1972 Factory 400 Maico
1972 Trans-AMA Champion - Ake Jonsson
On December 3rd 1972 at Saddleback Park, Ake Jonsson won all three motos of the final race of the 11 race Trans-AMA series. His overall victory at Saddleback marked an unprecedented 9 wins in a row. That’s 9 in a row in an 11 race series! This is a feat that has never been equaled in the entire Trans AMA history. After wrapping up the championship, Ake Jonsson instantly became a hero and favorite among the American fans. So much was written about that series in the weekly and monthly publications as the series unfolded. Fans unable to attend all of the races eagerly awaited the latest issue of Cycle News to see the results. In fact after round 6 Cycle News went as far as calling it the "Ake Jonsson benefit series." In 1972 the Trans AMA series was the most competitive and prestigious professional motocross series in the US. The 400 Maico featured here is the bike that Ake used to win this championship.
Two hand built 400 radial Maico’s were specially built for Ake at the Maico factory race shop in Germany just for the 1972 Trans AMA. The bikes were built to Ake's specs and were then shipped over for the first race at Copetown Canada. After the third event at St. Louis Missouri (Ake’s 1st victory), Ake switched from bike one to bike number two (the bike featured here) and raced the remaining 8 events on this very bike winning every single race and not breaking down once. Starting at the beginning of the series at Copetown, that would be a total of thirty two motos without a single DNF!
After the final race at Saddleback the bike was sold to Lars Larsson immediately following the third and final moto. The bike was pushed into Lars’ van before the engine even had a chance to cool off and remained in his possession until he sold it to Ake’s son Tomas who purchased it as a present to Ake for his 50th birthday in the early 1990’s. The bike remained in Ake’s possession and for a time was on display at his Yamaha shop in Sweden until early 2014 when Ake sold the bike to Terry Good for the MXworksbike.com collection/museum.
While Ake was decimating the best riders in the world including both 250 and 500 world champions in the Trans AMA series, rumors began to swirl regarding the Maico Ake was riding. Nobody but nobody believed it was stock as Ake and the Maico factory claimed. After all, Suzuki’s Joel Robert and Roger DeCoster were competing on the incredibly trick, super light-weight works 370 Suzuki’s and Yamaha was using the proven ultra-fast works YZ360 and the all new YZ500 ridden by Gary Jones. Kawasaki was also well represented with Brad Lackey and the new prototype 400. So how could a stock Maico compete with these bikes let alone beat them every single week?
To prove the Maico was not a super light works bike, two magazines were allowed to tear the bike down and compare it to a production 400 radial Maico. After the 10th round at Livermore California, Popular Cycling magazine disassembled the bike at Cooper Motors in Burbank for a feature article. Then after the series Motorcyclist magazine drove down to Hallman Racing in San Diego where Lars Larsson worked and did a similar feature. Both magazines concluded the bike was indeed stock.
After the magazine articles came out the rumors swung the other way. The bike went from being a super lightweight one off special to a bone stock bike pulled off the production line that completed the entire series using the same piston and rings and the only maintenance was tightening the chain and cleaning the air filter.
The truth is somewhere in the middle but definitely leaning to the stock side.
Both bikes were assembled by hand in the Maico works race shop using mostly carefully selected standard components. The man in charge of the bike construction was Maico factory engineer Reinhold Weir. Reinhold can be seen welding on Ake's GP bike at Namur 1972 in the photo below. According to Ake, Reinhold was a very talented young man and one of, if not, the best technician/fabricators Ake had ever worked with. He was part of a very small team that included Ake, Willy Bauer, Adolf Weil and a few others that actually developed the Maico motocross bikes into the world class performers that they were. Unfortunately a year later Reinhold lost his life in an amateur motocross race in Germany. Reinhold applied the same specs that Ake used on his GP bike to the Trans AMA bike. For example the foot peg location was moved back 25mm and the frame was modified to accommodate this. The engine was assembled by hand making sure everything was matched and right at the specified tolerances. Ports were cleaned and matched but stock port timing was retained. The clutch was the small clutch from the 250 and allowed the bike to accelerate faster. Ake first tried this in Italy on Adolf Weil's GP bike and was surprised how much faster the bike was with this mod. To make the clutch adapt to the 400 the old style clutch cover was modified and a special spacer seperating the clutch cover from the main cases was made. This modification also made for a narrower engine. The exhaust pipe was similar but not quite the same as the production pipe and used a very small silencer that did exactly nothing to quiet the bike.
A special seat was fabricated just for Ake using a custom foam shaped much different than stock. This was even different than what Ake used in the GP’s. When the bike was disassembled for the restoration, we found Ake's name written by hand on the bottom of the plastic seat base, probably by Reinhold. A special front brake set up was made for more breaking power as the brake lever was cut and re-welded for more leverage and a custom aluminum front brake arm was made to connect the front backing plate to the forks. Attached to the hand made rear swingarm, a custom rear brake arm/chain guide setup was fabricated from aluminum and a special rear brake pedal was used to move the rear brake rod inside of the frame where it was less vulnerable. A Hallman throttle cable was used to connect the Magura throttle assembly to a stock Bing carb and this breathed through a green foam Uni-Filter. Also, a special bend handlebar was made to Ake’s specs. This bend was later copied by Hallman racing and sold as Ake Jonsson replica handlebars.
Two types of gas tanks were hand made from aluminum. One, the traditional large aluminum GP tank (for the two 45 minute motos at Carlsbad) and a much smaller aluminum tank for the 3 shorter 30 minute motos at the other Trans-AMA races. The smaller aluminum tank allowed Ake to move more forward on the bike more and was generally preferred over the larger GP tank. Other than a single stage front spring (that was changed after Copetown) the forks were stock. On the rear, Koni's with aluminum bodies and standard Koni's were rotated throughout the series. The bikes were then painted a custom yellow that is much different than the orange GP bikes and even different than the traditional yellow that came on the production bikes. Metzeler tires were used exclusively as were Akront aluminum rims. The bikes weighed in at just under 215 lbs each or about 12 lbs lighter than stock.
Once the bikes were built they, along with two similar bikes built for Hans Maisch, were shipped to Eastern Maico in Pennsylvania along with a very limited number of spares as the official factory Maico entry for the 1972 Trans AMA series.
As mentioned earlier, the Trans AMA series had evolved into the biggest and most prestigious series in the US and winning was guaranteed to sell a lot of bikes as the US market was now the largest in the world. For the Americans it was a chance to compete against the Europeans and for the Europeans, it was a chance to come to the states and compete for big bucks as the purses were much larger than in the GP's in Europe. Also this was the end of the year and everybody was looking for leverage to get a better factory ride, sponsorship and salary for the next year. The Trans AMA races were also very popular with the fans. Motocross was growing exponentially in the US and it was not uncomon to have attendance of 25,000 to 30,000 fans at any given race of this caliber. All of the riders and manufacturers took this very serious.
Midway through the series Ake was approached by plastic lever makers Uni-Lever and then Impac. Both were used as they paid good contingency money. Uni-Lever was used at Carlsbad and the Impac levers were used from Phoenix to Saddleback.
A detailed race log was kept by Ake’s mechanic Curt Oberg in Swedish documenting what maintenance was done to the bike each week. Ake’s son Tomas translated it to English part 1 and English part 2 for this feature.
When Ake's son Tomas purchased the bike from Lars Larsson, it was to be a trophy for his dad and was restored to like new condition. The restoration on the bike was beautiful but the color's didn't exactly match the original and the finish was much nicer than it probably was when new. A very key point was that the bike contained at least 95% of the original parts as it was when last raced. This is very rare for a bike like this and it got us thinking... With all of the available photos in the magazines and elsewhere from the race coverage to the teardowns at the end of the series, there was plenty of info to accurately bring the bike to the exact condition as if left the track at Saddleback over 40 years ago. Even though we have never done something like this (nor do we know of anyone else who has) it seemed like the right thing to do. Once the bike arrived from Sweden we took a few photos of it and then let the bike set for awhile while we mulled over the options.
Above: Ake Jonsson's 1972 Trans AMA Championship Maico after a one year restoration
I personally remember buying the February 1973 Popular Cycling magazine back in the day that featured Ake going off the famous Carlsbad drop-away jump on this very bike and now to have it sitting on a stand infront of you over 40 years later was a little overwhelming. When you look closely at the shapes of the welds and many of the handmade parts and compare them to the photos, the actual parts match the photos exactly. Not many parts were changed out throughout the series and other than the race patina in the photos the bike was exactly as it was. That was it...it was decided to restore the bike matching the race patina as close as possible and display the bike as it was when Ake won the last race of the series at Saddleback. We wanted to be true to every aspect of the original condition of the bike as it was that day and not let any preconcieved notions get in the way of what we thought might be right or wrong. A call was made to Ake Jonsson himself to get his opinion and approval. After explaining what we were trying to do, Ake immediately liked the idea and offered to help in any way possible. It was amazing how much he remembers about the bike and just happened to have an archive of race photos from the series that he let us use.
The project took almost a year to complete and the bike is now in the condition it was after the Saddleback event. A full article documenting the restoration can be seen by clicking the link below.
A message from Ake Jonsson
October 29th, 2015
It is a great job you have done. I really know now that the bikes got to the right hands. All the documentations you have done is going to live for a long time. This is Moto Cross history and I am glad to be a part of it and like to thank you for an excellent job.
I am really proud to having raced that MAICO.
The best wishes
Ake Jonsson's 1972 Trans-AMA winning Maico, one of the most iconic bikes in motocross history, looks as it did after it's last race at Saddleback.
Using a vast collection of archive photos and supervision from Ake Jonsson himself, every little detail was carried out to get the bike exactly as it was after it's last race.
The Maico 400 powerplant got more than it's share of holeshots against Japan's best works efforts. When Ake talks about the bike today, the awesome power is at the top of the list.
One of the key modifications to Ake's 400 was the conversion to the smaller 250 clutch. To make this work a special spacer had to be machined along with a modified old style clutch cover. The result was a narrower engine and a huge improvement in the bikes acceleration. The negative was a clutch lever that was much harder to pull in. Other than the start Ake never used the clutch anyway.
The engine was hand assembled by Maico engineer Reinhold Weir to exact tolerances. Cases were matched perfectly and the cylinder was matched to the cases.
After the first race at Copetown Ake switched from dual rate fork springs to a single rate spring.
The front brake lever was cut and rewelded at a different angle for more leverage and more braking power. Black cloth electrical tape was used to keep the cable in place. It took almost one year to find an original 1972 Bel-Ray sticker for the forks and it came from former Husky factory rider Billy Clements. The top right corner was cut to match the one in the archive photos.
The original Koni shocks used at Saddleback remain on the bike today and they still have good damping. Koni shocks expert Robert Haag of FMF porting fame stopped by to check out the bike and confirmed that this pair of shocks was made in May of 1972. The tiny make-shift silencer was made to satisfy the AMA. There is nothing but a solid stinger in that tube. The bike sounds like a howitzer cannon when lit. Very intimidating.
Somebody slapped a Dirt Bike Magazine sticker on the tank at Saddleback. Ake raced it that way along with wearing a Dirt Bike Magazine Jersey. We just happened to have an exact original Dirt Bike sticker in our collection . We had been saving it for years. Who would have thought it would end up on Ake's Maico.
As our friend and sometimes advisor Lee Fabry says. "Anyone can restore a bike, but it is very hard to restore one to NOS condition and even harder to restore one to as raced condition." We couldn't agree more. This was by far the toughest job we ever took on. We had to do many things several times before we got it right and there was much experimentation on the finishes but effort was worth it.
Ake still had the original dished rims and sent them along with the bike, a relace was in order. Other than a good cleaning everything in this photo is original.
We are pretty sure this sticker was added after the Trans-AMA series as the archive photos do not show it. The bars are reported to be the originals.
When we disassembled the bike we found Ake Jonsson's name hand written on the bottom of the grey seat base. Probably written by Maico engineer Reinhold Weir when he built the seat.
One of the defining parts of this famous Maico is the custom aluminum torque arm/chain guide. The brake lever was custom too and kept the brake rod tucked out of harms way.
Ake used this extra capacity tank at Carlsbad and a few other races in the series. The Carlsbad event featured two 40 minute motos as a test for the first 500 USGP the following year.
Grey cloth duct tape was used exclusively to seal the left side of the air box and black cloth electrical tape was used to seal the right side. Don't ask us why. Ake and his mechanic Curt Oberg couldn't remember either. We looked all over for grey cloth duct tape (common in 1972) and eventually had to order it from China!
Ake donated to MXworksbike.com the jersey he wore at the Saddleback Trans-AMA along with a ton of other gear that he used in the GP's while at Yamaha. We will present a section on Ake's race worn gear in the near future.
Ake's trophy from The Trans-AMA finale at Saddleback park
After the series Ake put is gear in a box in Sweden and it remained there until he donated it to this collection. Notice at the top of the bib in the archive shot, you can see a black piece of tape covering the Hang Ten logo. The reason Ake covered it is that Hang Ten was not paying any sponsorship money to Ake. I personally have been looking at photos of Ake wearing that bib for over 40 years and never noticed the tape before. Also, note that the mud stain marks in the archive photo from the Carlsbad race match the bib today. Now that is awesome.
This is the only side of Ake's bib at Carlsbad that everybody saw. He won both motos.
The front number plate is original and was on the bike for all Trans-AMA races. We repainted it and put on the numbers using a blow up photo of the Saddleback race.