• Mr. Broadslide

    By Kenneth Olausson

    He joined Husqvarna in the early 1930s having made a name in two-wheel sport. Gunnar Barthelsson had a special talent for broad-sliding and won some of his greatest victories on gravel.

    Previously, Gunnar had ridden for the Belgian FN brand, but in the beginning of the 1930s, he connected with Husqvarna where in 1931 he took an overwhelming second place after the triumphant Ivar Skeppstedt. They met in the final at the famous horserace track Solvalla in Stockholm. Gunnar was a mere five seconds behind the winner in the five-kilometre race on gravel. Both riders had an outstanding riding-style going around the long, high-speed corners with their machines sliding sideways to the great delight of the 15,000-spectator crowd.

    And in the 1932 Klevaliden hill climb, Gunnar set a record of 40.66 sec, breaking the old Klevaliden record of 52.4 seconds. This everlasting record equalled an average of 90 km/h!

    In 1933, Gunnar Barthelsson proved himself as a competent rider when he ousted the competition by winning at Solvalla. He led both his heats on the ultra-fast 700cc Husqvarna machine. Barthelsson had an average speed of 108 km/h, and his winning time was two minutes 46.6 seconds. A year later it was time for another Solvalla experience, again in the famous autumn event at the Stockholm horse-race track. Gunnar Barthelsson again raced with the 700cc Husqvarna engine, which proved to be faster than the machines of his competitors. Not only was Barthelsson fastest during practice, but he also set a new lap record during the first moto at 2 minutes 44.1 seconds after 5,000 meters of racing. This spring event was again well visited from motoring fans. Again, the crowd was estimated at 15,000 spectators. In the final, Husqvarna-mounted Martin Strömberg flew away from the start, going sideways into the first corner. “I was lying as close to the inner edge as I could when I heard the big-bore 700-engine coming up on my outside. Trying to avoid being overtaken was certainly in vain,” said Strömberg. “Gunnar Barthelsson seemed to be born on this heavy machine and there was no way anyone could follow in his tracks”. Barthelsson won the final leg and became the big champion of the day. 

    The 1934 Swedish TT race was run in Hedemora on the 27th of May. All the celebrities were present, and a huge crowd promised a successful and exciting race day. The 7,265-kilometre track around the Dalecarlia province was run going in the left direction after the start. A mere 500 meters had tarmac while the rest of the circuit consisted of a slippery, gravel road. On Friday’s practice day it was evident that the Husqvarna of Gunnar Barthelsson proved to suit this track very well. On top of it, Barthelsson was a first-class rider, so everyone knew he would be a man to count on for the Sunday races. Barthelsson used the Gunnar Kalén Saxtorp machine from 1932, but the two-year old bike proved to still be up to standards and was more than competitive here at Hedemora.


    Sunday – race day. Bright sunshine – excited motoring people. Shell provided a petrol tank hanging high in order to give a maximum fill rate during the shortest possible time. That’s how the tank was filled in the pit area in older days. You had to stop at the exact place and moment; too long and you were asked to do a new lap since, in the 1930s, backing the machine in the pits was strictly forbidden. So, 35 eager men were lined up for the start in the three classes A, B, and C, consisting of 250s, 350s, and 500 cc machines respectively. Time moved slowly… three minutes to go… an eternity… push the bike backwards… flood the carburettor…  then, finally, the flag drops and all riders push… take some steps forwards… hop on their machines, all hoping the engine will fire up as they should. The Finn Lampinen and Barthelsson are ahead, charging for the lead. People scream and wave the Swede ahead. Go for it, man! The spectators could move easily from one side of the track to follow another. This was appreciated, of course – you saw more of the competition. After 8 laps, Gunnar was three machine-lengths ahead of Lampinen – how long could this last, though? They had now been running a little over half an hour in this treacherous pace. 

    After 16 laps Barthelsson was shown a sign that he should fill the tank in the coming minutes. He was too slow to brake and missed his stop by a fraction. But the petrol-hose was long enough so he could go ahead without losing another round. Barthelsson stayed a minute in the pits – way too long for an effective stop. Going back on track he was now running second – behind the Finnish leader. After Lampinen’s stop, it was a close call between the two, but Gunnar over-revved his engine. With valve problems, the machine would now suffer and did not give full strength. In the end, Gunnar Barthelsson finished sixth – 25 minutes behind the winner Husqvarna-mounted Martin Strömberg. Lampinen had also met with engine troubles as his machine was tuned to the limit. And Strömberg roller-coasted over the finish-line – having run out of petrol during the final stages. Luck was with him this time and his home crowd were pleased and excited!