Celebrity motorcycles tend to attract extra attention and a higher price tag at an auction, but an upcoming Sotheby’s auction is likely to take things a step further. In mid-August, Sotheby’s has a 1968 Husqvarna Viking 360 for sale—the first Husqvarna owned by actor Steve McQueen.
The Great Unknown
In the past few decades, Husqvarna has had a wild ride, going from ownership by Cagiva, to BMW, to (currently) the Pierer AG Group, making it a sister company to KTM. It’s been a bit chaotic, but things seem to have stabilized under the latest buyout, and Husqvarna is now a fairly common brand, building competitive dirt bikes as well as uniquely-styled street bikes.
Back in the 1960s, though—Husqvarna was the definition of a niche brand, at least in North America. At the time, it was still based in Sweden (where it started as a subsidiary of armaments manufacturer Husqvarna, in 1903).
In the first half of the 20th century, Husqvarna began by building street bikes and GP racers. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, it moved into the dirt bike world, particularly enduro and the growing sport of motocross. Husqvarna saw success with hairy-chested four-stroke bikes, same as the Brits built, but by the late 1960s, the company had figured out how to build two-strokes that could fit into the rule structure and compete with four-strokes.
The plan worked. Along with podium success in Europe, Husqvarna also began winning races in North America, even though the brand was relatively unknown to most riders. J.N. Roberts and Malcolm Smith proved Husqvarna’s capability with regular wins in the SoCal desert racing scene, including the inaugural 1967 Baja 1000. In the world of motocross, Swedish MX star Bengt Åberg came out to California for a four-race series, riding a Viking 360. Steve McQueen, a serious motorcycle and car racer himself and longtime fan of speed, saw Åberg aboard the Husqvarna. McQueen was convinced to buy one immediately—supposedly, he bought the bike Åberg used to win the third race in that series.
Although the brand was still a niche product, those who were in-the-know were realizing the potential of a lightweight two-stroke, especially when they saw the two-smokers in action. Now, thanks to McQueen and his friends, Husqvarna was about to become much better-known.
The Viking 360
So what was the Viking 360? This air-cooled two-stroke was built to fit into the rulebook in competition with 500 cc four-strokes. It came with a four-speed gearbox, as was common with many vintage bikes. Drum brakes came standard front and rear. There was a dual-shock rear suspension, and a high-mount exhaust on the left side of the bike.
The frame itself was welded, unlike previous Husky off-roaders with bolted-together frames. Obviously, this would have resulted in a much stiffer chassis. The bodywork was mostly metal, not plastic like a modern bike, yet the Viking 360 came in fairly lightweight. Depending how hacked-up and modified it was for racing, dry weight could be under 220 pounds.
The single-cylinder (with Bing carburetor) pumped out about 36 horsepower in earlier configurations, although again, modifications might change that, and besides, it’s unlikely anyone will buy this machine for either racing or dyno runs.
All in all, it was a very tight, torquey and light bike for its day, when compared to bigger four-stroke competitors. Machines like this were the cornerstone of the current Euro offroad tradition.
This bike was up for sale in 2018, on eBay—from what I can dig up, that auction fell through when it failed to meet reserve price. Previous to that, the crew at Blacksmith Garage rebuilt it, taking 14 months to rebuild the mechanical bits and also cosmetically restore it. Special care was paid to the details, making sure everything was ’68-spec. Previously, it was featured on the company’s website, but that website seems to have disappeared.
However, Petrolicious featured the machine in a YouTube video in 2019, and you can see a rundown on the machine, and even see and hear it in action below.
Note that the rider figures it was worth a quarter of a million dollars, which might explain why the 2018 auction fell through. Having said that, the Husqvarna 400 Cross that McQueen rode during filming of On Any Sunday sold for $230,500 back in 2018. Maybe that $250,000 figure isn’t so far off, especially when you consider the rise in used bike prices over the past few years.
Some naysayers will point out the bike is hardly in “as-raced” condition, and that might detract from its value, raising the old ‘Ship of Theseus’ argument: Is an object truly original, if most or all of the parts are replaced?
You can make your own call on that. Either way, the bike goes under the hammer at the August 12-14 Sotheby’s auction in Monterey, California—find more details on the bike, and the auction, here.