By Kenneth Olausson
Olle Pettersson from Strängnäs made his motocross debut as a 17-year-old youngster, when he competed in the small Swedish town of Sala. On May 9th 1954 Olle went from his home to Sala on a lorry, together with club mates, sitting on the loading area with a tarpaulin covering his frozen body next to his machine.
4,000 spectators were soon cheering him on: "I was out on my Swedish 128 cc JB machine with two gears and had to get off my bike and push in order to make the steep hills." He finished second as a junior racer in the lightweight class, group C.
A week later it was time for his second race, now having borrowed a 500cc Monark machine. This event was to be held on home ground outside Strängnäs where Olle still lives today: "I contributed to our club victory and then won the 125cc race after borrowing a helmet from another rider..."
Those were the pioneering days. In his debut 250cc race for Husqvarna Olle led from start to finish, outracing everyone in the field including some top names.
Looking in his photo album I ask why he is often seen with his mouth open when riding? “I had to strengthen the helmet strap in order not to lose my head protection during the races". We both giggle at this. In 1959 Olle rode his first race outside of his home country. It occurred in the town of Markelo on a typical Dutch sand track. "I rode a BSA 500cc, coming fourth in one heat".
In the beginning of the 60s Olle Pettersson didn’t own a car and had to rely on friends for transportation. Soon he got to know Torsten Hallman with whom he shared the cost of petrol and paid the equivalent of one euro for each 100 kilometres. "My financial situation was bad and I could never afford to offer a lift", says Olle, "my first used Mercedes diesel had 400,000 kilometres on the tacho when I bought it".
“I was going to LaGuipie in southern France and an axle broke on the slopes around Kassel in Germany. A German felt sorry for me and went to buy spares. Seven hours later I was on my way again, with another 1,200 kilometres to go. I missed practise and came fifth in the first heat. Lying third in the second my machine broke, but Torsten Hallman won the race and the Swedish anthem was played. At that stage I felt I wanted to be part of that world".
Olle bought a factory Husqvarna for the 1961 season. Only ten special bikes had been prepared with the ultra-modern Earls-front forks and five of them stayed in Sweden for Torsten Hallman and others specialists, including Pettersson, while the rest went to Finland, Denmark and Norway. The new machine cost 4,500 kronor (700 US dollars) and business was done with competition manager Bror Jaurén. Olle came runner-up in the 250cc national championship in 1961 after the victorious Hallman. In an article one read: "Olle performed very well with balanced accuracy in the mud".
The yearly enduro of Novemberkåsan is a tradition in Sweden since a hundred years and at the same time one of Olle Pettersson's favourite events. In 1961 he broke down lying third and had a long-walk through the woods to escape. Four years later a legendary "Kåsa" was run in bitter cold with temperatures reaching minus 20 degrees. Olle won after beating supremo Rolf Tibblin who had five straight victories in the Kåsa race. It was a sensational win.
Olle Pettersson was a regular contender in the world championship in 1962 when he finished eighth in the series. "But I never had a real factory contract with Husqvarna", says Olle, "I think Hallman was the only rider in the 250 class to receive such an honour".
In 1967 Olle received his factory bike from Husqvarna after finishing in all 24 of the season’s heats. "I had a bonus check for 3’000 kronor (600 US dollars) for my third place in the championship... " In the years of 1963, '64, '66 and '67 Olle Pettersson was part of the victorious Swedish team in the Trophée des Nations – the 250cc class world championship for national teams where the Belgians were the strongest antagonists to Sweden.
In the Finnish world championship race of '67 Olle was leading on a sandy track but stopped in the woods waiting for Hallman to catch up, as he was closer to the title and chasing Belgian Joel Robert for the win. "But I never received compensation for the prize money that went to Torsten", complains Olle with a big grin on his face...
Olle has always been characterised as a true fighter with an elegant riding style. With Viking blood in his veins he was as popular on the track as he was in the paddock. But the competition years have put its strain on his body. Olle is limping nowadays and has limited hearing from his racing years. But he is still very active and trains regularly. "However, my heart beats mostly for garage hours", he says. "I love working with bikes and cars and restore them to immaculate original condition. At the moment I'm looking for a used Mercedes Pagoda".
Any thoughts of restoring an old Husky motocross bike?
"Of course, it's a dream, says Olle, "but first I have to find a factory machine with some good history to make it worth while".
We think Olle Pettersson will achieve his ultimate goal and wish him good luck!
Born: 26th of January 1937
Profession: Office-clerk and driver of forestry machinery
Career: 23 years, 1954-1978 + 15 years as manager to his son Dick
Brands: JB, Ariel, Monark, BSA, Husqvarna, Bultaco, Suzuki, Kawasaki
Merits: National championship in motocross 250cc: victory in ’66 and ’67, 2nd in ’61, ’63 and ’65
500cc: 12th in ’57
WC in motocross 250cc: 3rd in ’67 and ’69, 6th in ’66, 8th in ’62
Novemberkåsan Victory in 1965, 3rd in ’61 and ’66
Team WC in 250cc, Trophée des Nations: 1st in ’63, 64, 66, 67, 2nd in '62 and '69
Team WC in 500cc, Moto Cross des Nations: 1st in '71, 2nd in '67