Words and photos by Peter Dubaldi
For a variety of reasons, I had stopped racing motorcycles back around 1982 and sold my race bike. For the next twenty-four years my two-wheeled entertainment was in the form of mountain and road bicycling. It was after I helped my teen son restore his first motorbike, a 1986 Honda XR80, in 2006, that I started thinking that maybe I could find a 1981 Husqvarna 250 XC to restore and replicate my last race bike, one I’d always regretted selling. And so the search began.
After perhaps a year I had found two, both on eBay. The first was fairly complete but was 3000 miles away on the US east coast. The second was located in southern California, about 700 miles to the south. It wasn’t pretty but it seemed to be something I could work with and would be easier to arrange transportation.
After winning the auction came the logistics of transporting it north. I was able to negotiate transportation with a rider who was coming to our club’s annual trail ride in June of 2007. A good omen was that he and I both were participants in the Shamrock’s 1981 ISDT 2-Day Qualifier where I had ridden my original Husky but we had never met before. The circle back to 1981 had begun and the goal was set. The bike would be done by our club’s 2008 trail ride.
I’d studied the photos of the bike for several months while awaiting the Husky’s arrival so I was not surprised at the sad condition. I had already begun collecting parts. Hope for the best but expect the worst, as the saying goes. Upon disassembly it was as bad as I’d feared. It appeared that the bike had spent an extended time outside in the elements. There was a rat’s nest in the airbox, the gearbox oil was yellow, and there was water in the forks.
Opening the engine the bad news came pouring out. The magnesium cases were corroded beyond salvation. I was fortunate to have picked up an extra 1981 250 XC engine in the meantime. The Mikuni carburetor was not usable and the forks had internal rust. All the plastic, save for the airbox, was unusable. The rims and spokes were gone.
So, the project began with a frame, airbox, expansion chamber, triple clamps, hubs and backing plates, rear brake lever and rod, handlebars, axles, and miscellaneous fasteners and brackets. Not the best way to begin.
Digging through my old photos I found several pictures of my original bike. Some were right after I’d uncrated it and others were of it outfitted for enduros with a VDO speedometer, Magura shorty levers, Preston Petty headlight/number plate, and a WR rear fender with CEV taillight. This was to be the specification of the replica and the old photos were to be my guide.
I’d saved a few things from 1981 having removed the Magura shorty levers from the original bike before I sold it. I had a brand new Gunnar Gasser still in the wrapper, and a few Husky tools. I ended up making more tools to pull the crank into the main bearings, to install the swingarm bearings, and rebuild the Ohlins shocks.
Months were spent sourcing parts from all over the US and even Australia. Some NOS, some new, some restorable, and some handmade, but eventually everything was found. Parts were re-plated, bead or sand blasted, or painted. Everything was done to make this bike as 1981-new as possible.
A year later, June 24, 2008, the project was finished and in time for display at our annual trail ride. What came out at the end was beyond what I’d hoped for. It had been nearly a quarter century since I’d last heard the sounds of an air-cooled Husky. That evening she fired off within a couple strokes of the kickstart lever. As I listened to the familiar whir of the primary gears and the muffled pops from the exhaust as she warmed up, it finally struck home that this wasn’t just a neat old motorbike; it was also a time machine.
As I pulled out onto the neighborhood street and gradually went through the gears, savoring each one, the years began to roll back until it was 1981 once again… and I had just uncrated my new Husky 250 XC.
Thanks to the following people and businesses because without their help reproducing or stocking parts, successful projects like this are nigh impossible.
The success of this project is shared by my friend, Storme Winter, who helped with the machine work. Tank paint and parts by John at Vintage Husky, Steve at Ohlins USA for parts and advice, and parts from Phillip at Husqvarna-parts.com, Fernando at Huskyparts.com.au, Forest Stahl, Halls Cycles, Eureka Motor Sports Center and numerous others.