Husqvarna Dirt Bike History

Husqvarna Dirt Bike History

Husqvarna Dirt Bikes, or ‘Huskys’ as they are more commonly known, have a colorful history from the golden era of the 1960s and 70s made famous by the late great Steve McQueen to today’s exceptional ‘Rockstar’ factory racing teams winning motocross and enduro events worldwide.

Let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of Husqvarna dirt bike history.

The Early Years

Husqvarna like many motorcycle manufacturers began producing bicycles in the late 19th century, but the company was originally founded in 1689 on the Swedish King’s command for a weapons factory, near the town of Huskvarna in Sweden manufacturing muskets.

The logo still depicts their gunsmithing history with the logo form symbolizing the sight over a barrel.


The first motorized bicycles were produced in 1903 using imported engines, making Husqvarna the world’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer.

1914 Husqvarna Moto-Reve
1914 Husqvarna Moto-Reve

It was not until 1918 that Husqvarna began producing its own engines in-house.

In 1920 Husqvarna’s first engine was a 550cc four-stroke side-valve V-twin engine similar to the Harley Davidson and Indian motorcycles at the time.

By 1939 Husqvarna was Sweden’s largest motorcycle manufacturer and was having Grand Prix road racing success in the 350cc and 500cc classes.

In 1953 a new form of motorcycle sport became popular in Europe, called moto-cross in Belgium. Husqvarna’s road bikes fast became popular for off-road use.

In 1959 Rolf Tibblin rode his 250cc Husqvarna to their first world motocross championship. Tibblin won several more world titles with Husqvarna, including ‘Motocross des Nations’ and even Baja 1000 victories.

1960 Husqvarna Albin 500

In 1960 Bill Nilsson won the 500cc world motocross title for Husqvarna, beginning a successful big-bore motocross era for Husqvarna.

In the 1960s Husqvarna’s two-stroke off-road bikes were a contributing factor in the demise of the once-dominant British four-stroke machines.

Changes Of Ownership

By 1977, dirtbikes had become serious business and one of Sweden’s largest corporations, Electrolux, bought Husqvarna motorcycles.

In 1987 the Husqvarna motorcycle division was sold to Italian motorcycle manufacturer Cagiva and became part of MV Agusta Motor S.p.A. ‘Huskies’ were then produced in Varese, Italy.

A group of engineers led by Thomas Gustavsson decided to stay back, and formed Husaberg Motor AB in 1988. Husaberg was eventually also purchased by KTM in 1995.

Husaberg’s slogan “Ready To Race” was adopted by KTM as its own.

In 2007 Husqvarna motorcycles was purchased by BMW. All production remained in Varese and the acquisition was to become the “two-wheeled version of what Mini is to BMW’s car division”.

In 2013 BMW sold Husqvarna to the KTM group and Husqvarna’s motorcycle production moved to Mattighofen in Austria.

The Husaberg brand was discontinued in 2014 and the technology was absorbed into Husqvarna, marking the reunion of the two halves of the original Husqvarna.

2014 marked the first year of the ‘new-generation’ Huskys, with a return to the classic white, blue and yellow colors. Record sales followed.

Competiton Success

Husqvarna’s golden-age dawned and the brand became a dominant force in motocross and enduros throughout the 1960s and 70s, winning 14 motocross world championships, 24 European Enduro championships and 11 Baja 1000 victories.

For more on the Baja 1000, check out my post: Famous Dirt Bike Events.

In 1983 Husqvarna unveiled a new 510cc four-stroke enduro bike. It was lightweight, easy handling and became the forerunner for a new generation of four-stroke competition motorcycles in an era that was dominated by two-strokes.

Although it had full lights, horn, speedo and was road registerable, don’t be fooled, it was a full-on competition model.

1983 Husqvarna TE510
1983 Husqvarna TE510

By 2008, Husqvarna machines had won more than 70 motocross, Enduro and Supermoto world championships.

Since 2015, energy drink Rockstar has been the sponsor of Husqvarna’s off-road factory racing team and they compete in every event of the AMA Supercross and Motocross series.

Husqvarna TE300
2017 Husqvarna TE300

In 2017 Husqvarna motorcycles introduced a fuel injection system to their new range of two-stroke enduro motorcycles. The TPI (Transfer Port Injection) system is a sensor-controlled fuel-efficient technology that conforms with the Euro 4 emission regulations.

Husqvarna Racing Legends

Heikki Mikkola

“Flying Finn” Heikki Mikkola was born in Mikkeli, Finland on July 6, 1945. He was the first Finn to win a world motocross championship.

Heikki Mikkola

He won his 500cc world championship on a Husqvarna in 1974, taking the title from current world champion Roger De Coster on a Suzuki.

In 1976 he won the 250cc world championship, again riding a Husqvarna, and became the first rider to ever win a world motocross championship in both the 250cc and 500cc classes.

He signed for the Yamaha team in 1977 and won two more 500cc world championships in 1977 and 1978.

He retired from his racing career in 1979 after a fifth-place finish at the age of 34.

In 2006 he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Career Highlights

  • Four times World Motocross Champion
  • 1970  250cc Husqvarna  4th place
  • 1971  250cc Husqvarna  4th place
  • 1972  500cc Husqvarna  3rd place
  • 1973  250cc Husqvarna  3rd place
  • 1974  500cc Husqvarna  1st place
  • 1975  500cc Husqvarna  2nd place
  • 1976  250cc Husqvarna  1st place
  • 1977  500cc Yamaha  1st place
  • 1978  500cc Yamaha  1st place
  • 1977  500cc Yamaha  5th place

Graham Jarvis

Extreme Enduro legend Graham Jarvis is a Rockstar Husqvarna Factory Racing Team rider who won the 2018 Erzberg Rodeo for his fourth time riding his Husqvarna TE300.

He has since won his sixth Erzberg Rodeo in 2019.

Graham Jarvis
For more on Graham Jarvis check out my post:  Graham Jarvis Bio.

Steve McQueen

Hollywood’s ‘King Of Cool’ Steve McQueen gave Husqvarna the biggest promotion they could ever have hoped for.

Steve was a very competitive racer and rode Huskys (among other brands) to success in many motocross and enduro events, including the International Six Day Trials (ISDT) on a Triumph Trophy, and the Baja 1000.

Husqvarna 400
Steve McQueen racing his Husqvarna 400
Husqvarna dirt bike history
Husqvarna 400 Cross

A bike once owned by Steve McQueen can now fetch over $100,000 to a collector.

The classic movie ‘On Any Sunday’ featured Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith, and AMA Grand National champion Mert Lawwill.

For more on the ‘On Any Sunday’ movie and other famous movies, check out my post: Dirt Bike Movies – Five You Must See

Related Posts

Yamaha Dirt Bike History

KTM Dirt Bike History

Beta Dirt Bike History

Suzuki Dirt Bike History

Honda Dirt Bike History

Kawasaki Dirt Bike History

For 50 handy dirt bike setup tips, check out: Dirt Bike Setup Tips

Have you ever owned a Husky? What is your favorite model? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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18 thoughts on “Husqvarna Dirt Bike History”

      • Hi Greg
        Modified a 197i 390cR to 420cc and rode my 2nd Trans Kalahari 100km desert race on it. Fantastic bike. My 1st race I did on a modified Yamaha XT50p also a great bike but a bit heavy.

        Reply
        • Hi Nigel. Great bikes both of them (I assume you mean XT500). I watched a Youtube video on the race. Looks like a tough race. They called it the ‘Trans Kalahari Road Race’ but it didn’t look like there was much tarmac. How did you do?

          Reply
          • Hi Greg
            That should have read 1978 390 CR and XT500. 1st race learnt the ropes. 2nd in the top 10. You are right. Less than 3km tar back in the 70’s. Single track,, hard pack, bush and thick sand.

      • Owned 72 250, 72 400 , 73 450 ,and 73 250 that I had Boysen himself install a reed block and reed valves , to make it competitive against Rice burners. Boysen contacted me a few months later , said that he had read a article about my racing accomplishments , in an Italian magazine while he was in Europe ( wish I would have asked if he could locate me a copy) Boysen was really hard to understand do to his heavy ascent. I think he was a one man operation at the time. When I called he was the only one that answered. I did qualify for trans am / inter am at Lake Whitney Texas 1974 and St. Charles near St. Louis mo. Feel free to call Dan 1417437-9889 thanks

        Reply
        • Hi Dan. That is a pretty impressive list of Huskies you’ve owned and your racing record. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m in Australia so it’s difficult to phone, but feel free to message me here or on the contacts page. It would be interesting to hear more about your racing career.
          Greg

          Reply
  1. I have never ridden Huskvarn motorcycles, but if they are under the protection of BMW, then they can be given a huge credit of trust. I only heard that in the 17th century this brand produced small arms. It is interesting how the creators combined the past and present of their brand in the logo https://motorcycle-logos.com/husqvarna-logo/. Both tradition and marketing coexist harmoniously.

    Reply
  2. hi GREG ,,,having owed a husky wr 400 1976 model,,6speed.for 35 years, sadly only had ridden it for one weekend [35years ago],,it now lives in little boxes under my bench a ,[complete basket case ].but knowing its potential and value.Its now rebuild time.Iam 60 ,so l better hurry….What lam looking for are retail shops,,private people or any one with ideas that can help…looking for new bore /piston kit/seal kit /gasket set/head +base gasket…also trying to identify actual year any help would be great ,,,,,thanks guys…..also thanks GREG…………….rick

    Reply
    • Hi Rick. Wow, you certainly have a bike worth restoring there. A true classic made famous by the likes of Steve McQueen and Malcolm Smith. (I’ve written biographies on both of these guys if you’re interested in some Husky history)
      You’re about my age, so you will know those names from the classic dirt bike movie ‘On Any Sunday’ where they rode the Husky 400.
      I don’t know where you live, but if you’re in the US, I’d try contacting Malcolm Smith Motorsports in Riverside California. If they don’t have the parts, they will certainly point you in the right direction.
      You may get more for the bike now than what you paid for it 35 years ago.
      Thanks for dropping in, if I can be of any more help just message me.
      Greg

      Reply
  3. Hi Greg I enjoyed reading your website. I am 65 and fondly remember a local legend Roger White riding his Husqvarna 360 and 390 auto’s back in the ’70s and later his TE510. I ride a modern day KTM XC450 and a Husky TE300 but also have a 1978 390 Auto that I am soon to restore. However I was recently also lucky enough to acquire a rare 1986 TE510 and will soon give it some TLC and run it in local VMX races

    Reply
    • Hi Paul. Wow, that’s quite a collection you have. I’d love to do the same and buy some old classics from the 70s and 80s and enter into VMX races. VMX is also huge here in Australia.
      It’s great that you’re 65 and still riding and enjoying motorcycles. I’ve just turned 61 and ride a KTM525 EXC. It’s still a great bike even though its 15 years old and getting to be a classic now.
      Bikes were much simpler back in the 70s. Air-cooled, no hydraulics, simple twin shocks – anyone could work on their own bikes.
      Thanks for your thoughts. Glad you enjoyed reading my website.

      Reply
  4. Hi all, Did a lot of desert racing in the 70’s and 80’s. Had many Huskys from 250cc, 390cc, 500cc, 400cc and even a short lived automatic. Loved them all, except the automatic. Still riding at 75 on BMW 700RS. 👍 Skip

    Reply

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