Memorable MC 360 Mikkola Husqvarna

September 13, 2004
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Although the Husky 360 had all the works replica components a rider could want – it just didn t help a rider to be better – instead it exposed their weaknesses.
Although the Husky 360 had all the works replica components a rider could want – it just didn’t help a rider to be better – instead it exposed their weaknesses.

The story of the 1974 360 “Mikkola” Husqvarna is a fascinating one but, more than most bikes, the Husky needs to be seen in historical context. First, 30 years ago motocross had mass appeal. Ordinary, non-enthusiast motorcycle riders were often motocross fans and the star riders were household personalities. In short, motocross was big business – especially in the 500cc class.

Next, the Japanese were beginning to dominate motocross – using race success as a tool for selling road bikes. Only Husqvarna was capable of mounting a credible challenge to the dominance of the Japanese factories.

Finally, although dynamic and well equipped, the Husqvarna factory was a garden shed operation compared with Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda. Wherever possible, common designs and tooling had to be used because there were insufficient funds to do the job any other way.

Not that the Swedes were over-awed with the challenge. The factory’s Chief Engine Designer, Urban Larsson, was a world class engineer and the overall director of design, Rubin Helmin, was both extremely effective and charismatic. Their idea was simple: they would design, and build, a genuine GP replica motocross machine for the blue riband 500cc class. The same bike would also be used as the basis for enduro, trail and desert racing bikes thus amortizing the tooling costs in the most effective way.

At the time, Japanese production motocross machines were thoroughly mediocre when compared to the works machines and Husqvarna reasoned that riders would flock to a genuine GP replica – and enduro riders would follow suit.

Another key factor in the story was Husqvarna works rider, Heikki Mikkola. Even in a sport dominated by hard men, Mikkola was outstandingly the toughest, fittest and most fearless rider on the GP circuit: he was, quite simply, awesome.

Larsson took his existing lightweight 250 and stretched it into an ultra short stroke 354cc motor. The six-speed motor made a genuine 40bhp at 8,000rpm – which was an astonishing amount of power for a motocross engine of the time. Mikkola rode it fearlessly and finished the 1974 season as world champion. From this high point, things started to go badly wrong.

The 1974 360  Mikkola  Husqvarna is a good looking machine indeed. The bike soon became a victim of warranty issues and even worse  was difficult for riders to ride at a competitive level.
The 1974 360 “Mikkola” Husqvarna is a good looking machine indeed. The bike soon became a victim of warranty issues and even worse, was difficult for riders to ride at a competitive level.

The first problem was that the 360 was simply too much bike for the average rider – the man who opened his wallet and actually bought a bike rather than being sponsored. Instead of flattering the owner, the 360 exposed his lack of fitness and, worse still, his failings in terms of riding ability. Rather than feeling like a GP rider, even capable 360 owners soon realized that they were accidents waiting to happen.

Then, changes were made to the specification of the works cylinder barrel. When the 360 was put into production these both reduced the overall power and moved what was available further up the power band making the bike even harder to ride. Finally, in an attempt to make the bike lighter, thinner wall tubing than the GP bike was used. Despite employing an innovative hardening process, the new tubing cracked in the production frames when treated to the normal daily abuse of privately owned bikes.

From having a waiting list for the 360s at launch, Husqvarna dealers soon found themselves fighting warranty problems – and disillusioned customers who felt that the 360 had let them down. It took a long time to win these customers back and, in the interim, Japanese production motocross bikes were improving dramatically. The 360 disaster was not the end for Husqvarna – but it was the beginning of the slow decline towards an eventual sale to Cagiva in Italy.

For more information contact: Vintage Husqvarna