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Memorable MC 360 Mikkola Husqvarna

Monday, September 13, 2004
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
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Bob "one boot" Wood -Mikkola 360 GP  December 18, 2009 11:37 AM
I have had the pleasure of owning two 360 gp's. Still have one. It is the lightest open class bike I've ever owned. I find it easy to ride as long as you do not allow yourself to lean back to far in your riding position. This is a bike that when ever you think you have it fiqured out, it will bite you. Always pay attention to what you are doing. It is under 212lbs. because of a "special" pipe that I have. I have really enjoyed this bike. I race occasionally in vintage events in the southeast. There are not very many of this particular type. I hope to see more. Thanks.
Big Sven -The HVA 360 Mikkola Replica  October 4, 2009 08:10 AM
I know a bit about the development of the lightweight mag-engined HVA 360. In the early 70's HVA were having severe problems with the old 4-speed bikes, a design based on a 50's road-bike for the bludgeoning youth-market, revolutionary in it's time. But, being built to a maximum weight-limit, by law, this ment some design-aspects were severely limited when it came to surviving 3-4 times the power and being thrashed around the toughest MX-tracks in the world. HVA should have entirely redesigned the engine by the time Totte Hallman won his last world-title in '67. But that was part of the problem, outdated as it already was it was still winning world-championships! The other part was the very limited development and production budget. So they soldiered-on with it, to find, in the early 70's, that it's time had come ...and they had nothing to replace it, let alone that could compete with the new Suzuki's. Enter the very rushed and flawed 5-speed series machines. They were too heavy, the clutches tended to loosen-off and fly off like a mad chainsaw, and the crankcases fell apart on the big engines, the gearbox internals being sprayed all over the track. The 250's were ok in this department, they were heavy but reliable, but must have been near the limit. HVA sales in Sweden dropped to catastrophic levels, only the USA market held the company above water. The Yanks didn't ride as hard as we did, the tracks were not as tough as ours, so the bikes survived there. A lot of experimentation, a lot of 'think-tank' discussions were entered into, and, importantly, the HVA development staff, all MX and enduro racers, took heed of what the club-riders thought. Us. The guys who bought and raced their bikes. Why were we now buying other bikes? What were the good points of these bikes, the bad. We also made sure - if they didn't already know - what was wrong with the HVA bikes! Volubly. HVA then did something very important, they realised they needed a new mind, somebody not seeped in motorcycle/MX tradition, who thus saw things with other eyes. But he had to know engines, and 2-strokes in particular. To their surprise, they were suggested a man already within the conglomerate of companies that now surrounded HVA. This man was used to designing very compact and very LIGHT high-revving 2-stroke engines, famous for their useability and abject reliability under the harshest of conditions, in an industry that tolerated no fools or fly-by-night products. What really saved the HVA motocross-division was that they headhunted an engineer from the new HVA chainsaw-division, Urban Larsson. Larsson, being a Swede, didn't say much, but was appalled at how backward the MX-engines were. So he began to mull over a 'slightly-larger' chainsaw engine, with a gearbox. This was a period of termoil for HVA, '72 and '73 were terrible years, '74 not much better. But '74 was the watershed year. Using his knowledge of high-quality, high-pressure die-cast magnesium castings, used in both chainsaws AND the washingmachine industries (Electrolux made cookers, fridges and washingmachines) Larsson fitted the 250 class MX:ers with what was at the time a breathtaking engine. Still the same basic crank, piston and cylinder, many parts were still swappable with the older bikes, but, in concert with the magnesium-alloy cases, clutch housing, fork legs, and brake-plates, he had shed over 10kgs from the bike, which was now the lightest production-bike on the market. The engine was tuned with one of those pesky reed-valve's, which were in their infancy in those days, still quiet crude and not researched or designed very well, and slightly lighter flywheels. Fitted in the old frame the engine looked out of place, far too high, cumbersome, but the bike was as light as a feather and handled very well and was blindingly fast. On a shoestring, Larsson had done what was asked of him. The magnesium castings weren't that expensive, or exotic, as far as Larsson was concerned, as he was able to use the foundry and workforce that made the huge volume of such castings used in chainsaws and washingmachines. But Larsson wasn't finished, the '74 bike was only a stopgap, made on minimal money, he knew there was a much better bike in there, waiting to get out. He didn't like one-off works specials that were scrapped after 3 races (as the Suzuki's were, they were very flimsily-made) he was a real engineer, into making quality-products that lasted. He was getting rather keen on this bike business and wanted to win a world championship with a production-bike. But, though he had ridden bikes and had tested enduro for fun, he personally knew little about the rest of the bike as far as serious competition-use was concerned, the others in the HVA team would have to do most of that, give him the feedback needed. He knew the 250 class was out of reach at the moment, it was turning into a beehive not for the fainthearted, but suspected the 500 class might be a better option, there was 'only' DeCoster and his 370 Suzuki to beat. Could a bigger 250 be good enough. He wanted to find out. The bigger bikes were still the old type, but, as said, they were reliable in the USA, and popular, it was them that were keeping the company floating. Larsson was busy as they had also made a 125cc MX for what was turning-out to be a popular class in the USA, and the HVA team weren't certain a bigger and yet ultra-light mag-engine was possible, some had thought the castings for the 250 were impossibly thin, not believing the crankcases would hold-up. "Trust me,"said Larsson, "they will." There seemed to be no time and money to research the project. But. One of the young racer/engineers had worked at Volvo, and knew of a young man reading for a degree in engineering who had been headhunted by Volvo when he was still a lad at school (they were always scouring the country for up-and-coming talent). A 'Whiz-Kid'. Another of the HVA team knew of him, as they lived not too far away from each other back home, and thus knew of this guy's burning interest on bikes and engines. After his national service in the army this guy had moved to Gothenburg to study at the university there, working part-time at Volvo, readying himself for a top job there. He had also bought a bike and was racing MX for a local club. Very successfully. He was strong and fit and improving all the time, riding with intelligence. He was currently racing the overweight 5-speed 250, and NOT complaining! Medium-sized and chunky-muscled as he was the bike suited his forceful but precise riding. The 2 HVA engineers mulled over an germ of an idea. In his final year at uni, to get his masters degree in civil-engineering this guy had to develop a design-concept and physically make it ...and suggested they rope-in this guy to check-out how a big-bore mag-engine might look. And, if it was accepted as a degree-project ...make it. He was given a pile of Mag-250 engine and cycle-parts - mostly secondhand stuff from the development-shop! - and began to mull it over. I happened to have bought an old 360 4-speed engine I planned to swap with the 250 in my bike so I could get more races when refused entries for the 250 (the most popular class, heavily oversubscribed) and he noticed the crank wasn't all that big... "Can I borrow all this," he enquired, indicating the pile of worn parts, "like to measure it all up." Yup. Did a good job of measuring, it seems. For he got to it with a vengeance. He sold the old 250 and bought a new Mag-250 to get to know it better. During that year he was quietly working-away on his now-approved project for his degree. He turned-out the crank area (ouch, there wasn't much left!) turned down the old 360 crank (breaking into the balance-holes) cut a bit off the top and bottom of a 400 cylinder, welded a reed-valve to the back of the cylinder, altered the piston, made a new liner and the ports a tad, made a new expansion-chamber, not to mention fiddle with the rest of the bike to boot, working on this new-fangled long suspension business to suit the extra torque and power. All on his own, he did it all on his own, as the terms for his degree called for it (I sometimes used to help him, when he needed 2 pairs of hands, and a warming-word of encouragement, especially when he was working in the machine-shop at Chalmers Uni late in the night, for safety reasons you aren't allowed to work alone). He received NO help from HVA, he did all the calculations called for, he physically made the alterations needed, and wrote a white-paper on it for his degree. He didn't think much of Gordon Blair's ideas on porting and expansion-chambers, "I'm sure he's holding-back with his publications, he wants you to buy his time. I've no money for that. I don't think he knows anything nobody else already knows, anyway," but was more inclined towards the tomes of Gordon Jennings, who's sound-thinking was based on the SAE papers put forward by university-researchers working for Yamaha. "Jennings has not only understood what Yamaha AREN'T saying in their papers - they're not going to REALLY give away their secrets, are they! - he's physically done it, and an engineer has raced it (Jess Thomas, ex-Harley) he's proven his thoughts WORK. This is what I have to do for my degree (and would have done, anyway, he was like that!) Then, snow still on the ground, he tested the bike. With resounding success. It worked. Very powerful, very smooth powerband, virtually no vibration. HVA were told the concept would work, they even knew to add an Allen-bolt to the front and back of the cylinderhead to stop 'the possibility' of slight leaking. For the first half of the '74 season Heiki Mikkola raced a hurriedly-made 360 (the prototype this guy made was actually a 380) in a new frame with the now near fully-developed long-travel rear suspension using the unique to HVA Gas-Girling shocks. The rest is history, this guy got his degree ...and HVA won a world championship. On a production-bike. For, during the second half of the season Mikkola raced what was now a genuine pre-production bike. HVA survived some very bad years, to in 1975, put on sale the finest production 250 and 500 MX-racers the world has ever seen. The quality was breathless! Bror Jauren told me they had nearly gone under, but some serious sales-talk about what the HVA team were up to, the ideas, the development by the finest team of experts in the world, backed-up by hard evidence, despite a current dearth of results on the track, was bearing fruit. "We pointed out that the HVA name was world-famous, and our bikes were still very popular on the tracks even though we weren't winning world championships. Nobody could beat the Japanese at top-level racing at this time, they were throwing millions of dollars at MX as they realised it was really big business and they wanted to take over the entire market. Nobody in the USA thought of washingmachines and chainsaws when the name came up, all began talking motocross. Washingmachines aren't exciting, nobody notices them. Everybody notices our bikes, especially when MX-racing is the fastest-growing industry and sport in the world and makes prime-time on the TV and the front pages of the newspapers. It's the cheapest advertising you can get. Our name sells washingmachines and chainsaws, too, when the public realise we are the same people. If our bikes are good, so is the other stuff. The board dithered, but then Wirten, the boss, decided we should be given a chance, and asked the board to approve an annual budget to design, test, and manufacture the finest production MX:er in the world. We were told we had until 1975, at the longest '76, that was to be capped at 25 million Kronor, total cost, this including setting-up production and sales. No sales covering it and we were history. We'd calculated a successfully production-run of 3 years, about 18,000 bikes in total, of all sorts of course, would cover it. The board wanted a world championship, but we couldn't guarantee it, as our best riders had sold-out to the Japanese - we simply couldn't afford to keep them, we lost Hallman too, same thing, he couldn't refuse the money - but we tentatively thought there was a chance of a championship as we still had Mikkola on board. Kring wasn't quiet up to it yet, after his injuries, and his family wanted him to quit, and he wasn't happy at being forced to ride the temperamental prototype bikes anyway, they broke-down all the time and he wanted to win, knowing he only had a couple of years left at top level. But Heikki wanted to ride the 500 class, as he liked the big bikes and he saw a better chance of winning the championship with only DeCoster to beat, and the other makes of bike in trouble due to lack of development as the factories were pushing the 250's. He pushed for a big 250, surely we could slot a big crank and piston onto the new 250 design? We were overstretched as it was, and it wasn't as easy as he thought it was, the cases needed to be bigger and stronger and would the gearbox and clutch be up to it? Well, thanks to a couple of our lads thinking laterally we found a way, it paid off, Heikki got his bike. We simply didn't believe it when Heikki won in '74. I cried. We thought it might be '75, perhaps '76 before he would have a realistic chance at the title. So did he, I think! It guarenteed the money. We knew we could do it. The 380 prototype Bengt-Göran Stibing made for us during the winter '73-'74 saved us." And I bet Urban Larsson smiled quietly to himself.... I don't know what happened to the bike. Stibing raced it for a while, then, when he 'bought' his brand-new 360 production-bike (ahem... ) he sold it off to a clubmate, or let him race it for a while, and then I never saw it again. Have a couple of photos, that's all. Regarding the HVA 360 being too powerful for most riders: utter crap. You don't buy a GENUINE production replica of a bike that won a world championship if you're a laid-back hippy 'into this neat MX scene, man'. We raced REAL MX in Sweden, and all who bought and raced the bike did what it took to train their minds and bodies to ride it as it was designed to be ridden. That's what we were there for, what we had chosen to do, RACE. You wanna cruise around waving to the girls, supping a pint at the same time, buy an ol' Greeves or AJS Stormer, or something. Or a Jap bike - designed and tested in SoCal, by local lads paid a 1,000 dollars a month to do so on tracks that didn't measure up to ours. Nobody SERIOUSLY raced a standard Jap bike here, they needed a heck of a lot of modifying before they were up to it, they bent and sagged everywhere. But once sorted not a few lads liked them, it must be admitted. The Swedish riders COMPLAINED when the HVA factory detuned the 360, bought the old cylinders to retro-fit. But in the end we lost out, the Japanese thrust was too much to fight. They DID take over the market. But if that market had only been Europe HVA would have survived, as the Europeans were into real MX too. After all, we invented it. (Britain's decline in this area is due to the fact that, due to 'tradition' (by jove chaps, isn't cricket fun!) you were still riding 'scrambles', not MX). In the end the Yanks ruined MX, turned it into a circus, not an art-form. I'm glad I raced in the halcyon 70's, they were a great time. The bikes had that 'something' too. Well, why are the vintage fans riding them still? Will they race the current bikes in 30 years time? I think not. They are so expensive to run and maintain I don't see any surviving, let alone anyone wanting to spend the money.
Brett Goodson -How much could they sell one for if it was in ok condition  May 13, 2009 03:30 PM
Is 750$ to much or am i getting a good deal.