First launched in 1973, Can-Am Motorcycles are celebrating their 50th Birthday this year! No other brand has achieved such success in such a short amount of time like Can-Am.
Whether that was breaking land speed records or winning Gold medals, this motorcycle reflects one of the most successful launches in history, and deserves it's honours.
In the beginningIn the small town of 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 world's snowmobile market and had become a leading manufacturer of recreational products, selling 250,000 snowmobiles in 1969. 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.
A Quick ShiftRealizing 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 to by small European manufacturers.
Enter Gary Robison, Bob Fisher, Dave McLean and Camille Picard. Gary was the bike designer, Bob an experienced engineering manager, and Camille, a very skilled draftsman. Later on, they would be joined by Jeff Smith, the UK based scrambles world champion. No one can criticize 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. Gary Robison was initially christened Vice President and Director of Motorcycle Research and Development, with Laurent Beaudoin, the son in-law of Bombardier founder Joseph-Armand Bombardier, appointed as the leader.
Record SettingIn less than three years from inception the team achieved unparalleled success. This small Canadian team had set a land speed record within the first 12 months that stood for nearly 50 years; won gold, silver, and bronze medals in the 1973 ISDT; took the first three positions in the American Motocross championship in 1974; and won a further seven models in the 1974 ISDT. No other motorcycle brand achieved such success before or since. More importantly, the people and businesses involved had no experience in developing a competitive motorcycle. The whole project had to be established from scratch, from design to manufacturing workflow, market development to dealer establishment and distribution.
on a breakAlthough the motorcycle line was discontinued from Bombardier's business in 1987, Bombardier went onto global success. Now after 50 years, the same can-am motorcycles dominate vintage racing and have achieved a cult following among dedicated collectors that extend around the world. It is not simply a story of motorcycles. It is a Canadian success story that tells of world success in design, engineering, competition, and product delivery. It should serve as an inspiration to young engineers, designers and entrepreneurs that Canada plays a key role in product development.
For even more exciting information and stories about Can-Am's history, please visit the Canned-Ham website.