As the 1961 racing season dawned, Husqvarna was in a bit of a slump. Its glory days, some thought, were firmly in the rearview mirror. To top it off, bikes weren’t selling all that well to consumers and the factory only produced a total of 423 units for the entirety of 1961. There’s no number given for its mopeds, but those sales were similarly down in the dumps. Overall, it looked like Husqvarna might consider getting out of motorcycles entirely.
You don’t just throw away a motorcycle history that goes back to 1903 overnight, though. Such a transition requires thorough consideration—and what helps with consideration better than scaling back your racing efforts, but still fielding a small team to keep your name in the public’s mind? Motorcycle racing might be a more niche sport amongst the general populace now, but back then, it attracted the attention of a broader swathe of the road-going public—especially in the European championship. That’s still true today; motorcycle racing has seemingly always been more popular on that continent than in North America.
Anyway, Husky decided it would support two factory 500cc racers—and zero 250cc-class racers for the 1961 season. There wasn’t a world championship title at stake in the 250cc class, so why go through the effort? At the same time, Husky faced what was widely believed to be a totally world-beating contender in Britain’s Greeves, coupled with its ace rider, Dave Bickers.
Husqvarna factory racer Torsten Hallman wasn’t just going to let Bickers and Greeves roll all over him—or his team. He started considering what he could do on his own to improve his chances—and then he did it.
“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 for that year was 13 rounds, while the Swedish championship was just three rounds. As expected, Bickers handily won the opening round in Belgium, and Hallman placed fourth. For the second round in France, Bickers won again, and Hallman managed to get to the third step of the podium this time. In that third race, fellow Briton Jeff Smith took top honors this time, while Hallman reeled in another third-place finish. Overall, he was second in endurance championship points—not bad, considering how down the factory had been on its racing chances this season to begin with.
Gallery: Husqvarna Racing History -- Torsten Hallman and 1961
The season wore on, with Bickers consistently winning and firming up his championship lead, and Hallman sometimes doing well, and sometimes not finishing at all. Points consistency has dashed many a racer’s hopes ever since racing first started, and it was definitely a factor here. Still, at the Finland round, the weather was pouring rain. A bunch of riders retired early—and Hallman managed to pull a second and then a third in the races that weekend. Despite earlier ups and downs in the season, that put him back at third place in the championship. Bickers was, of course, on top with his seemingly bulletproof Greeves.
By the end of the season, Hallman ended up fourth in the overall EC championship for 1961, having won a total of 28 events. He also won the three-race Swedish championship outright, a definite feather in the team’s cap. Was it time for Husky to get out of racing—or out of motorcycles? Obviously not.