• From zero to hero

    by Kenneth Olausson

    After the 1960 season things looked gloomy for the Husqvarna Motorcycle division. The company had won the 500cc world championship, but in the quarter-litre class the situation was different. No research and development were done to the smaller power plants and no factory sponsoring was available for keen 250cc riders who wanted to conquer the world. As the “Silverpilen” street Huskys did not sell any longer there were low-key factors as well as new hope for ace rider Torsten Hallman. He seemed to be stepping up the ladder in the European championship. 

    In the statistics we can see the factory only churned out 423 units in the year of 1961. The Silverpilen street machines had stopped selling and the mopeds showed a deep dip. The future forecast was pessimistic, and the board contemplated giving up the two-wheel division entirely. A last-minute decision gave it another try, partly due to the successful history of the company's motorcycle adventures from 1903.

    So, before the 1961 season started, Husqvarna announced that it would continue to support two riders in the half-litre class but giving nothing to the riders in the 250cc class. This meant that reigning champion Bill Nilsson received 10,000 Swedish Kronor (approx. 2,000 US dollars then) and Rolf Tibblin 4,000. They would both also benefit from premiums paid out by the factory, which amounted to a few thousand kronor each, provided the pair were delivering results. However, the world championship status had yet to be introduced among the 250cc class riders. This was the last season contenders fought for the European title and it might have had an influence on the company's decision to stop supporting 250cc riders. Consequently, everybody thought that Husqvarna was in for a disaster in 1961. Dark Swedish predictions gave the series the status of a cliff-hanger, especially as the British manufacturer Greeves seemed to be at the top with their ace rider Dave Bickers. 

    “I was content to stay with Husqvarna,” remembers Torsten Hallman. “But I had to do something with my equipment. I was dissatisfied with the leading-link forks from the previous year. It was unstable so I exchanged it for Norton front forks, which worked a lot better. A further Achilles-heel on my bike was the rear brakes, causing me repeated trouble, locking up when I used them hard. The solution turned up as we developed a floating rear-anchor point, which would later be used by all MX-Husqvarnas.”

    The season consisted of 13 rounds, beginning at the end of April in Aywaille, Belgium and ending with the final in Apolda, East Germany in mid-September. Four and a half months of fighting was ahead of Hallman and Husqvarna. The national championship was also held within this time. It only made up for three rounds, all in the region of the Stockholm area. So, the opening round was held in Belgium where fans were plentiful. Motocross has always attracted big crowds and is still as popular as eating pommes frites here. It turned out that Bickers had preserved his top form and he won this event without having to show his cards. He was an effective rider, easy to underestimate, but always a kind guy with whom you could have trusted stealing horses. Hallman crossed the finish line in fourth and had to be happy with three EC-points from the beginning. Well, even icons have their off days.

    Two weeks later the circus moved on to Thomer-la-Sogne in France, where equally there was a great MX interest. Bickers took his second victory on the grassy circuit as Hallman came home third, picking up new valuable points. The coming week it was time for Markelo, Holland and much sand. Briton Jeff Smith prevailed in the dust clouds while Hallman repeated his previous show, now earning another four points. At this time, he was second in the EC rankings. The month of May's third EC race came near Prague in Czechoslovakia. Close to 100,000 people saw Bickers win again while Torsten failed to pick up points. The fifth event of the month was held in Katowice, Poland. Despite that, less than half the season was over, Bickers gained his fifth win and was already on a good way to the new title. Hallman did not enter as there were currency-restrictions at hand, which made his start impossible. In Schifflange, Luxemburg, Dave Bickers won once more, increasing his chances of taking the title.

    “All riders have the dream of winning a Grand Prix,” Torsten Hallman remembers. “At least once before they set their sights on the title. Together with three other riders, we had borrowed a DKW pick-up, which was loaded with our equipment to its breaking point. All four of us sat in the front while the bikes were in the back. We took the ferry to Abo in Finland and had another 250 kilometres to drive. The vehicle did not make more than 40-50 km/h and we stopped every 50 kilometres to rest our sore bodies. The track at Ruskeasanta consisted of red sand, which is common in Finland. It was pouring rain during the motos so there were numerous retirements this day. I managed to finish second and third in the races, which gave me overall victory. My first Grand Prix win was a fact and I was now lying third in the championship with 23 points, well behind Bickers though.”

    Italy hosted the 250cc team championship, the Trophée des Nations in Avigliana, outside Torino. The best riders of Europe contended for this exclusive trophy. The British team was unbeaten and took victory ahead of the Swedes where Torsten Hallman played a major role. The second half of the season can be summed up in one word: British! Bickers, Arthur Lampkin and Jeff Smith won it all, leaving Hallman behind. But after the last race, Torsten was fourth in the last EC championship, having gained 36 points overall. And he also won the Swedish championship with three consecutive wins, gaining a total of 30 points. No one beat the Husky ace on their home ground. So, after all, 1961 ended positively, with Hallman having won 28 events during this season. It was stepping up ahead of the coming year, which would start Husqvarna's way to stardom – now in the world championship!