By Marcus Erlmoser
He had an extraordinary talent and a rocketing career during Husqvarna's ‘big time’ road racing era in the 1930s. Great wins on the famous Saxtorp circuit were part of his success. But Ragnar Sunnqvist’s biggest victory came in 1935 when he beat all the local German and international stars at Avus in Berlin.
Husqvarna's lightweight engines made their debut in road racing – then called TT for Tourist Trophy – during the 1932 season. It was the same year that a 23-year-old youngster by the name of Sunnqvist was tied to the Swedish armory factory in Huskvarna. Ragnar became teammate of the all out star Gunnar Kalén and the pair had the best chances in the world of becoming super famous on the track, taking trophies wherever they raced.
Ragnar, nicknamed Ragge in Sweden, was a man of calibre, which he proved in his first big race at the Djurgårdsloppet in Helsinki, Finland. Ragnar Sunnqvist won the 350cc class in grand style and had the second fastest lap time of the day, also counting the 500cc class. Actually, Ragge was second quickest after his team-colleague Gunnar Kalén, also riding for Husqvarna. A new hero had been established!
Ragnar Sunnqvist was born on the 11th of August, 1908. At the age of 16 he grabbed hold of his parents chequebook and when they were away from home happily, and without regrets, went to the post office. He took out money, stepped on the nearest train to Stockholm, and bought his first motorcycle. It was a 125cc Evans. Later, when he had his riding license, he exchanged this bike for a 350 Royal Enfield. Simultaneously Ragnar started to work as a mechanic in a two-wheel shop, where he picked up enough skill to be able to work on his own machine successfully.
Ragnar Sunnqvist won his very first race, which consisted of an enduro event in the outskirts of Stockholm. This victory was enough to engage the youngster in more serious racing. Ragnar made his TT-debut back in 1930 on a Norton. It was the Rasbo speed-race event outside of Uppsala. This was clearly the right tune for the 20-year-old who now knew where to concentrate for the future... Ragnar Sunnqvist was an unorthodox man ‘who never set example by being a choir guy’ according to a well-informed journalist of the time.
He loved to have a drink, smoke cigarettes and make jokes. In his heydays during the ‘30s he used to ride a few laps after the victory banquet before coming back to the hotel and keeping the party rolling until the early hours of the morning. Sometimes he would be miserable one moment, only to show a roaring laughter in the next seconds. Motoring journalists were reluctant to interview Ragnar as he would make jokes and sometimes tell a next-to-the-truth story, which then appeared in the news without anyone knowing what was correct or not ...
His temper was the same on the track. He would often be carried away and seldom considered the consequences of his win or bust approach. To experiment and take risks were the domains of mister Sunnqvist. If there was something new to be tried out, Ragnar would be the first man testing these novel solutions. Without exaggerating one could say that this Swede was the great daredevil of his time, mostly resulting in deeds that other riders did not even think of achieving. If nothing else, this was proved by the fact that Ragnar Sunnqvist was never severely hurt during his entire career.
In the Swedish Grand Prix at Saxtorp in 1932 Ragnar Sunnqvist proved to the world to be a worthy team member in the greatest team of this era. He rode his Husky-banana (so called by the British) after the bike had been upgraded, now weighing 22 kilos less than the factory's previous racing model.
Since Gunnar Kalén was the team leader he had of course access to this fabulous new machine. But during practice there were some mechanical problems with the new engine. Gunnar Kalén did not trust the words of his team manager Folke Mannerstedt and so preferred to ride the older, heavier bike. This left Sunnqvist to try the newcomer and he wasn’t slow to prove the engineer's point and enjoyed a successful race. He won the 500cc class comfortably by racing the 30 laps in a time of three hours 24 minute, 35.1 seconds. This was a new record with an average speed of 128 km/h. Ragnar beat Kalén who came home second in this important race where all the foreign riders were beaten fair and square.