Canada is not a country you normally associate with motorcycles, but in the early 1970’s a then small company, Bombardier (pronounced Bom-bar-dee-ay (or eh! as its Canadian!), launched the MX-1 a 2 stroke motocross bike that in its inaugural year captured gold, silver and bronze medals in 1973 ISDE and 1st 2nd and 3rd in the 1974 AMA motocross championship. The world sat up and suddenly associated Canada with dirt bikes.
In a small sleepy town in French Canada – Valcourt, Quebec – Joseph Armand Bombardier in 1937, had the unique idea of taking a flexible rubber tank type track and attaching a car engine, to create the B7, then the world’s first snowmobile. By 1970, this small company had captured 90% of the worlds snowmobile market and had become a leading manufacturer of recreational products. Bombardier had already developed a successful business by focusing on niche markets. Through the success of their Ski-Doo brand, they had built up a dealership network of over 4,000 in North America, but these same dealers had little to sell in the summer months In an effort to expand the business further, and make use of the recently acquired company Rotax and its existing recreational product dealer network, a decision was made to diversify into motorcycle manufacturing.
Realising that they could not compete against emerging superiority of the Japanese manufacturers, Bombardier decided to focus on off-road competition bikes, a market in the 1970’s that was mainly being catered for by small European manufacturers.
Enter Gary Robinson and Jeff Smith. No one can criticise Bombardier for not starting with a bang. In Gary and Jeff Bombardier has secured the skills of one of the leading motorcycle engineers and a two times world motocross champion. Although the bikes were design from scratched, Jeff’s influence can be seen in that the frame for the early MX’s and TnT’s are almost identical to the AJS Stormer. And the oil-in-frame injection system was pioneered by CCM, although in their four strokes.
Gary Robinson was initially christened Vice President and Director of Motorcycle Research and Development. It is understood that he was give a clean sheet of paper to develop the bike, with the only stipulation that he produced a monthly progress report. Being responsible for design as well, Gary recruited Jeff Smith who later became Director of Engineering. Other key people include Bob Fisher as engineering manager, Scotty Sader as enduro manager, Ken Rosvere as motocross manager and Bob Barker as racing managers. Project managers included, Geoff Burgess, Jim Allen, Ron Matthews and Dave McLean. Dick Lague, Robert LeBoeuf and Lars Goodman were marketing/sales directors over the years.
The following press releases from Bombardier announced the commencement of Can-Am and the signing up of the key people.
In the early days, Can-Am produced a newsletter informing their customers of the new bikes, racing progress and technical tips.
Many thanks to Jim Moore of Manitoba for supplying copies of the ultra rare issues 6 and 7. Has anyone ever seen an issue 8 or later?
Can-Am’s in the UK – the story of Peter Plummer
For enduro fans of a certain age in the UK the name Pete Plummer needs no introduction. As one of the founders of Trials and Motocross News in 1977, writing “Checkpoint- Pete Plummer’s Enduro Column”, while writing ‘On the trail with Pete Plummer’ for Motor Cycle News, Pete was also instrumental in bringing Can-Am to the UK. In Pete’s own words, the story Can-Ams coming to the UK goes something like this:.
Despite working for Andover Norton I personally raised the money to bring the bikes into the UK by pre selling the bikes to my bike dealer mates as Dennis Poore would not make the money available. He did however come to Thruxton to see my first UK test day but he didn’t get out of his car ! I personally registered Can-Am UK Ltd but eventually gave it to Alan Clews (of CCM/Armstrong).
The Can-Am job was my baby. I used to collect them from the docks, take them out of the crates on the dockside (‘cause they wouldn’t go in the van crated up) and bring them home. I would assemble them in the street outside my house and park them in the garden. Wendy, my late wife, was always saying “I’m sick of this, all the neighbours have flowers in their garden and I’ve got bloody orange motorbikes”.
I had the 175Q2 and a 370Q2 as demonstrators. I rode the 370 and I carried the 175 round in my Transit van as a taster for pre selling the Q3s I was bringing in. I sold the 175 off the stand at the Dirt Bike Show to my best mate Dave Jackson. Some years later he wanted a little road bike with proper lights so I swapped a KE175 for the Can Am for my son Dave who was 17. At 17 here you could only ride a 125 so I sent the log book off and reregistered it as a 125 although of course it’s still 175cc. I live near Milton Keynes and Dave Jackson who lives in Yorkshire 130 miles away came to stay last weekend. See – despite selling him the Can-Am were still mates 33 years later!
I think we only brought in 2 MX6s a 125 and a 250. I converted the 125MX6 into a pukka enduro bike for my office girl who wanted to actually ride a Can-Am off-road rather than just be a blonde dolly bird chatting up the blokes at the shows. We also brought in some big plastic tanks which fitted round the fork legs which looked great.
I prepared my 370 for Jeff Smith to ride at a twin-shock scramble when he came over. That was the week he did the deal with Alan Clews for Armstrong to take over production. Although a director of Andover Norton I was kept in the dark until I was called in and was told ” thanks ever so much Plum, you’ve done a fantastic job and we couldn’t have done it without you. Unfortunately we will have to make you redundant and as a director you are not entitled to redundancy money.’ I did however walk away with my car as a gift and a brand new office typewriter I swiped off a desk (my word it was heavy).
I can’t remember how many we imported but in 81/ 82 the bestselling enduro bikes were Yamaha IT, Suzuki PE, Can-Am Q3, Kawasaki KDX.
At that time we also had SWM, Moto Gori, Moto Aspes etc here. There was just one Gilera and that was ridden by Peter Duke, Geoff’s son.
You will be amused to learn that when I started the British Enduro Championships I included a 350 class just so I could enter (and win the class) with the five speed 280 with numerous good clubman riders aboard. That’s gamesmanship surely! .
And yes Peter still owns the 1979 175Q2………………..that is until I convince him he really needs to sell it too me )