Steve McQueen’s Husqvarna 400 Cross – Sports Illustrated Cover Bike
Arguably the most famous Husqvarna owned by Steve McQueen, it was the bike he rode on the now-legendary cover of the August 23, 1971 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.
McQueen and his Husqvarnas were inseparable, he switched to them after extensively riding Triumph desert sleds for most of the 1960s. When the Huskies arrived with their punchy two-strokes and incredibly low curb weights , McQueen was hooked.
Fast facts – Steve McQueen’s Husqvarna 400 Cross
- The Husqvarna 400 Cross was released in 1969 as a replacement for the Husqvarna 360. It featured a number of improvements over its predecessor, including an all-welded frame and a more powerful 400cc two-stroke engine.
- This new model was an immediate success, Bengt Aberg rode his 400 Cross to win the 1969 and 1970 500cc World Championships. brutal races in the Southern California desert.
- For many, the Husqvarna represents the shift that occurred in the late 1960s between the heavier four-strokes and the lighter two-strokes that would come to dominate off-road racing.
- Probably the world’s most famous Husqvarna 400 Cross is the one ridden by Steve McQueen in that timeless Sports Illustrated cover from 1971 (pictured below).
The mighty Swedish Husqvarnas
Husqvarna was founded centuries before the invention of the motorcycle, it was first formed near the town of Huskvarna in Sweden in 1689 to manufacture firearms, including muskets. The company’s modern logo is a reference to this, it’s designed to look like you’re looking at the open iron sights of a gun.
It was the cover that greeted those who purchased the August 23, 1971, issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. The motorcycle he rides is the one shown in the article that is now for sale.
Over the course of Husqvarna’s history they branched out, first into making bicycles in the 1800s and then into making motorcycles from 1903. By 1918 they were making the whole motorcycle in-house, including including engines that had previously been imported, that was around the time. they first started competing in cross-country and long-distance motorcycle racing.
The Swedish company had a significant number of successes on the race tracks in the mid-20th century. They beat Norton and scored a one-two at the 1931 Swedish Grand Prix with drivers Ragnar Sundqvist and Gunnar Kalen.
In the 1950s the company focused largely on off-road and motocross events, Rolf Tibblin won the 1959 Motocross Championship on his 250cc Husqvarna and the 1960 500cc Motocross Championship was won by Bill Nilsson on a Husqvarna at four times.
The development of advanced two-stroke motocross bikes in the 1960s propelled Husqvarna to the forefront of the off-road motorcycle world and made its red and chrome fuel tanks world famous.
The Husqvarna 400 Cross became one of the most important motorcycles ever made by the Swedish company, winning the 500cc World Championships of 1969 and 1970 as well as countless individual races.
The arrival of Steve McQueen
Many people don’t know that Steve McQueen was a truly competitive motorcycle racer in his day, he wasn’t just for show or just for fun, he was a competitive rider who would have paid his way through the running theater school on weekends.
McQueen represented the United States as a member of the USA Six Days Trial team in 1964 alongside the great Bud Ekins. He competed in a number of events during the 1960s and 1970s including the Baja 1000, Mint 400 and Elsinore Grand Prix.
In 1968, McQueen reportedly attended an event and saw Bengt Aberg ride his brand new 1968 Husqvarna 360 to victory. He bought the bike under him and immediately began to get acquainted with it.
Steve McQueen’s Husqvarna 400 Cross
It was clear from the start that this new lightweight two-stroke machine was superior to his old Triumph TR6C desert sled, and he became an avid Husqvarna rider.
Movie above: This is the original trailer for the landmark motorcycle documentary “On Any Sunday” from 1971. McQueen partly financed and starred in the film, it was later nominated for Best Documentary.
As soon as the improved 400 Cross became available in 1969 McQueen bought himself one, it’s the bike you see here, and he chose it as his bike to ride for his Sports Illustrated cover in 1971.
1971 also marked the release of the Oscar-nominated motorcycle documentary “On Any Sunday” by director Bruce Brown. The film would introduce a wide variety of different motorcycle sports to an entirely new audience, from cross country racing to flat track and everything in between.
McQueen partially financed the film through his own production company, Solar Productions, and he himself is famous in the film at a few points, including in the film’s famous final stages.
Mecum is now offering the McQueen Sports Illustrated Husqvarna for sale at its Houston auction in late March. Interestingly, it is offered without reserve, if you would like to learn more or register to bid, you can click here to visit the list.
Images courtesy of Mecum and Sports Illustrated
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