The Petersen Automotive Museum and Motorcycle Arts Foundation have launched a new exhibit titled ADV:Overland, which celebrates the spirit of adventure through off-road and off-world motorcycles and related vehicles. With support from Harley-Davidson, the exhibit features 23 adventure-touring motorcycles and race vehicles from 1930 to the present, as well as sci-fi and NASA off-world exploration vehicles, to tell a comprehensive story about adventuring on two wheels, on Earth and beyond.
Motorcycles and off-road racing vehicles on display include an example of the 1903 California that was the first motorized vehicle to travel coast to coast; a 1912 Henderson Four as used in the first motorcycle trip around the world; a 1915 Harley-Davidson 11-F with sidecar, as used by Effie and Avis Hotchkiss when they became the first women to drive across the United States; the 1932 Douglas “Mastiff” which inspired Robert Edison Fulton Jr.’s novel “One Man Caravan”; the 1933 Puch 250SL that was the first motor vehicle to overland from Europe to India; a 1964 Honda CL72 Baja Scrambler homage to Dave Ekins’ first timed run down Baja; a 1974 BMW R60/6 which inspired the book “Lone Rider” by Elspeth Beard; a 1906/2019 Contal Mototri veteran of the Peking to Paris rally; and many more, including an example of the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America.
Real and science fiction space vehicles are also on display and include a 2021 Tardigrade concept electric Lunar motorcycle; a replica of the 1965 chariot from the “Lost in Space” television series; as well as another from the 2018 remake; a model of the Opportunity MER-1 rover, the robotic spacecraft that holds the long-distance record in off-world overlanding; and a model of the 1996 Sojourner rover.
“We are proud to partner with Motorcycle Arts Foundation to gather this impressive display of vehicles in the spirit of adventure,” said Petersen Executive Director Terry L. Karges. “Coming on the heels of a global pandemic, ADV:Overland is an important retrospective of the freedom of exploration, to go where no one has ever gone and accomplish things that no one has ever accomplished. This visionary spirit drives innovation in transportation and has inspired this exhibit.”
Exhibit curator Paul d’Orléans explains, “This exciting, first-ever collection of Round-the-World, overland racing, and off-world overland vehicles is the perfect pandemic escape hatch. Most of these extraordinary machines have never been publicly displayed, and absolutely radiate the spirit of adventure: some even retain their original accessories, 90 years later. These are must-see vehicles, on display in the best motoring museum on the planet.”
“ADV:Overland” opened on July 3, 2021, at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibit is produced by Motorcycle Arts Foundation (MAF) and Sasha Tcherevkoff with support from Harley-Davidson. Guests who would like to visit the museum must purchase tickets in advance on the Petersen’s website. Health and safety guidelines are being followed: face coverings are required for all guests (single-use face masks will be provided to those who do not have one).For more information visit: petersen.org/overland.com.
For a while there, 50 years ago, Husqvarna was perhaps the best-known and most desirable dirtbike in the world. They were good enough bikes — I owned and tested them in the day — but fame earned in the hands of Baja racer and ISDT gold medalist Malcolm Smith, and their use by actor Steve McQueen, exposed and validated the bikes to more people through the movie On Any Sunday than probably any amount of advertising or editorial coverage could accomplish. Whereas magazine tests and race results reached readers hungry for the latest news about the latest products, such impressions often vaporize when the next generation of products arrives. And from the mid-1960s onward until the modern 4-stroke dirtbike era, those changes were relentless.
What the movie actually did for the Scandinavian machines was far deeper, what scientists would define as “imprinting.” In 1935, Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz noticed that goslings (newly hatched geese) would memorably imprint on the first living animal they saw, whether that was Mother Goose or a person. This imprint became lifelong, the same powerful imprint that Husqvarna’s heroic and emotional appearances in On Any Sunday created for kids and young adults at the time. And so, all these years later, the effect Husqvarna — particularly the twin-shock, chrome-sided tank models with the aluminum fenders — has on legions of middle-aged men is real, bordering on mental.
With its hand-stenciled number plate, scuffed finishes, and weathered patina, Bruce Brown’s 250 Cross tells a story of competition and heavy use, and it helped make Husqvarna famous in America. Its air-cooled 2-stroke single and bolt-together frame were simple but durable. Brown replaced the original metal fenders with lighter, flexible plastic fenders made by Preston Petty Products.
How did Husqvarna of far-flung Sweden — the land of reindeer and icy fjords — find itself in the right place at the right time? Maybe it was serendipity, since in 1953 the company produced its first purpose-built enduro, the Silver Arrow, featuring an upswept exhaust and high-mounted fenders to idealize the bike for trail use. Presciently, Husky likewise pioneered a 500cc 4-stroke for FIM motocross competition in 1958, but that model had a short lifespan.
From there, a few more years of development finally produced a 2-stroke production motocross bike fit for America. Motocross had just come here by way of California in 1965, thanks to West Coast roadracer Wes Cooley, Sr., who discovered the fledgling sport while in Europe. After returning home, he organized the first known sanctioned MX event in this country, an invitational at Castaic near Los Angeles.
“When Wes called to announce the race, most of us said, ‘What?’” laughed AMA Hall of Fame member Mary McGee. “Even so, 45 of us, mostly desert riders, showed up.” McGee rode that event, although on a Triumph twin desert sled and not a Husky, making her America’s first female motocross racer. Then Cooley repeated in 1966.
“This was the first U.S. motocross race for Husqvarna, and also the first U.S. race for Torsten Hallman,” McGee added. Hallman would ultimately win six 250cc world titles for Husky and was atop his game in ’66. “Now there were close to 60 riders, but everyone had their eyes on Torsten. He and the Husky together made a huge impact. Mostly because Torsten was so bloody fast, but also because the Husky was a proper motocross bike — it was so beautiful compared to looking at a big, huge Triumph, Matchless, or AJS. That reverberated fast through the manufacturers.”
The other factor in the serendipity equation was Edison Dye, who obtained Husqvarna distribution rights in America and had brought Hallman here. Aboard the newfangled Husqvarna, Torsten simply blew the competition away, establishing a benchmark for the new sport of motocross that was totally European — Swedish, actually — from the bikes’ weirdly named Trelleborg knobby tires on up.
Prior to this time, Malcolm Smith rode a heavy 4-stroke Matchless G80CS, and then hopped over to a 2-stroke Greeves before trying a Husqvarna in a desert shakedown. “In 1966, Edison came to my repair shop and wanted me to race one of the two Husqvarnas he had imported,” Smith recalled. “I said no because I was racing a Greeves for Nick Nicholson. But he had one in his pickup and said, ‘At least try it.’ So, I rode it around the track we had built in the hills and came back and told him I would race it. It was so much better feeling than anything I had ridden before — light, powerful, and agile. I won many races on it and kept on racing Husqvarnas until they were sold to the Italians.”
I asked Malcolm to recall his favorite and least-favorite Huskys. “The best Husqvarna I had was a 400WR 6-speed,” he said. “Very smooth, even power, and no vibration. It was only produced one year before they made it a 430.”
And the worst? “The worst bike Husqvarna ever made was the air-cooled Desert Master 450,” he revealed. “They used the ‘boat anchor’ motor, as we called it. Big, heavy, slow, and unreliable.”
With good business smarts even as a young man, Smith obtained a dealership franchise as he started racing Husqvarnas. Over the years that franchise grew into the Malcolm Smith Motorsports dealership in Riverside, California, and the Malcolm Smith Racing (now MSR) product line that have made Smith wealthy as well as famous for his on-track and on-screen accomplishments. As is typical though, instead of mentioning this, Malcolm credited Husqvarna rep Gunnar Lindstrom, a talented engineer as well as racer, with helping the brand grow in the States.
The story thus far may appear to start Husqvarna’s clock in the mid-1960s. While that’s true in the U.S., the brand’s history runs much deeper. Husqvarna began as a gun manufacturer in 1689, produced bicycles in the late 1800s, and in 1903 began manufacturing motorcycles. Starting in the 1910s, Husqvarna produced V-twin road bikes, and for a time in the 1930s, 350cc and 500cc V-twin racing models that won several Grands Prix, although most of the precious team bikes were lost in a truck fire.
The basic engine that powered the famous Husqvarna 250 Cross and 400 Cross bikes in Bruce Brown’s historic 1971 film first took shape in the mid-1950s Silver Arrow enduro model. Studying the egg-shaped engine cases and the organic shape of the air-cooled piston-port cylinder and head reveals how a postwar engineering draftsman’s board produced forms that, decades later, were drawn by innumerable school kids on their schoolbook covers.
The ode of these early purebred dirtbikes, from the mid-1950s through the mid-1980s and the end of the line for the “original” Husqvarna motorcycles, was defined by engineering principles of simplicity, strength, performance, and light weight. Inside those first egg-shaped cases were a straightforward pressed-together crankshaft supported by ball bearings and using a roller-bearing connecting-rod big end. Up top was an iron cylinder liner press-fit into an aluminum cylinder, topped by an aluminum head. A simple magneto provided spark and, for enduro versions, lighting.
Power flowed from the crank to the early 4-speed dog-type gearbox via a gear primary drive and a multi-plate wet clutch. This type of architecture was widely found among European dirtbikes such as Bultaco and CZ. A tuned upswept expansion chamber maximized power in the desired portion of the rev range, and complemented, as did the gearbox ratios, the intended use of the model.
Noted motocross bike restorer Bill Masho has rebuilt numerous Huskys to museum standards and knows them from their crankshafts up. “They are logical but not over-engineered, and robust enough with regular maintenance,” he noted. “Early (1966-67) oval-case 4-speeds were exceedingly good, displacing 2-stroke Greeves and other early ’smokers. The 1970-71 400 Cross was probably the best model of the series — no major faults. The first 5-speeds (starting in 1972) were heavy and slower, and didn’t handle as well. But the later ones — particularly the GP of 1975-76 — were very effective.” Masho should know. As this was written he was in Unadilla racing a post-vintage national.
Highly desirable today are the early “bolt together” frame models, and naturally the iconic On Any Sunday models with the rounded, chrome-sided tanks and that peculiar mud flap hanging off the front fender like the floppy ear of a mutt. Honda copied it on the first Elsinore models, a shameless mimicry some thought.
Husqvarna was on the world stage in motocross from the get-go, and it soon enough got there in America too, thanks to Hallman, Smith, and notable U.S. riders including Mark Blackwell, Kent Howerton, Brad Lackey, and Chuck Sun. And in the desert, J.N. Roberts and Whitey Martino — and John McCown with his dog Kookie riding on the gas tank! — excelled. Remarkably, given the brand’s strong reputation, in 1976 Howerton claimed Husqvarna’s first and only U.S. national motocross championship in the 500cc class. It would be over 40 years before Zach Osborne repeated the feat aboard the modern KTM-bred 250cc and 450cc 4-strokes. Dick Burleson and Malcolm Smith flew the Husqvarna flag in enduros, and Smith won the Baja 1000 twice on Husqvarnas, first with Roberts and later with Gunnar Nilsson.
The Japanese companies got on the pipe big time in the 1980s, reshaping the technology battlefield with liquid cooling, long-travel suspension, and single-shock, rising-rate rear suspension systems in a stampede of progress. Husqvarna was late to follow, and eventually fell out of favor with the hard chargers. Even so, with its antiquated air-cooled engines and twin shocks, the brand soldiered on into the mid-1980s in the U.S. And then the party — at least here — ended, as the forward-looking ’83 TE 510 4-stroke enduro was a decade ahead of the industry. Ownership of Husqvarna traded hands several times — Cagiva in 1987, BMW in 2007, and finally KTM in 2013.
Today the “new” Husqvarna is active in motocross, cross country, and enduro, and offers a line of 2-stroke and 4-stroke bikes paralleling KTM’s meteoric line. Husky is now also back on the street with the 701 Supermoto, 701 Enduro dual-sport, the avant-garde Svartpilen and Vitpilen naked bikes, and the upcoming Norden 901 adventure bike.
It’s been 50 years since On Any Sunday charmed audiences across the country, and even longer since those first wraithlike silver-and-red Husqvarnas lined up to race in the hills of Southern California. A kid who got an eyeful that day would nearly be a senior citizen now, but he would still remember the unmuffled shout of 2-stroke racing engines and the flash of the Huskys’ chrome-sided tanks, polished fenders, and maybe even that floppy mud flap swept back in the wind.
And that, my friends, is what you call an imprint.
The Husqvarnas shown in the accompanying photos were donated to the Petersen Automotive Museum by Mark and Randy Zimmerman. The Petersen’s permanent collection includes hundreds of automobiles and motorcycles. Located in Los Angeles, the museum regularly features motorcycle exhibits in the Richard Varner Family Gallery — “ADV:Overland,” curated by Paul d’Orléans, opened in July 2021. For more information, visit petersen.org.
When you make your way to an airport, most times you’re traveling to another place. But right now through the close of summer, San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is a worthwhile destination in its own right. The SFO Museum offers an opportunity to travel back in time, through a jewel of an exhibition surrounding 14 vintage motorcycles built before 1916. This amazing display includes a rare collection of old-time engines, photographs, and local SF Bay Area motorcycling history artfully blended together into a not-to-be-missed opportunity for riders and gearheads of all types.
To give you the inside scoop on this gorgeous exhibit, we asked Daniel Calderon, Curator of Exhibitions at SFO Museum, to fill us in on some of the backstory.
Rider: As Curator of Exhibitions, does your job entail?
Daniel Calderon: I am one of two curators of non-aviation exhibitions at SFO Museum, which means I am responsible for developing exhibitions that draw from outside our permanent aviation collection of more than 250,000 items. These general exhibitions are based on a wide variety of subjects that are both interesting and educational, and we borrow objects from private collectors and from other museums for display. Working with these lenders and our exhibition designer, I source and select objects and accompanying images for exhibition, and then research and write the text and IDs that you see in the gallery. I also develop the content for each exhibit that we produce in a brochure, on our website and in educational programs and catalogs.
Rider: What are some of the more notable exhibitions SFO has offered in the past?
DC: SFO Museum has programmed a remarkable array of general, aviation and photographic exhibitions. In regard to motorcycles, we featured “Moto Bellissima: Italian Motorcycles from the 1950s and 1960s” back in 2011. More recently we have featured exhibitions on subjects as diverse as Japanese toys, African barbershop signs, California studio craft, psychedelic rock posters and custom surfboards made from rare woods. Currently, we have a fantastic exhibition on the history of women’s hairstyles, and another on instrumental rock ‘n’ roll and surf music. All of these exhibitions feature their own printed brochure and page on our website, sfomuseum.org.
Rider: What prompted you to arrange an exhibition of motorcycles?
DC: A lender visit prompted the “Early American Motorcycles” project. I was on a visit to History San Jose to look at typewriters in their collection and was struck by an early Harley-Davidson twin and an Excelsior single in their storage. Being a gearhead, that certainly stuck in my mind. On another visit to look for typewriters, this time to the Museum of American History in Palo Alto, I met board member Chris Carter, who was our second contact for motorcycles. After Chris generously offered his motorcycles for loan and connected us with Wes Allen and his collection, I knew we had the necessary momentum and asked that the motorcycle exhibition be approved by my colleagues.
Rider: Do you have any personal experience with riding motorcycles?
DC: I have surprisingly little experience riding motorcycles, just a friend’s knock-around 1980s Honda street bike, another buddy’s Suzuki 125 dirt bike and my sister’s old Trail 90, which was a really fun machine. I’ve been building and working on classic cars, racing airplanes and vintage aircraft for years, so a classic motorcycle is definitely in the works at some point.
Rider: How many motorcycles do you have on display, and how did you source them?
DC: We have 14 motorcycles made prior to 1916 on display, along with three early engines and a selection of rare photographs. Half of the exhibit was sourced from Chris Carter and Wes Allen. Then I found Dave Scoffone through the George Wyman Memorial Project website, and Dave generously opened up his collection as well. Looking for images, I discovered Cris Sommer-Simmons and her book “The American Motorcycle Girls.” Cris graciously lent images and her 1915 Harley-Davidson 11–F Cannonball racer “Effie,” along with an outstanding 1915 Iver Johnson twin owned by Cris and her husband Pat.
Rider: What other displays and materials are you offering in addition to the motorcycles?
DC: Racer and author Don Emde and the San Francisco Motorcycle Club (SFMC) lent numerous photo images to the exhibition, some of which are truly remarkable. The backdrop for each of the two galleries was created from two rare panoramas from the SFMC and are quite dramatic in person. Twelve of the motorcycles are featured on our website, and everything is documented in an online catalog that showcases some wonderful images taken by our photographer. In fact, everything that you see in the exhibit and online was created in-house by staff at SFO Museum.
Rider: You have created a comprehensive self-guided tour and impressive supplemental teaching materials aimed at parents and teachers of students in grades K-12. Tell us about the educational focus you build into this exhibition and others.
DC: Each year we select at least two exhibitions for our educational programs, which are designed to be led by either parents or teachers in the galleries. We also try to design the educational program as a standalone source of information that parents and children can access while at home. Given the current COVID–19 pandemic, the ability for the public to access our exhibits from home is even more important. Once things get back to normal, we hope to start offering our aviation-based education programs again in the Aviation Museum and Library at the International Terminal.
Rider: What kind of reactions have you gathered from people who have taken in your exhibit?
DC: Many people have been surprised to see these machines at the airport given their rarity, and we have heard great things from the public so far, which is always rewarding. I hope that as flights and passenger traffic increase, more people will take the time to view the exhibition and offer their feedback.
When Daniel mentioned Chris Carter’s name, it gave me the perfect excuse to call up a longtime friend. We first met back in the 1960s at the Yamaha dealership A&A Motors in Redwood City, long before he went on to do a few things like earning a Gold Medal at the 1976 International Six Day Trials (ISDT) and founding Motion Pro, supplier of trick tools to nearly everybody.
“Working on this airport project with Daniel has been a fun time,” Carter told me. “We both love motorcycles and we wanted to share the experience and awareness that these vintage bikes bring. Over the years, vintage bikes such as these have become more and more hidden as they’re acquired and stored away out of sight by their new owners. However, it’s a real commitment to offer up a bike for loan; between the organization and actual display time, the bike will be tied up for about a year. For me, the best part was seeing how many of these bikes on display came right out of collections in the Bay Area and Northern California. I’ve been focusing on finding vintage bikes with a pedigree, trying to preserve some of the history surrounding old racers and other bikes of note. And that’s exactly what we see right here in this exhibition.”
In addition, SFO Museum’s exhibition and educational materials do an excellent job of sharing the long history of women in the motorcycling scene, from intrepid travelers Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, who rode from New York to Tijuana, Mexico, and back in 1916, to modern-day Motorcycle Cannonball competitor Cris Sommer-Simmons, who not only rode the Cannonball three times, but also happens to be an author, antique motorcycle collector and AMA Hall of Fame member.
All educators and parents should take advantage of the free, downloadable educational materials provided in PDF format on the SFO Museum website. They are outstanding in quality and will open up young minds to the adventures of motorcycling! These materials interpret the display in a friendly and engaging manner that makes this one topic in history class an A+ experience.
“Early American Motorcycles” will be on view at SFO Museum in the International Terminal, Departures Level, until September 19, 2021. For more info, visit sfomuseum.org.
The shot of George Hamilton racing toward the canyon and destiny in the 1971 movie, “Evel Knievel,” had my eyes glued to the screen at our local theater. Like many kids in the ’70s, I wanted to be Evel. A true American icon, I’m glad somebody finally built a museum in his honor. I approached the Evel Knievel Museum in Topeka with cautious optimism, expecting to see one or two bikes and a couple sets of leathers. Man was I surprised. Along with four documented Knievel motorcycles, the centerpiece is his Mack transporter found rotting in a Florida salvage yard. Like the bulk of the exhibits, much of the work on the rig was handled in-house. The overall project was completed in a couple of years.
Along with bikes and memorabilia, the museum includes several interactive exhibits. One provides a virtual reality experience of jumping a Harley XR750 over 16 police cars, accomplished by outfitting rider Doug Danger with multiple cameras and doing an actual jump in downtown Topeka. A separate video game replicates jumping a selection of Knievel’s bikes over various obstacles while choosing parameters such as speed and ramp angle. The museum’s marketing director says the goal was to create an educational experience along with an entertaining one. After our visit, my 7-year-old grandson Samuel asked, “So when are you buying me that motorcycle?” Mission accomplished.
Twisted Oz Motorcycle Museum in Augusta is another recent construction. It was owner Kelly Modlin who answered the phone as I sat at the McDonald’s across the street. Though closed for the day, he offered to give me a quickie tour. He and Jerry Ottaway, who owns half the bikes, and a mostly volunteer crew repurposed the building from an auto body shop. More than 100 machines are displayed, many from the early days of American motorcycling, the majority of which run. Kelly is also an avid vintage rally competitor. His latest effort, a 1927 Indian Chief, was receiving final touches prior to being ridden to Portland, Maine, starting point of the biennial Cannonball Run, which ends in Portland, Oregon.