1961 500cc World Champion
Sten Lundin's 1961 world championship Lito is the most accomplished motocross bike in history.
1960 500 Monark/Lito
Roger DeCoster says of Sten Lundin’s Lito, “I think it is the best looking MX bike of all time.” Joel Robert has similar comments. “Everything on that bike is in the right place, exactly where it should be, a very well designed motorcycle and I was fortunate to race with Sten on that bike at Mettet Belgium in 1964.” 1973 250 World Champion Hakan Andersson adds, “Sten’s Lito has to be one of, if not thee most historical motocross bikes of all time. As a young man, I saw Sten race this very bike many times in the Swedish Grand-Prix when it was held in my hometown of Uddevalla. Sten, one of my heroes was one of the smoothest riders ever, a national hero in Sweden.”
From 1952 starting with the European championships to the world championships (that started in 1957) in 1961, Sten Lundin had a total of 19 wins. This feat put him as the best rider in the world at this time. The next closest was Bill Nilsson with 18 wins and Rene Baeten (who was killed in 1960) and Les Archer were right behind with 8 and 10. From 1957 through 1964 Sten had a remarkable run and finished no lower than 3rd place in the 500cc world championship's and was crowned world champion in 1959 and again in 1961.
The 1961 Monark/Lito featured here has more history and more grand-prix wins than any other motocross bike at any time since the inception of the sport. It has a total of 56 500cc grand-prix entries and a total of 13 grand-prix wins, spanning five years on the GP circuit. No other single bike in the history of motocross can even come close to making that claim. Sten used this bike to get second in the world championship in 1960; he was world champion in 1961, third in 1962, second in 1963 and third in 1964. Plus, winning the overall at the Motocross des Nations in 1963.
Sten Lundin April 4th 1963 Sittendorf Austria on our featured bike.
Sten Lundin's Comments:
I signed with Monark to ride the 1957 500cc World Championships and I was given one of two machines that were the first Monark GP bikes made. The first two bikes were built in Stockholm and were ridden by Ove Lundell and Allan Eklund. I was given Allan Eklund’s machine to use while my machine was being built. Since these bikes were already used for one season, I thought they were already developed and would be good bikes. This was not the case as they were not up to the standard of winning at the Grand-Prix level. Once my machine was built, I had many problems with it also. I had problems with the wheels, the brakes, the gearbox and the engine. It wasn’t so good at first but I had a lot of help from the factory. We solved all the problems and development continued. The bike changed all the time; if anything broke we changed it. It took nearly two years to get it right and by the time the 1959 season started, it was a completely different bike. This was the bike I used to win the World Championship with in 1959.
During the winter of 1959 we started to build my 1960 GP bike. Having moved from Stockholm to Varberg where the Monark factory was in 1957, I was able to assist in building the new machine. The bike was built by myself and a team of engineers and technicians from the Monark factory. The entire bike was handmade and was an updated version of the bike I won the World Championship with in 1959. The construction of the bike took most of the winter and much attention was paid to every little detail. Little parts like the chain adjusters were very well engineered and well made. The craftsmanship on the bike was excellent. Everything on the bike was made just for me. The engineers were very careful to listen to everything I had to say and everything from the frame geometry to the power band of the motor was made to my personal taste. If there was anything that wasn’t quite right, it was no problem, they made things right very quickly. This was also like this during the season. For example the original BSA gearbox was changed to an AMC gearbox.
I wanted to try a frame that lowered the center of gravity and a special frame was made but after testing it at the Varberg test track I went back to the original frame. It didn’t work as well as I thought it might. I was under contract with Dunlop Tire in England and they made me very special rims out of high tensile steel that were very strong and light weight. The whole bike was very light for the time weighing 128 kgs. (282lbs.) The motor was based on the Albin motor that was first developed for the Swedish Army in 1942. It was very important for me to have a good power band with most of the power going to the ground instead of being wasted in wheel spin. I tested the works FN of Hubert Scaillet and although it was very fast down the road, much of its power was lost in wheel spin on the track. For me it was very important to get maximum power to the ground. The cylinder head was very high compression and at the time we were the only ones to use chrome plated cylinders. This was not only better from a performance standpoint but also saved a lot of weight compared to the standard iron liners that everyone else was using. The cylinders were plated in Germany, this was the only place that could do this at that time. Originally I tried the Amal GP 5 carburetor and then the TT 9 but these carbs were very tricky to jet in places like Switzerland where the elevation was much higher than other places. Also they didn’t produce a smooth power so I went to the more standard Amal monobloc and the bike was just as fast and made real smooth power compared to the GP carbs. The bike required 100+ octane fuel .
During the season, I lived in Belgium and tested things that people made for me such as cams and other parts. I remember one time, there was a lot of vibration from the motor and after a while my hands would go numb. I discovered that the Albin flywheels slipped from their original position on the crank pin and caused a lot of engine vibration. The original crank design was the same as was used in the military engine (the flywheels were held to a tapered crank pin with a nut) and wasn't strong enough for the modified motor that we were now using. I contacted the Monark factory in Sweden and after a couple attempts to fix the problem, they came up with a solution where new flywheels were made, a crank pin with a hole in each end was used and a tapered pin was then pressed in to the hole to expand the pin. We also added head stays that attached to the valve covers and bolted to the frame to reduce vibration. This cured the problem. Testing and development was constantly going on and the bike was changing all the time.
When Lennart Warborn, one of the brothers that owned the Monark factory died, Monark stopped racing. They gave me my machine but I had no sponsor. I knew Kaj Bornebusch the owner of Lito from before and they had already built a bike with a BSA engine and an Albin head. I went to Kaj and said if you sponsor me, I’ll paint my Monark green (the Lito color) and race for Lito. They agreed and that’s how the bike became a Lito. The bike was pretty much the same as it was during the 1960 season. The only real major change was the Ceriani front fork. During the 1960 season, I was in Italy and was racing an International race at a track in Gallarate near Milan. I broke my frame and made some makeshift repair and still won the race. A local guy who was working at the MV Agusta race shop had seen the trouble I was having and offered to help. He said I could bring my bike to the MV Agusta factory and they would repair my frame. He also told me the name of his fiancés father was Ceriani and he said, "He saw you race today and he owns a factory where they manufacture front forks". First, I brought my bike to the MV Agusta race shop to have the frame repaired but they wouldn’t allow me in there. That was where they made the famous road racers and nobody was allowed to go in the race shop. They repaired (welded) the front down tube on the frame and then they added the gussets that go down the full length of the two front down tubes of the frame. These were not originally on the bike because we wanted to save weight. After the frame was fixed, Mr. Ceriani invited me to his factory and they made me a special set of handmade forks. At first they didn’t work so well but after about a week of testing they were very good, much better than the forks I was using at the time. This was actually the first set of Ceriani front forks made for motocross and from this point on; I had a contract with Ceriani. The Ceriani’s and my wife Britt and I became lifelong friends after that.
There were minor changes made to the bike during the 1961 season but other than the front forks the bike remained as it was as a Monark. Lito was a much smaller company and further development was slowed quite a bit compared to Monark. Monark was a big factory with many resources and Lito by comparison, was a small workshop.
For me this machine was a perfect fit. Everything fit me and I really felt comfortable with it. Of the five years I raced this machine on the GP circuit, I felt there was nothing better so I continued to use it. Even when I got my production Lito, although it was a very good bike and I did race it and win with it in Swedish races, I still preferred the Monark/Lito.
The most memorable race I had with this machine was the 1961 Belgium Grand-Prix at Namur. I had started in about third or fourth place and worked up to first and after leading for a few laps, the strap that held the petrol tank on broke and fell off and the only thing holding the tank to the bike was the fuel line. At this time the GP’s were one final that lasted over an hour so you had to pace yourself. Well, thinking that at anytime the tank was going to fall off, I decided to go all out until it fell off. Knowing that there was no way I could keep up that pace the whole race, I just wanted to build up a very large lead before it fell off. I was trying to hold the tank with my knees as best as I could but I knew it would eventually fall off and my day would be over. As it turned out the tank never fell off and I won the GP lapping Jeff Smith who was in third place. After the race a little Belgian boy about 12 years old came running up to me with the strap that had fallen on the track during the race. He had found the strap on the track somewhere in the back of the track. I put the strap in the boot of my car and it remained in my garage in Sweden until I started to restore the bike. I repaired it and it is the strap that is on the bike today.
During 1960 and 1961 my biggest competition was Bill Nilsson. We had many good fights those years. In 1961 my bike was very good, I was very good and everything went my way. Sometimes it’s like that, when the wheel starts turning your way things go good. When it goes the other way, everything seems to go wrong. In 1962, I was also very good but many things would unexpectedly go wrong like a rider falling in front of you, things like that. Earlier Auguste Mingels, Victor LeLoup were our heros but they were older and as time went on and they past their peak, they went slower and we went quicker. Les Archer was also very good, very smooth but he was older and in time we (Bill and I) passed him too. When I was in my prime, my main competitors were Bill Nilsson and Rene' Baeten from Belgium. The three of us had many fights on our way to the top. Rene' Baeten won the World Championship in 1958 on the works FN, Bill Nilsson won in 1957 on the 7R and in 1960 on the works Husqvarna and I won in 1959 on the Monark and in 1961 on the Monark/Lito. There were others like Johnny Draper and Jeff Smith but Bill, Rene' and I were the main ones. Most of the top riders used factory bikes and very few modified production bikes were at the top.
During the 1961 season I won a total of 6 Grand-Prix’s, received maximum points and was World Champion. I continued to use the same bike though 1964 and only made minor changes such as a smaller front hub. The bike was pretty much the same the whole time and it was around this time that the two strokes were coming. In 1965 I switched to a Metisse and in 1967 the two strokes had taken over and I actually tried one of those but that same year, the FIM ran a 750 European Cup that was a series that consisted of five races and I won that series with this same bike only I used a cylinder that increased the displacement to 504cc’s.
The bike sat in my garage for years and over time I sold the swingarm to a friend who wanted it for a project and I gave the front forks to another friend. In the late nineties my son Kenneth stopped by and I was in the garage and just happened to be holding the petrol tank of the Lito. He said "Why don't you put that bike together". It seemed like a good idea so I gathered everything up and then started to look for the guys that had the swingarm and forks. I was surprised that both guys still had them and never used them and they were in the exact condition as when they got them from me some 35 years earlier. The swingarm was a very special one as it was made from conical (tapered) chrome moly tubing. It took about three years in my spare time to put it all together being very careful to have it all original. I had an original set of Lito tank stickers that were made just for me and I matched the paint color exactly to the original color. The bike is in the exact condition and set up as it was in 1961.
Sten Lundin September 2007
Sten working on his world championship Lito at works FN rider Hubert Scaillet's (pronopunced Hubear Skyae, standing holding bottle) garage in Liege Belgium.
1960 Monarch/Lito Photos
About the 1960 Monarch/Lito:
Sten's world championship Lito actually started out as a Monark and was built during the winter of 1959/1960 at the Monark factory in Varberg Sweden. Monark was a well established company from southern Sweden that among other things manufactured motorcycles that were 2 stroke enduro models and had a distributor network that stretched all across Europe. To further the name and prominence of the company, it was decided to start a works effort to build a 500cc Grand-Prix bike and enter the 500cc world championship. The 500 European championship series had taken on world championship status in 1957 and had rapidly become one of the premier motor sporting events in Europe. It was not unusual to have crowds exceeding 100,000 at these events and many of the attendance records from this era have not been exceeded to this day. To win the world championship meant instant prestige and status for anyone.
The machines that were used at the top level at this time were very expensive hand made specials that had one purpose, to win the World Championship. The format at the time was two qualifying heats and a final event that was more than an hour in length. The riders of this era were extremely strong and able men. To ride one of these Grand-Prix behemoths (often exceeding 300 plus pounds) at the speeds needed to be competitive, you had to be almost super-human and most of these riders were. Names such as Les Archer, Brian Stonebridge, Auguste Mingels, Rene' Baeten, Bill Nilsson and Sten Lundin were just some of the top riders that could push one of these big 500cc bikes to the limit. Sten, already one of the top riders in the world in the 500cc European Championships, had signed with Monark in 1957 and rode a used hand built prototype Monark with an Albin 500cc motor that had been used by Allan Eklund. The original bikes were ok but not quite up to the standards to win the world championship. Development continued and for 1959 a brand new bike was built for Sten using all of the data that had been acquired during the prior two seasons. Sten used this much improved works Monark to win the 1959 World Championship. After the season Sten tried to buy the bike from Monark but the bike was already sold to one of Monark’s foreign distributors. In preparation for the 1960 season, Sten with the help of the Monark engineers and technicians at the factory started building a brand new Monark/Albin bike.
For 1960 Sten used this new bike for the entire1960 GP season and finished second by just two points to fellow Swede Bill Nilsson on the brand new works 500 Husqvarna. During the 1960 season, one of the Monark principals and Monark race team Manager Lennart Warborn unexpectedly died. After Lennart’s sudden death it was decided to withdraw from grand-prix motocross racing and therefore this left Sten without a factory contract but he was allowed to keep his GP Monark.
It was a couple of years before this same time that another family member in the Monark Empire, Kaj Bornebusch had started his own company, Litoverken. Kaj (pronounced Kay) had planned to design and build a 500cc Grand-Prix motocross bike that would be sold to the public that was similar to the works Monark’s that had been raced very successfully by Sten and the other factory Monark riders. Sten had approached Kaj and offered to paint his Monark green which was going to be the color of the new Lito and in return for a full sponsorship, race the 1961 season under the Lito name. After many rumors that circulated the motorcycle world as to who Sten would ride for, it was on February 10th 1961 that Sten signed a contract with Lito to ride the World Championships. Painting the Monark green, the bike became the only works Lito and while Sten was now competing with the Monark/Lito, a new production Lito was being built for him. In Sten's first year with Lito, He won the 500cc World Championship with maximum points. Sten went on to race the GP's with this same bike until 1964 never finishing lower than third and scoring a total of 13 Grand-Prix wins and an overall at the 1963 Motocross des Nations.
After a painstaking two year restoration by the champion himself Sten poses with his wife Britt and the world famous Lito. With 56 grand prix starts, 13 grand prix wins and a world championship, this bike has no peers.
In this photo you can see how the tank and seat sit on the frame. Also, note the chain that runs from the crank to the ignition. Photoshop by Walt Hackensmith.
These are the the original scale blueprints for Sten's Monark/Lito dated 8-6-1959 and 9-10-1959. They are the only original set left in the world and will be displayed with the bike.
9-10-1959 can be seen on the original Monark blueprint. The bike was constructed during the winter of 1959/1960. Sten even moved to Varberg Sweden to help build the bike. Below it reads "Motocross 500cc 1960 model."
A total of 5 Monark/Albin bikes were built at the Varberg factory. These bikes were built for the Monark factory riders to compete in the 500cc World Championships and promote the Monark name throughout the world. No two bikes were the same. There was never any intent to sell these handmade works bikes and none were ever sold to the public. Nor were any replicas of these bikes made by Monark. Today there are many Monarks in circulation and all but the original works bikes that all are accounted for are replica Monark bikes. Most are represented as the real thing and most people have no idea whether they’re real or not. This is also true of Lito’s and early 4-stroke Husqvarnas. Although the Lito 500 was produced for sale (approx. 35 total), Husqvarna never sold a production 4-stroke in the late 50’s or early 60’s. There are many fake Litos and Husqvarnas in circulation from this early era. There has also been several fake 4-stroke Monarks, Litos and Husqvarnas for sale on ebay. If one of these bikes is ever presented to you for sale, it is most likely a replica and not the real deal. It is very rare that one of the original bikes comes on the market. There is nothing wrong with a replica as long as that's how it is represented. Do your homework.
- The Albin 500 motor has a bore and stroke of 79mm x 100mm. The original design goes back to 1942 when Monark supplied a limited amount of these to the Swedish military. The original design is very similar the British Archer from 1936. This motor is the 3rd of a total of 6 Albin motors produced at the Varberg Monark factory. The very slim design and long stroke made this motor ideal for motocross in the late 50's and early 60's. With a 10:1 compression ratio, the motor required 100+ octane and was virtually bulletproof. Everything from the sand cast cases to the internal parts are hand made.
- The Monark cylinder was the only one at the time to use a chrome bore. Sten had several cylinders and would take them to Karl Schmitz in Germany to be re-plated. Special pistons produced in Germany were used exclusively. The head received extensive modification in regard to compression, valves and port work. The initial set-up, was produced by the Monark engineers at the factory. Sten put in countless test laps at the Varberg track in the winter and throughout the summer to arrive at the initial settings and he continued to try and improve the bike even while he was living in Europe. You can see the head stays that were made to reduce vibration. Before this modification, Sten's hands were completely numb after one race (read Sten's comments on page one). Intake and exhaust valve adjustment could be done externally and there is an inspection cover on the top of the head with a breather tube attached.
- Large aluminum plates hold the crankcases and gearbox to the frame.
- The air filter box and oil tank are hand formed out of aluminum with the oil tank holding over two quarts of Castrol 40 wt. At the top of the air filter case you can see where the clutch cable goes through to keep it tucked out of the way. On the right side of the cylinder head, the oil is fed to lube the top end.
- Oil is circulated to the top and lower end of the motor by an oil pump driven off of the crankshaft. Above are the supply and return oil lines to the oil tank.
- Sten used Lucas and BTH racing magnetos exclusively while preferring the BTH as shown here. On the lower photo, you can see the safety wire on the back of the magneto that has been there for over forty years!
- After testing the Amal GP 5 and TT 9 carburetors, Sten settled on the smaller and more reliable Amal monobloc. This provided more power to the ground and was much easier to tune. With the Grand-Prix's being in many different countries with many different elevations and climates, this was the better choice.
- With the seat removed you can see that the combination of the aluminum side panels, air filter case and rear fender provided a very nice large volume still air-box. Very simple and very effective.
- The BSA gearbox was swapped out in favor of an AMC unit. Four gears with the shift pattern being one up and three down. And as with most bikes of this era it shifted on the right.
- Inside the primary cover is a primary chain that connects the gearbox to the crankshaft. The chain is lubed by a drip system that is fed by the engine breather tube. The Monark engine also uses a dry clutch
- The frame geometry is the result of countless laps at the Varberg Monark test track. Sten worked very closely with the Monark engineers to come up with these specs. This is the original frame made in 1960 at the Monark factory. In those days you repaired the original frame if something broke and this one was no different. If anything got bent or flattened, it was repaired. The massive gussets that run down the length of the front down tubes were put there by the MV Agusta road race shop after Sten broke the frame at an International race in Gallerate Italy. Sten did have an idea to lower the motor and a frame was made to test his idea. After testing the lower model, it was decided that the original frame was better.
- The forks are the first ever Ceriani motocross forks. After Ceriani made the forks for Sten, they went on to produce front forks for many production bikes. This particular set is all hand made and the internals are all machined from billet aluminum. The stone chips in the lower sliders from all the years on the Grand-Prix circuit are still there.
- The front hub was made by Pranafa and had a lot of stopping power. Ceriani combined the forward axle lug to the front backing plate stay all with one piece. A special front brake arm was made that wrapped around the right fork slider. This front wheel was used in 1960 and 1961 but Sten opted for a smaller conical hub in later years.
- Several sets of triple clamps were made (in Italy with the forks) and tested offering different off-sets. Sten settled on a parallel set with a 36mm off-set. You can remove the entire set (top and bottom) with out removing the steering stem. Check out the massive steering head. You can see the stamping in the top clamp written in Italian.
- The swingarm is very special and reduced unsprung weight was the goal here. It is made from the highest grade Swedish chrome moly tubing available at the time and the tubing is tapered for less weight. The chain adjusters are very unique and all handmade from billet. Very trick parts! The rear brake uses a wire instead of a solid rod. The wire was chosen because if another bike happened to hit it during a race, it would go back to it's original form whereas a rod might get bent and cause the brake to lock up. Much thought and attention was paid to every detail when designing this bike.
- A massive conical rear hub connected to the rim by 40 spokes features a British Dunlop 400x19 inch rear tire that was responsible for putting the power to the ground. Rear shocks are Girling and the pipe has no muffler. The sound that this bike makes has to be heard to be believed.
- The rims were made by Dunlop in England out of a very strong and light weight tensile steel. These rims were very expensive to produce and were for factory riders only.
- The handmade foot pegs mount to the frame and the engine cases with large bolts and have non-slip cleats made from weld. Note the small tab welded to the left peg to keep the brake pedal from bending out. The right peg is nicely cut away to allow the pipe to go through. Everything on this bike is very compact and well thought out.
- The fuel tank is completely hand pound out of sheet aluminum as seen by the hammer marks on the surface. This tank was used in every race that this bike competed in. Lito made a special tank sticker just for Sten with the tallest building in Helsingborg inside the "H". Helsingborg is the city where the Lito factory was located. The tank was held to the bike with the strap in the picture below. This is the same strap that broke at Namur Belgium in 1961.
- The handlebars are an original set that Sten himself made back in 1961. How many riders actually helped make their own bike?
A few years after Sten restored the Lito, he took it for a spin. The event was filmed by a Swedish television crew. Here is a photo taken that day by Bo Svensson.