IT WAS the line about the go-kart that did me in. I was standing in a dusty old garage in the southern suburbs of Perth, looking at a big, air-cooled, twin-shock, two-stroke Husqvarna.
It had seen better days for sure. And I could make plenty of arguments to walk away.
For a start, it looked decidedly unloved. It hadn’t been cleaned since, well, a few owners ago. The shocks (clearly from two different bikes) were blown out, the disc brake front end with its leaking oil seals looked suspiciously Japanese, the tank was dented, there were no sidecovers, the rear fender was snapped off, and there was no front master cylinder, brake hose or front calliper. And who knew what other nasty surprises lay hidden within?
I had no need for big horsepower. My last foray into big boredom (?) was a (comparatively) modern thumper, a 2003 KTM525SX that threatened to kill me every time I opened the throttle. I had neither the finesse nor the fitness required to handle an open-class motocross bike.
But perhaps most importantly, we had no chance of getting it started; the kickstarter was nowhere to be seen and, even if we had been able to bump-start it (“forget it”, he said), the more-than-necessary number of holes in the exhaust (most Huskys have just one at each end) would have attracted a more-than-welcome level of attention. “Last time I started it here, the cops showed up,” said would-be former owner. “Goes like shit but.”
I had never owned a Husky before. Never even sat on one.
And I wasn’t even sure what it was. The advertisement in Quokka magazine had been vague, but intriguing: Dirt bike. 1980s. Approx 490cc. $1500. My mind had gone Maico first and Yamaha second. Either way it was worth a look, I figured.
It turned out to be a Husky. I’d always liked the look of them, but could never afford one back in the day. Hhhmm. We found the frame number – difficult to read with confidence, but perhaps a 1983 WR430. We couldn’t find the engine number.
And then he said it. “If I can’t get twelve-unnert for it, I’ll pull out the motor and turn it into a go-kart.”
That was it. Not on my watch, pal. There was no way I was going to let this once-mighty Swedish masterpiece suffer the final ignominy of life as a go-kart. Bad enough to have sunk to ear-splitting paddock blaster and catch-me-if-you-can police target. It clearly needed to be rescued — and was on my trailer before you could say “what the hell have I done?”
Driving home, I had just one thought: What the hell have I done?
I tried to bump-start it down my steep, long, concrete driveway. No chance. Even in fourth gear at speed, it just locked the back wheel. Huge compression – or maybe a seized engine. Gulp. (The rubber skid mark is still on my driveway, five years later.)
Out with the plug – no fatal signs – and a spin of the wheel with the transmission in fifth gear proved the engine was not seized. What’s more, the gearbox appeared to work. Lookin’ good.
E-bay soon found me a kickstarter and, while I waited for it to arrive, I started my homework. Yes, definitely an ’83 WR430. That made it technically an enduro mount, rather than a motocrosser, but the differences were few – the WR came with a wider ratio gearbox and heavier flywheel rotor than the CR, plus some lights, but not much else. Those front forks were Honda CR, circa 1983 or ’84. The fuel tank, seat, exhaust and muffler all looked original. The rear shocks, as well as being mismatched, were totally buggered.
Google quickly located a parts manual and owners handbook, along with multiple sources for Husky parts. I was starting to feel more upbeat about this spur-of-the-moment purchase.
Back to e-bay. A set of ‘83 Husky CR250 shocks and a pair of WR430 forks and triple clamps joined the America-to-Australia run.
Once the kickstarter arrived I mixed up some fresh fuel and the WR passed the driveway test – yup, she goes. Loud, difficult to fire up, running a little rough down low but willing to rev, gearbox and clutch okay, plenty of power – we have a project!
Rather than jump into an engine rebuild, I decided to accept the seller’s assertion that it had recently been treated to a rebore and fresh top end. So the cylinder head stayed bolted down and I restricted engine-spending to breathing-in and breathing-out apparatus.
A used-once 38mm Mikuni appeared on the ‘net – yes please –a new air filter and airboot proved easy to find, and I splashed out on a bundle of new jets. Nothing else in my shed needs a 430 main!
The exhaust was suffering from a few dents up front and, of greater concern, a bloody great hole on the underside, beneath the gas tank. No wonder it was a cop magnet. Closer inspection showed the metal was perfectly sound; the damage had been caused by mounting the pipe without the original rubbers and spacers, literally tearing a gash in the pipe. Ouch. Mounting rubbers, exhaust gaskets and O-rings proved no trouble to source, the repackable muffler was duly repacked, that nasty gash welded up, and I decided I could live with the minor dents. Fair chance I’d be adding a few of my own soon enough anyway …
With a new carb and filter, repaired pipe and a fresh plug (of the correct heat range) the old Husky was ready for its first exploratory lap on the track. It still had no front brake or plastics, the ‘new’ shocks had not yet been rebuilt, forks were still leaking – but that big engine felt like it was starting to smile again — it was easier to start (well, for a left-kick big bore; more on that later) and was much happier across the rev range. And enough horsepower to run a small town. Good. Back to the shed.
Satisfied that the engine was good to go, the rest of the bike was dismantled – engine on the bench, wheels, suspension and airbox removed, leaving the frame and tank ready for love. The frame was in great shape – all threads good and no sign of rust or bends – so off to the powder coaters it went.
The tank was also in remarkably good fettle. A few hours of sanding, a bit of filling, followed by spray-can primer, filler and gloss white, and it was ready for decals.
Back to the ‘net for finishing touches – Gunner Gasser throttle, chain tensioner, decals, sidecovers, CR Husky fenders; all found with remarkable ease – and the project was coming together.
The front end presented a dilemma. I prefer my bikes to be near as I can get them to original – but I decided to make an exception here. Retaining the Honda parts gave me a disc brake and 43mm forks, rather than the standard-Husky brake shoes and 40mm tubes.
I figured the set of Husky forks could sit in the corner of the shed for a year or two. Which they did.
So did this impulsive Husqvarna affair have a happy ending?
Well, yes and no. For one thing, she ended up downright gorgeous. I don’t think I have ever seen a better looking motocross bike – even if it is an enduro bike.
The engine and frame were wonderfully low-tech (gotta love that swing arm!) and you’re unlikely to run into another one at your local track.
The suspension – especially with those rebuilt Ohlins up the back – was amazingly good. No-one will believe me, I know, but I reckon this bike was better suspended than my KTM.
I think retaining the Honda front end was a good call. Certainly the disc brake was welcome on a bike that could reach warp speed in the blink of an eye, and the 43mm forks add an extra slice of beef .
With a claimed weight of 110kg, the Husky tipped the scales just 3kg heavier than my KTM. It was still no featherweight – keep in mind the ’81 Maico Mega 2 490 weighed in at 101kg – and all that horsepower added to the notion that you had a very substantial piece of machinery between your legs, especially under hard acceleration.
The engine was amazing. Big. Linear. With its enduro heritage, I thought the power delivery would be lazy. It wasn’t. Be ready to hang on. Want to go fast? Sure. Open it up. Faster, you say? Sure. Open some more. Within the context of a motocross track (and particularly in the context of my skill level) the motor had limitless power. I read somewhere that the bike was good for an honest 160kmh (that’s 100mph for Americans and old people) if you could find a long enough stretch of dirt road. The spread was broad, as you’d expect from such a big powerplant, so gear selection was less than critical. But it still demanded respect and could be frightening if you got out of shape and grabbed an unintentional handful of throttle.
I could have grown to love the huge horsepower and the physical size of the thing if it weren’t for one final straw. It was hard work, real hard work, to fire up. Not that it was in a poor state of tune. Far from it. By the time I’d finished, it was starting as easily as you could ever hope. Third kick, maybe fourth. But you needed to be 205cm tall (that’s 6’9″ for Americans and old people) and left footed to get the appropriate leverage. For me, right-legged and not tall but not dwarfy at 180cm, the drill required standing on a milk crate off to the Husky’s left, nudging it past compression, then kicking long and hard with my right leg. If you lost balance (not difficult given the logistics) you could topple the whole thing. And I did. Needless to say I lived in fear of stalling it or having a get-off during a race because I’d lose ten positions just to find a suitable rock for climbing-on-and-kicking purposes. And losing ten positions wasn’t good, when there were usually only five people behind me. I also lived in fear of a kickback. I could imagine people looking for my body parts all the way back to California.
And one more thing. When I raced something small and light and slow, I had a great excuse for getting to the first corner in last place and then spending the whole race catching and passing people who had better bikes but less skill. That was fun. On the Husky I’d get to the first corner in the front group and spend the whole race being passed by people who had lesser bikes but more skill. That was no fun at all.
So I sold it. The fellow who took it off my hands didn’t mind that we couldn’t get it going on the day he came (it hadn’t been started for several months) and phoned me a few days later to say all was well. To be honest, he looked a bit short for it …
But I will remember the Husqvarna fondly, as much for its minimalistic design as its truly impressive performance. I was pleased to have rescued it, and thought I did a pretty good job of bringing it back from the dead. And if I come back for another lap on this planet as a 205cm strongman, I won’t hesitate to find myself an old big-bore two stroke Husky.