1970 Husqvarna 400 Cross Built by
Steve McQueen’s Solar Automotive
“The Solar Husky”
Soap and water restoration complete.
Please enjoy this story and understand that this motorcycle, for its time, was State of the Art, and one of the most extensively modified Husky 400 Cross I have ever seen.
Featured on Superhunky.Com by Rick Sieman
Update 1/27/2013 Spoke briefly with Mike Bihari, his dad, Joe, is the founder of the CAMCO company making the grips found on this bike. He also made titanium handlebars so the ones on this bike may have been made by CAMCO. Mike will have his dad look at this bike to see if he can give me some lead on who built the bike.
Update 11/30/2012 Engine dismantled and case be sent for X-ray to see if we can get the original engine number off case. Unfortunately no results. Original number ground down leaving no evidence.
Update 11/30/2012 Found engraved number on crankshaft, not Husqvarna. The number start with letters EG if any knows of someone balancing cranks in the day.
Update 1/13/2011 Added more evidence from several documents from Edison Dye records to bottom of this page. You will see the evidence that there is to much of a coincedence. 1/22/71 being most important with rare titanium bars and other parts matching right up with the bike.
Update: 1/1/2011 Email from Don Rickman. The frame was not modified by them
Update: 11/27/2010 Trying to determine who might be responsible for the frame modifications. I contacted Simon Cheney of famous Cheney Racing frames in UK. Simon said that his dad did do a fair amount of work for Steve but it appeared the frame was TIG welded. He said his dad did not use TIG back then for their frames.
Engine restored internally by Rick Horvat – Koni Shocks rebuilt by Koni King, Steve Dorenkamp.
If anyone knows any of the fabricators for Solar Automotive or who worked on this Husky, please contact me.
It appears lightning has struck again. I was lucky
to find one of McQueen’s motorcycles but it appears I found another built by his shop Solar
Automotive. Based on the evidence, this bike was owned by McQueen originally. The story gets a little
technical but bare with it. I purchased this very cool old school (Frankenstein) Husky from a gentleman who
we will call John. He did not have any photos of the bike so I went by his discription to buy the bike. He told
me about some really nice design changes done to the bike so I bought the bike. He retired the bike to
under his porch in 1978 where it stayed until two months ago, January 2010. Since it was a LA Calif local
bike it weathered well so to speak. The owner told me this was originally a 1971 Husqvarna 250 that was
heavily modified. He did some work himself but to my surprise most of the conversion was done by “Solar
Automotive”. I questioned John about Solar Automotive and he said yes, Steve McQueens Solar
I eventually received some photos from John and the bike was in pretty sad shape but it was complete.
Its now March and I finally got the bike to New
York. Close inspection shows front brake
hub as being smaller 250 and the fuel tank says 250 Cross. Aside from that there is not much of his 250 left.
Front forks have been lightened, steering triple tree cut for lightening, handle bar mounts raised one inch by
John. The neat part was the handle bars were Titanium. The levers and throttle were original Magura but
the grips were made by a LA California company called CAMCO? Rear swing arm is stretched one inch,
reinforced top swing arm gussets and the lower shock mount moved forward. To top it off a nice set of Koni
shock absorbers. As you have read I said Frankenstein bike. The engine is now 400 Cross with original 400
pipe. Carburetor is a Bing and air cleaner bracket is a one piece after market. Close inspection of swing arm
shows it has a 10mm swing arm axle. This puts the bike into 1970 so the original 1971 250 frame is gone.
The owner confirmed this.
Here is where it gets interesting. The bike was
built by Solar according to the owner and some modifications were done by owner because he said they
were not the best welders. Ouch! You might ask, so what are the frame and engine numbers? Well they are
not original and they were stamped in by Solar. Why, because this 1970 frame is stamped 670030 which
anyone with Husky frame number knowledge knows that if it starts with a 67 it is a 1967 motorcycle and
67’s were also two piece frame. This is one piece frame. To make matters more puzzling the engine is
stamped with the same number which is also incorrect since 400 engines start with 400,401, 402 or 403. I
showed this to Don Ince and my friend Christer in Sweden and we agree it appears to be a stamp over on
the engine. I am planning to pull the engine to see if we can do some Forensics to determine the original
Stamped over engine number. Usually the
engine number are under cylinder head on the left side. It is blank on this engine.
Now the clincher!
Edison Dye and invoiced to none other Solar Automotive Steve / Don. Don is Don Mitchell, Steve’s race manager.
The invoice is for a replacement frame and it states that Steve’s original frame was broken in two places.
Now back to the frame number. Replacement frames do not have frame numbers stamped on them which now explains how a
frame we know came from Solar was able to be stamped with a new number on a original blank surface.
Why did Solar stamp this number and what does the number represent?
Also on the document is a note (not shown) to Pierre, Edisons shop forman, to give Solar the aircraft bolts they got from Rohr
Aircraft. Well ……
there are a number of aircraft bolts on this bike? I looked at a few of the bolts. On the head of a few of the bolts is a number.
Seeing them without a magnifying glass the first letters look like ROHR for the aircraft company. The original ROHR Aircraft is
gone but there is a website of Rohr employees, Alumni. I emailed them and they responded saying Rohr did not make their
own bolts. I viewed the bolt again with a magnifying glass and saw RD111. Close to ROHR with poor vision. Now I have a real
number and tracked it down to a company making aircraft bolts.
I emailed them the bolt number and they kindly replied with basic information on the bolt but they said they could not give me
anymore information because the information is proprietary to Pratt and Whitney, Rocketdyne. What?????
I emailed the company back thanking them and told them about the motorcycle. The person responds with I guess McQueen
only puts the best on his motorcycles because those bolts are made only for rocket engines. LOL LOL
Closer look at the bolts on the whole bike shows a few original bolts, a few aircraft bolts, four titanium bolts to bolt the engine
on and of coarse you just got to have rocket engine bolts holding your shocks on. LOL
The motorcycle was filthy from 32 years of being under the porch so I decided to take the bike down the local car wash to
use the high pressure sprayers. After about 30 quarters I noticed all of a sudden the paint is coming off the frame. Since I
have restored a bunch of these bikes this should not be happening. So I am looking at the frame under the paint and it is
shiny. I know chromemoly can be polished to be shiny but this does not look right. I left the car wash puzzled. I stopped by a
friends body shop and showed him. He knew right off. That’s what I did to my race car, its “Nickel Plated”
You got to be kidding me!
I took the bike home and saw that the frame, foot brake lever, brake rod, brake stay, chain guide, skid plate and swing arm
are all nickel plated. I spoke to the last owner John and he said he knows nothing about the frame being nickel plated.
A few nights pass until last night when I started cleaning the bike up and noticed the center exhaust bracket is almost twice
as long as normal. I took the pipe and seat off and would you believe the frame has been cut at the seat area, rear hoop
connections were re-done, a gusset plate welded in and because the rear hoop section is tapered in the front the seat pan
was also tapered in to match the hoop. I then see looking up front there is a one inch piece welded into the front down tube.
So prior to nickel plating the upper frame section was raised an inch. The reason for this I am sure is to lower the CG of the
bike and increase the wheel base. Wheel base is almost 3 inchs longer than stock now. WOW!
The rest of the story? Who knows where it will take me.
As a final note. The original owner spoke of the company name as “Solar Automotive” and the document is also titled
“Solar Automotive” People know about Solar Productions, Solar Engineering and Solar Plastic but this the first I have
seen the word “Automotive” used? I spoke with Marshal Terrill and he had not heard of it either. HHMMMM?
I started dismantling the bike. Like my other McQueen bike, the plan is NOT to restore this bike but to give it a super cleaning.
It has a nice set of 12 inch Koni’s which I took off so I can have the internals rebuilt. Not in bad shape but the seals are shot as
you might expect. I removed the engine for a ‘Internal” rebuild. I noticed few things unusual with the engine. The first is a large,very short,
aircraft bolt was built into the top left side cover as a second oil fill hole. The original right side filler cap and vent hose was modified and fitted
with a 3/16 inch steel braided hose and fitting ? Engine side cover bolts are high strength Allen cap and they are nickel plated.
The another unsual item was the engine color. It looks like a very faded black, almost Titanium looking, but the problem with that is it is
uniform over the entire engine. I took a photo of it with a normal cover so you can see the difference. What is that all about?
Update May 13, 2010. Thanks to Rick Horvat. Engine Coating was identified as Kal-Gard.
I tracked the company down who are now called KGcoatings. I spoke with Chris Fazio General Manager who was very helpful. He spoke to
the original founder Joe Ardigo of KalGard but no records exist. Chris believes the coating is their 2300 Original Gun Kote. I got to say for
almost 40 years olds this coating is in remarkable shape. You’ll see it in the final steps of the clean up. Chris says the coating is impervious to any
chemical so I expect a nice clean up. After seeing this I’m sold on this product. Great stuff. See it at http://www.kgcoatings.com
I took the rear wheel off. Changes: Axle thread changed to fit the multi spline 7/16 aircraft nut. Custom chain tensioner spacers were made
of aluminum and extanded to cover the aircraft nuts. A 7/16 socket fits perfectly inside.
Rear brakes are stock but the brake plate bushing is now aluminum. Brake stay and chain guide are Nickel plated, aircraft bolts and brake stay
stretched one inch. You can see the stretch next to the chain guide.
Rear swing arm is nickel plated and stretched at rear one inch. Shock mounts moved forward 4 inches. Minus the one inch stretch the shock is 3
inches forward from stock. That would open the top clearance above the wheel and really change the geometry of the suspension. Top surface of
swign arm heavily gusseted. I placed a normal swing arm along side.
Here is where the frame was stretched. Rear hoop connections were tapered in. Large gusset added.
Front down tube lengthened.
Titanium handle bars raised 1 inch.
Tripled tree clamps cut to save a few ounces.
Front forks were turned down to lighten. Almost a 1/4 of inch was taken off the diameter.
The after market air bell bracket and foot pegs. Don said Edison Dye did sell those type of foot pegs.
Skid plate. The plate is original but nickel plated. Tabs were welded to the frame to eliminate the original clamp. You can also see this unusual
color to the engine side cover and a good shot of the left side oil fill plug.
Here I am pointing to where a frame support hoop that goes from both the side rails to down tube that was removed.
Now for the beginning of the clean up.
Swing arm stretched and chain wear strip welded above the mount.
This is where the lower hoop use to go from side to side. You can see the patch on the center of the down tube.
Here you see the frame extended, front tube, rear hoop tapered in and gusseted.
Rear hoop gusset cut and spacer welded in.
This is a side by side comparison of the Solar frame and a stock frame.
Nickel plated skid pad. Tabs for skid plated welded in and a extra tube in center welded in joint of Y section.
Nickel plated swing arm. Shock mount moved 3 inches forward from the stock location.
Fantastic old school modifications with a little bling.
She’s finally done and runs like a champ.
I finally got around to reviewing a few Edison Dye invoices that I have on this bike.
All these invoice are address to Solar Automotive Steve/Don.
Jan 8, 1971 Is the main document as shown above where Solar gets replacement 400 frame.
Invoice from1967 showing frame 670030 sold to dealer Ed Kretz. This bike is located as of today and proof the Solar bike was stamped with its own number not related to 67 husky. This number is a mystery.
Invoice 1/22/71 List following parts: Titanium Handles bars – Number plate set – Front and rear AA plastic fenders -Inner Plastic fender Viking vinyl air cover – lever covers and Sub note to Pierre from Edison, Send aircraft hardware from Rohr. Everything but air cleaner cover and number plates are on the Solar bike.
Invoice #012-21 Address to Solar: Tool kit – MH manual – Alloy foot pegs. Foot pegs are on Solar bike
Invoice. Torn and missing # but says Solar on lower left and there are letters in upper torn area showing Don’s name and part of their phone number.
Parts list: Sprocket – Trailing arm – Chain Guide – Fender rear - Front Fender – Manifold – Air cleaner cover – Carb complete – Pipe – fuel cock.