THE FINAL COUNTDOWN
During the last three years of the 1970s Husqvarna had adopted a manufacturing level of around 10,000 yearly units. This production rate was maintained during the early 1980s, before figures started sliding. At this stage, the interest from the board members to invest was very limited. The frequent rumours that the two-wheel division would soon be up for sale flourished, but until now, nothing was decided in any direction. Demand was still good in the United States and with a new 4-stroke enduro on the menu, Husqvarna looked forward to increasing sales figures. The Swedes offered a broad power-band and their bikes had efficient performance as well as giving the customer reliability. Together with good racing results this gave a solid feedback from the market. Offroad events were popular on the American West Coast and across the border in Baja, Mexico, while racing enduros also made sense in the U.S. northern and mid-region, south of the Great Lakes area. In the AMA National Enduro Series, Husqvarna won titles for seven consecutive years, from 1980 to 1986, predominantly by the overwhelming riders Dick Burleson and Terry Cunningham. It was top class PR and helped the Swedish brand in sales.
But when the 1980s began, production was lean at Husqvarna. Total sales were slow and paving new ways were indeed in need. The factory’s focus was to aim at the lucrative enduro segment, where not only experts, but also novice and leisure riders were potential customers. Husky now aimed at enduro, which proved to be a good decision as their motocross bikes were inferior in comparison. In 1981, Svenerik Jönsson won his first “Novemberkasan” with the new Husqvarna 390cc liquid-cooled 2-stroke. The model did not turn up at the dealers until February 1984, so there was a lot of development work to be done on the prototype that Jönsson rode. Even so, quality was not up to standards as there were numerous novelties to be introduced. At the same time, the economy was strained, so there was little money to enhance investments in the new machinery.
“We were too few managing too many projects at the same time,” said Svenerik Jönsson who then worked full-time at Husqvarna. “Despite thousands of hours, we could not cope with the new 390, the new 4-stroke and the new single suspension system simultaneously.” In the following year, Jönsson took his second straight “Kasa” victory, now straddling the Husqvarna 430. Three years later, Jönsson captured his first Kasa trophy for good in Arboga, when he won this race for the third time, now on a 400cc machine.
After 10 months of 4-stroke developments, in 1979 the factory made a financial contribution that enabled the task force to cast a cylinder and buy cylinder heads from an outside source. But besides getting some experience, the development was still lingering. In 1980 a new cylinder-head was formed, but it wasn’t until 1981 that things happened. Together with Husky’s chief engineer Ruben Helmin, a new spark was initiated and now everyone wanted to finish the elusive plus-500cc engine. Thomas Gustavsson had just won the national enduro championship and joined the Husqvarna resources. “At last we had a complete team for the final work”, said Urban Larsson with a smile on his face. There were still outstanding details on the new 6-speed 503cc enduro machine, when Thomas Gustavsson made his debut. From the beginning, there were things to be adjusted and improved, but all in all, this novelty promised good results. The market for enduros was growing and the competition machine had the performance to tackle racing off the roads. Then, in 1983, Gustavsson took part in the International Six Days Enduro, the event now having modernised its name. This time, it was run in Great Britain and Gustavsson both proved himself and the novelty big-bore machine by winning the 4-stroke class overall.
The new power plant was offered in three versions, which was an achievement by Husqvarna. Customers could choose from the Enduro, Motocross and Cross-Country models. The WR 510TE had a competitive market price and was a favourable option over the Japanese makes. But although the factory machines had success in its trail, the production engines suffered from overheating. This resulted in a difficult starting procedure, especially when the motor was hot. It was stated that the market would absorb some 18-20,000 units when a lot of people went from 2-strokes to 4-strokes. However, Husqvarna didn’t make its homework and launched the 50 HP product before it was fully developed. Besides, one of the disadvantages came from engine vibrations. In a relatively short period, the market switched to downsizing, liquid-cooling, front disc-brake and single-shock suspension. By 1985, this beasty 4-stroke showed potential, but there was never any real Swedish sales success achieved from the old musket-maker. But in 1985 Thomas Gustavsson won the European Enduro Championship on his 4-stroke and things looked promising for the future. The Husqvarna 510 machine was further developed and sold during a few years until Cagiva purchased the company.
Instead, military sales helped keep up the production at the Huskvarna factory. At the end of the 1970s, an order for several thousand Husqvarna 250cc motorcycles was initiated. The model version of the delivered bikes was an Automatic MP – the two letters meaning “Multi Purpose”. During the two first years of the 1980s, there were a total of 3,675 units delivered for military use. This production helped the figures, despite all the extra costs for research & development in connection with the machine.
In 1986, the market predominantly turned around and people went for significant downsizing. By introducing new techniques, Husqvarna abandoned their 500 engines and first went to 395 and finally to 270cc power plants. At the same time, Husqvarna presented the enduro range with front disc brakes. Svenerik Jönsson won the European championship on a 400cc bike and in the following season, he recaptured this title, now riding a 270cc Husqvarna.
The Japanese saw the motorcycle market for mx and enduro growing fast, while Husqvarna never realized what the future might bring in in terms of revenues.By 3rd of December 1987, the last Swedish-built Husqvarna machine was produced and now, the Italians took over responsibility of the brand. Later, in 1987, the Cagiva factory started to churn out 4-stroke versions again. The Varese plant produced the 510 model water-cooled, and there’s yet another story to be launched here…
Article by Kenneth Olausson at Husqvarna.