GALLERY: Steve McQueen’s 1968 Husqvarna Viking 360cc
To most car enthusiasts, Steve McQueen calls to mind Porsches: a Gulf 917 from Le Mans, or perhaps the 908 “Flunder” that he and Peter Revson raced at the 12 Hours of Sebring to the second step on the podium in real life, but he had no dearth of talent on two wheels either.
Between magazine covers, competing in trail races in East Germany, and adding to the definitive film, On Any Sunday, McQueen proved himself at least as avid a motorcyclist as he was an auto racer. An early affinity for Triumphs (in The Great Escape McQueen’s character makes the eponymous escape on the back of an airborne Triumph TR6 Trophy) would come to be replaced by a stronger one for Husqvarna by the late 1960s, and while it’s typically hard to pinpoint when our sentiments shift and loyalties rearrange themselves, McQueen became a Husky owner in 1968, in Santa Cruz, California.
After witnessing future motocross world champion Bengt Åberg competing on a Viking 360 around California that year (Åberg, a Swede riding for the factory Husqvarna team, would become the 500cc motocross world champion in 1969 and 1970), McQueen took notice of the big two-stroke under Åberg, and after an event in Santa Cruz he bought approached him to talk about it. He ended up buying Åberg’s bike from him on the spot. For the rest of the season, Åberg rode another 360, while the one that had caught McQueen’s eye was headed to his residence in Los Angeles.
It was the beginning of a chain of many a “Husky” that would follow, and as such, this bike, his very first from the Swedish manufacturer, is an important piece of moto pop culture; one of those pivotal and crucial links in the timeline that’s commonly overlooked at times in favor of what’s on the glossy front cover. While the Husqvarna 400 Cross that he rode for On Any Sunday and then posed with mid-wheelie in the desert on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1971 is undoubtedly the most famous of McQueen’s Husqvarnas, it was the earlier Viking 360 that turned him onto the brand and forged that initial connection.
The Swedish motorcycles were cleaning up in motocross, and they had a Hollywood megastar carrying out the best free marketing campaign one could hope for. You don’t get to be the King of Cool by posing in your leathers atop a bike in a studio, and McQueen’s shirtless outlaw style combined with his actual talent on the thing helped Husqvarna become a major name in America instead of just a funny one with a Q in the middle.
McQueen’s motorcycle taste would prove to be nothing if not consistently fickle though, and like the two-stroke Husky that made him ditch Triumphs, he jumped figurative ship over to Honda’s two-stroke CR250 Elsinores and co. The Husqvarna period was McQueen’s most visible one on motorcycles though, and the bike that made him a Husky rider is featured in our film today. It’s the same one that Åberg competed on in Santa Cruz back in 1968, and while it’s not nearly as common in the world of classic motorcycles to periodically run them on the street as it is with classic cars, the bike is more than up for it in its old age, seeing as it is only a few years off of a concours-level restoration.
The original 360cc two-stroke unit is still powering the bike, it still has its original Bing carb, as well as its four-speed ‘box. The actor and rider and racer who once owned this Husqvarna is no longer with us, but the story survives as long as there are the people and the pieces necessary to pass it along to the next generation.