Most of us can recall that magical moment when we first saw the bike of our dreams, for me it was an August day in the early sixties when I witnessed Mike Hailwood on his howling MV Agusta win the main race at Thruxton on the Italian ‘fire engine’.
However for a young lad from Devon it was one when he attended his first motocross meeting where he both saw and heard a screaming two stroke with the name of Husqvarna on the petrol tank.
Resplendent in its gleaming red and silver paintwork on its slim petrol tank and purposeful high rise silencer the teenage Richard Tupman was hooked and forty five years later he now has six of the Swedish off roaders all rubbing handlebars in his South Devon workshop.
Mention the name Husqvarna and most of us will conjure up a mental image of the fabulous V twin four stroke raced by Stanley Woods in the 1934 TT or if you’re a motocross buff the big lusty singles campaigned by Bill Nilsson and Rolf Tibblin in the early ‘sixties. However it is the lightweight two strokes with riders like Torsten Hallman, Bent Aberg and Heikki Mikkola in the saddle which dominated off road events winning 14 world Morocross titles during the next two decades that lit the magical touch paper for Richard Tupman. With an ever burgeoning collection of ‘Husky’s’ which includes a very rare 390cc automatic and a similar capacity six speed endure, he has recently obtained a rather humble 118cc two stroke model 24 road bike made in 1948 – certainly not a refugee from the race track but one which offered personal transport to thousands of people in those harsh, austere post war years. Other than a good clean with an oily rag Richard hasn’t had to do any restoration to the little two stroke since he bought it in 2017.
Based in the town which shares its name Husqvarna wasn’t all about making motorcycles as the company was formed back in 1689 making firearms and it wasn’t until 1903 that the first two wheeler appeared. These were powered by imported FN and Moto Reve engines but with sales taking off Husqvarna decided it was time to manufacture their own power units and by 1918 were producing motorcycles made entirely in house. Just before the onset of the second World War they produced their first two stroke in the form of the 98cc model 301 and at the end of hostilities the first model 24 Swartkvarna appeared. Sales of the little bike in the home market were good and by the beginning of the 1950s Husqvarna offered a range of ten different two stroke roadsters.
“On leaving school I got a job as an apprentice mechanic at Teign Valley Motorcycles in Torquay,” says Richard, “and through them I attended my inaugural motocross meeting where I spied my first Husqvarna. I decided to journey up to DMX Motorcycles at Liverton, the local Husqvarna agents to view their bikes. They had around a dozen or so of the Swedish two strokes lined up in a huge old chicken shed but as the list price of a new Husky was around £1,200 and at that time I was on apprentice money of £11 a week I had content myself with a colour brochure, incidentally it’s a brochure I’ve still got. I had to wait much later in life before I got my first Husky but in the next forty five years I’ve owned and ridden many British, European and Japanese bikes but I’m always looking for Husqvarnas to add to my collection and when I happened to see the model 24 advertised on eBay I put in a bid and won it. I’ve since discovered that although around 70,000
of the little two strokes were made in the early to mid-fifties none were ever imported to the UK.”
The bike was being sold on behalf of the late John Richardson by his son Rob and later I spoke to Rob who told me how he obtained the model 24 in the mid-seventies. “My dad was a great lover of all things to do with motorcycles and along with fellow Crawley club member Brian Leask took part in many aspects of local sport. He was very friendly with Brian – who for many years was the Husqvarna importer in the UK – and often used to pop into his shop for a chat. One day – just before Brian was closing up and moving to New Zealand – dad spotted an old lightweight motorcycle lined up to go in the scrap bin. It transpired that some years earlier a Swedish teenager had been touring on it in the UK when it had suffered a serious breakdown and with no spares available he had left it with Brian Leask who had sold him another, more modern machine to complete his journey on. Dad decided it was an ideal machine to restore so with Brian’s blessing it was loaded into his van and taken back home. After languishing in the Leask outbuilding for many years it was incredibly rough and there were several parts- like the rear mudguard, toolbox, Bakelite pump, ignition and centre stand – missing but dad was not one to let this daunt him and thanks to Husky enthusiasts in Sweden and auto-jumbles he managed to obtain them all. I recall he rebuilt the engine with a new piston but had to make the oil seals from leather and felt, and it took many hours working out how the girder front forks went back together. It took him several years before it was up and running again but in his late years he’d been forced to hang up his helmet and riding gear so his joy was in getting the little bike working and back on the road again. Sadly dad died in 2017 but he was a great believer that bikes were for ‘riding not hiding’ and he would be overjoyed that the little Husqvarna had gone to such an enthusiastic new owner in Richard Tupman.”
The last time I rode a Husqvarna it was a six speed 390cc enduro and as I quickly found out the 118cc model 24 is a very different beast to the competition single. Starting from cold just required some flooding of the small Amal carburettor and closure of the air restrictor followed by a prod on the forward mounted kick starter to bring the little engine bursting into life. The exhaust note through the long black painted silencer was not unlike that of an early BSA Bantam and like the bike from Small Heath, the Husqvarna has a three speed gearbox but with a hand operating lever mounted on the right side of the petrol tank. With first gear engaged – the clutch is extremely light – a decent amount of throttle had rider and machine on the move but it took a while to get use to balancing the revs before easing in the clutch lever and changing gear. The 118cc two stroke is reported at turning out around 3BHP which on the flat gives a top speed of around 35mph, but the little engine is surprisingly torquey. With a curb weight of only 70kg (154lbs) the model 24 is certainly a lightweight but even for a big rider it’s surprisingly spacious and all of the controls fell easily to hand, the single saddle is well padded – there’s no suspension on the rear – and the four inch brakes are probably best described as ‘adequate’.
Unlike the young Swedish enthusiast who brought the bike to the UK on a lengthy tour fifty years ago Richard’s outings will be limited to trips to the local bike nights on the South Devon sea front where you can guarantee the little Husqvarna will attract plenty of attention. It’s probably the only example in the UK and is a little gem of Swedish engineering.
Pressed steel girder forks.
ABOVE 118cc engine pumps out a lusty 3.5 horsepower. TOP CENTRE No dual seats here. TOP RIGHT Bantam-like silencer. ABOVE CENTRE Tiny brakes have little weight to pull up. BELOW RIGHT Owner Richard Tupman enjoying the Model 24.