A Time to Race
Fortunately for Gunnar, after buying his first motorcycle – a literal basket case – he looked up the owner of a local motorcycle repair shop, Bengt Kling. In time, Kling took Gunnar under his wing, acting as a personal mentor and teaching him about mechanics, problem-solving and making economical repairs. At 15, Gunnar, with the help of Kling, started building a modest race bike; he was already focused on his 16th birthday, the age required to participate in local races.
Of course, his mother, Inga Lindstrom, was concerned about her young son’s safety and his determination to begin racing, so she visited with the chairman of the local motorcycle club, SMK Eksjö, who also happened to be Bengt Kling. He provided reassuring advice about the benefit of closed-course, well-supervised racing. Shortly after, with his mother’s reluctant blessing, Gunnar entered his first event, an observed trials. While trials was not his aspiration, it was a start, and Gunnar was finally able to boldly paint a number on his first number plate and tell his schoolmates that he was now “racing motorcycles.”
Military service was mandatory in Sweden at the time, and Gunnar served his required period of roughly one year. Fortunately, he was assigned to the nearest army base, which was actually in the town of Eksjö, so Gunnar remained close to home and also had the comfort and support of being known by many of the officers, some of whom looked out for the teenager. It was a good experience for Gunnar, who spent much of his time riding, maintaining and repairing the Swedish military motorcycles, at the time Czechoslovakian-made Jawas.
But it also made Gunnar realize he didn’t like being put into a “small box.” Gunnar was an individual, and he had his own aspirations that didn’t fit the mold the military might have wished. This is a moment that probably forged his determination to go his own way. The death of his mother and younger brother in a tragic car accident around the same time may have further tempered his Swedish determination.
“This was a difficult time for me,” Gunnar explains. “I was alone with my brother and without any real direction in life. The expectation from family and neighbors was for me to continue as a farmer, so I duly entered an agricultural college and spent an entire year there.”
Motorcycle culture was already rich in Sweden, with a long history of legendary riders – including Bill Nilsson and Rolf Tibblin, who dominated races on their large, powerful four-stroke motorcycles across Sweden and also down in Continental Europe. But with World War II ending and economic growth returning to Northern Europe, small motorcycles were becoming increasingly popular – even in rural Sweden – and the motorcycle culture was changing. Not far away from Eksjö, also in Jönköping County, the Husqvarna Factory, founded in 1689 by the King of Sweden, was producing a small, lightweight motorcycle. The Silverpilen was being used for transportation and, increasingly, for sport riding and competition. These small motorcycles were much more affordable than their large, four-stroke predecessors and could be ridden by a significantly wider range of enthusiasts, helping to expand the sales and sport of motorcycling.