1963 Monark 500
The Swedish Missile
When you think of Sweden and off-road bikes, what name comes to mind?
Yeah, it was brand H that put Scandinavia on the map by the time motocross made it big in this country in the late ’60s. But well before then, there was another Swedish company making its name in the sport—a now-obscure marque called Monark.
Monark’s origins stretch all the way back to 1913, when the Esse brand was introduced. The name changed to Monark in 1927, and when MX got its start in Europe after World War II, the company got involved in the sport.
Monark bikes earned success in the prestigious International Six Days Enduro. And in 1959, Swedish rider Sven Lundin rode a 500cc Monark to the FIM World Championship, repeating that achievement in 1961.
The company’s line of competition machines used the standard formula of the era: a single-cylinder four-stroke engine in a lightweight frame. Monark specialized in the second half of that equation, combining hand-built chassis and top-shelf suspension components. To provide the power, the company purchased engines from several of the premier manufacturers of the day.
This 1963 Monark 500 is a good example. Starting with a 500cc four-stroke by Albin, another Swedish company, Monark came up with frame geometry that moved the rider farther forward, then pared the rest of the machine down to its essentials.
This particular machine, owned by John Sawarzhki, was one of the rarest bikes in the “Motocross America” exhibit in the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio. Not only is it a Monark, but it was restored by none other than Motorcycle Hall of Famer Dick Mann, who earned two championships in dirt-track racing, but was also among the earliest American MX enthusiasts.
The Monark company survived into the 1970s, ultimately following its competitors into the two-stroke era of off-road motorcycling. But by then, the Japanese brands were beginning to dominate the sport, and Monark went out of business in 1975.