1963 Husqvarna Racer
The origins of U.S. motocross
This is the bike that started a revolution.
Without this machine—and the vision of the man who imported more like it—American motocross might never have gotten off the ground.
It all started in 1963, when Harley-Davidsons and Triumphs and BSAs ruled the roads, and a man named Edison Dye took a motorcycle tour of Europe. For U.S. riders back then, off-road bikes were not far removed from road bikes, and Dye was instantly enthralled with the European sport of motocross, and the new breed of lightweight two-stroke bikes favored by its competitors.
He was particularly taken with the machines from Swedish maker Husqvarna. In ’63, Husqvarna built a works production two-stroke motocrosser. Before then, Husky’s two-stroke motocrossers were prototype or one-off machines built from the 175cc Silver Pilen, which was a street bike.
With their glistening red-and-chrome tanks, alloy heads and cylinders, and distinctive two-stroke exhaust notes, the works Husqvarnas were quickly making their mark in the then-new 250cc class of world motocross racing, and Dye could not help but notice.
A few years later, Dye put a Husqvarna motocrosser in the hands of a rider named Malcolm Smith for evaluation. When it got the thumbs up, Dye became the U.S. Husqvarna importer in 1966. Shortly thereafter, John Penton became Husqvarna’s Eastern U.S. distributor.
To help spread the Husky gospel, Dye orchestrated visits by Torsten Hallman, the Swedish world motocross champion, and later, entire teams of European motocross racers. Dye’s goal was to sell Husqvarnas, but those exhibitions also showed Americans a new style of motorcycle racing.
The rest, as they say, is history.
This unrestored bike is No. 59 of just 100 250cc race machines Husqvarna built in ’63. It was shipped by the factory to Cardinal Motorcycle Sales and Service of Brooklyn, New York, in May 1963. The bike ended up in the hands of Sal DeFeo at Ghost Motorcycle Sales. DeFeo later gave it to Penton.
Penton says DeFeo intended to race the bike as a dirt-tracker. Indeed, other than the footpegs, which most likely were changed for that purpose, the bike remains in original condition.
Especially significant is the original exhaust pipe. The following year Husqvarna adopted new expansion chamber technology and the flat-ended pipes of the 1963s were quickly retrofitted by owners with the new systems. That this bike still has its original pipe is one of the rarest aspects of the machine.
“That model had a big impact because of the fact that it was the first two-stroke production racer sold to the public in Europe,” Penton says of the bike. “It played a big part in motocross in Europe from 1962 to ’67—then motocross came across the pond to America.”
Penton has donated the bike to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum in Pickerington, Ohio.