WINTER ENDURO TITAN
Gunnar Kalén was a great gentleman of motorsports. His first employer Axel Löfström had him riding Saroléa from 1927 to 1930 and said, “he was an ideal sportsman and so, he became one of our most popular riders in his time". People described his behaviour as “modest, calm and safe”. Besides the TT, road racing in our time, the Novemberkasan was a favourite with the master.
In 1927, Gunnar started on home turf in Malmö for the gruelling “reliability race of November”. One of his main competitors, Erik Westerberg, had turned 30 the day before departing, when fellow friends and foe saluted in honour with a loud “ip, ip, hurrah!” accompanied by the noise from screw-drivers, air pumps and other mechanical accessories.
54 competitors turned up at the start and Gunnar Kalén was one of them. Straddling his latest factory Saroléa, prepared by importer Axel Löfström, he had the best material possible for this adventure. Rider Ernst Ewaldsson on Husqvarna obviously had a hunch that his light would fail him. As a backup, he equipped his helmet with an extra source of light for the challenging night stretch. Many other riders had installed “small tables” on their tanks in order to host the inevitable map that would guide them through the stages. Gunnar Kalén was one of the first riders to take off on his single-cylinder Belgian machine. Mind you, Kalén and Westerberg were considered to be favourites by motoring experts. A 9-year old boy had a different opinion on Erik, "I don't think he's in shape after having celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday..."
On South Street in Malmö, there were always a lot of people. That first evening of the Novemberkasan, it was especially crowded outside of Husqvarna's dealer depot. The interest for the exciting event was great and everybody wanted to know how the competitors were progressing.
It’s a late November night in 1927, and spectators gather in Sweden's southern-most city of Ystad where the riders are expecting to stamp their penalty cards, before heading out to continue riding the exhausting night stage. By now, they have covered around two-thirds of the night stage. And here is the first rider, coming through the snow, signalling and honking to get through the bystanders close to the road.
He is having trouble stopping at the control unit and his machine makes a 360-degree loop before the rider elegantly stops the two-wheeler. People applaud the skill of the snowman. Between the wheel-spokes, there is a thick layer of frozen snow and ice. You would almost think that the man is riding on disc wheels.
“It doesn't help going too fast under these severe conditions,” says Gunnar Kalén as he enters the Hotel Continental, where the riders have a 45-minute break in order to get some refreshments and food. I have taken note that there are a lot of secret controllers along the course.
The press is informed that there are 19 men out there, looking for speeding riders who get penalties for fast-tracking. The newsmen have vowed not to mention this fact to the competitors. However, Kalén has an eye for detecting hidden obstacles. So, he prefers to go by the law on the transport stretches, to avoid getting caught.
One of the Novemberkasan men has run out of gas as he approaches Ystad. It takes him a full 45 minutes before he can find a fresh loaded tube, getting penalties for being late. His efforts turn painstaking, when he runs out of gas again, causing him to retire. The stage during darkness covers 372.2 kilometres while the final day stage is 332.6 kilometres long. Tough, when you consider the temperature is well below the freezing point - you get cold! This fact influences the competitors, where most of the riders have to give in for various reasons. Some have punctures while others crash. Twenty men are missing by 10 o'clock on Sunday morning.
At the “Holmeja station” on the very last stage before the finish, the boys are sorted from real men as this is a decisive rider’s test. One of the first to arrive is Kalén who comes in two minutes ahead of the stipulated time into the station - an incredible margin. "Tricky, this last part," is his comment.
A little later, Erik Westerberg turns up at “Holmeja” being a fantastic five minutes ahead of schedule. How does he do it? On top of everything, he has raced the entire event without consulting a map. "I have it all up here," he says smiling, pointing at his head.
Sunday afternoon and a crowd estimated at 10,000 spectators has gathered at the finish in Malmö. Three riders have travelled the 700 kilometres without setbacks. Gunnar Kalén is one of them, taking home the overall victory while Westerberg is fourth with one-and-a-half penalty points for missing a detail. 16 solo riders make the finish while five sidecar carriages complete the race.
Kalén won his 5th Novemberkasan in 1930. He was aiming for his second overall Kasa trophy when he entered the Västeras event in 1933 on Husqvarna and it was now that he put himself on the historical enduro map being the only man to fulfil the event on his reliable machine. It had rained more than usual prior to this race and conditions were severe to say the least. Only 13 competitors thought of conquering these difficulties and came to the starting line. Retirements were plentiful during the initial night stage. Eleven riders had to abandon the event for different reasons. And the 12th man Sigurd Werner was not allowed to continue his adventure as he was far too late at the finish after the gruelling night stretch. So, Gunnar Kalén was the only remaining rider and won with 152 penalty points. Consequently, after six overall wins, he now had two “Kasa” trophies, which is a fantastic record. No one in history has won more “Kasa” events.