as a senior rider in 1957. He did three enduros and was then given a factory machine during the autumn races that season. “Sometimes, I competed in the same events as Rolf Tibblin, but he would go too hard on the machinery. It wasn’t until 1958 that Rolf Tibblin started to be successful on his Husqvarna. I’ve been riding motorcycles almost ever since,” says Wessman proudly. “Today I do some exercise on my 250WR Husqvarna from 1988, but nowadays it seldom happens that I ride on the roads. I prefer to race into the woods.”