Gunnar Lindstrom Husqvarna Interview

February 24, 2010
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

Gunnar Lindstrom 

Gunnar Lindstrom
Gunnar Lindstrom
Born in Sweden, 1943.
Inducted to Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000
Factory Racer / Engineer

As a youth, Gunnar Lindstrom dreamed of working for Husqvarna. Paying no heed to the Swedish authorities, he started riding early and began racing at the age of 16. Once in college, Gunnar made the decision to change his studies from agriculture to engineering, steering him closer to his career goal. He started as a test rider, tasked with logging 125 miles per day in the saddle, all the while competing in Swedish motocross and GP events.

Other manufacturers, and even Husqvarna itself, weren’t sure why the bikes were so dominant when the Silver Arrow and its subsequent offspring first started to excel. “We had underestimated, at the time, the importance of weight,” says Lindstrom. “We all did.

“These bikes were lighter and considerably more agile than any of those,” he says of the early Husky 250 and its competition from Greeves, Bultaco, CZ and Maico. “So we were at a very powerful and favorable position in the marketplace.”

By the time 1966 rolled around, the 360 was refined and available to the public. Though relatively small in displacement for the big-bore motocross class, Husky again enjoyed a significant weight advantage over the thundering 500s which led to success. “At that time we were almost invincible in the open class,” he recalls.

Thanks to the efforts of Edison Dye, Husqvarna’s popularity exploded in the late ‘60s and Lindstrom was sent to America and based out of Husky’s New Jersey locale. In the engineering trenches, he worked with other test riders on one hand and upper management on the other, trying desperately to find a solution for both. His racing career wasn’t over either, and he continued to compete in the Inter-AM, Trans-AM, AMA National Motocross, ISDE and other off-road events. His full-time racing days came to an end in 1972 just as some interesting changes affected the model line.

Gunnar Lindstrom navigates the Superbowl of Motocross at the L.A. Coliseum in 1972 where fellow Husky riders Arne Kring and Thorleif Hansen also competed. Gunnar made the jump from Sweden to America where his racing career continued alongside his role as a Husqvarna engineer.
Gunnar Lindstrom navigates the Superbowl of Motocross at the L.A. Coliseum in 1972 where fellow Husky riders Arne Kring and Thorleif Hansen also competed. Gunnar made the jump from Sweden to America where his racing career continued alongside his role as a Husqvarna engineer.

One was the production of new-generation 250, a bike he says was over-designed to the point that it was no longer competitive with the Japanese. They immediately started working on a smaller engine but it wouldn’t become available until ’74. In the meantime, production rose to 14,000 units with the introduction of a 125cc bike.

A disagreement with top management found Gunnar departing Husqvarna in 1974. Sales started to stagnate around the time Electrolux took possession, but by then Lindstrom had a spectator’s view as it spiraled downward through changing hands.

“There were a lot of people in Europe and the rest of the world who were unhappy about the way Cagiva appointed new distributors. However, the big ones – Germany and France – maintained the same people… That was probably the most negative effect of Cagiva taking over, nurturing their own distributorships.”

In terms of actual products, the Husqvarna bikes were a little behind in technology by the early 1980s. The suspension wars were raging and the Swedes struggled to keep pace against the Japanese with the advent of a monoshock.

“Two shocks worked very well because in ’83 there were updates to the geometry, but that was not the issue,” he says. “It was like selling bellbottom pants 10 years later. They’re fine as pants, they work great and keep you nice and warm, but nobody wanted to be seen with bellbottom pants… You had to have one shock to sell bikes, and Husqvarna didn’t realize that.

 L to R  JN Roberts  Lars Larson  Bill Silverthorne and Gunnar Lindstrom produced some impressive results for Husqvarna.
(L to R) JN Roberts, Lars Larson, Bill Silverthorne and Gunnar Lindstrom produced some impressive results for Husqvarna.

“They were good bikes,” continues the engineer, “they were OK and some were actually rather good. But it was the people, people like (Dick) Burleson and Scot Harden. You would call them up… and they would try to help you.”

In compiling a complete Husqvarna history (see sidebar) Gunnar still travels back to Sweden and Italy where the passion Husky employees have for their heritage and racing background is evident. Travis Preston’s 125cc West Supercross victory at Houston in 2001 aboard a Fast By Ferracci CR125 is still hailed as one of the greatest modern achievements for Husqvarna – a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy era.

“There’s still a lot of empathy for the brand,” he says, noting how since BMW has taken control, loyal patrons are emerging from the woodwork. “In many ways, it’s the people that make the brand great.”