The History of Can-Am

Today Can-Am is known primarily as a manufacturer of high-end ATVs and road bikes, but in the past it has also made motocross bikes. In 1974, Can-Am was the first manufacturer whose bikes were used by Gary Jones, Jimmy Ellis and Marty Trips to set the record by finishing first three places in the AMA 250cc Championship. The bikes were powered by Rotax engines and were the most powerful in the class. But unfortunately, the success was short-lived. After a stay at the top in motocross that lasted a few short years, by the early eighties they were already unable to compete with Japanese and European manufacturers.

In fact, motorcycles Can-Am was a division of the Canadian industrial giant Bombardier, which in the early seventies produced everything from snowmobiles to airplanes. At that time the U.S. off-road market was booming and Bombardier believed it could enter the motocross market with its high-tech Rotax engines (Bombardier had bought the Austrian Rotax engine manufacturer in 1970) and its extensive dealer network of snowmobile dealers. So in 1973 Can-Am was founded, which entered the market with a new off-road machine called the MX-1. The following year Can-Am poached Gary Jones, AMA National Motocross Champion in the 250cc class, from Honda. The motocross project 'shot off the charts', with Can-Am Jones winning his fourth AMA Motocross title in 1974, and second and third place going to his teammates Ellis and Trips. (In fact, Dutchman Pierre Karsmakers won the championship, but the AMA instituted crazy new rules that prohibit foreigners from winning the title.)

By 1978, motocross bike production was booming in earnest with Honda releasing its famous CR250R Elsinore and Yamaha making a mono shock absorber suspension. And Can-Am began to slowly 'deflate'. Their engines also remained competitive, which could not be said for the running gear. It is impossible not to remember their infamous 1977 MX-3 'Black Widow' model, which could not help them maintain their reputation, because they were losing the most important thing - customers. In an effort to keep up with the competition, the factory introduced a new MX-4 with a new frame in orange plastic. The engine was still on point with its smooth response and unique intake pivot valve, the prototype of the petal valve. But the undercarriage, gearbox, and brakes were, in the memories of many racers, awful.

The MX-6 and the MX-7 prototype would be the last motocross bikes built directly in Canada. After trying to do something with their unsuccessful designs, in 1983 Bombardier moved their production to England and in 1984, together with partner Armstrong/CCM, launched air-cooled 500cc models and more modern liquid-cooled 125cc models. But the partnership lasted only four years and with no visible results the production had to be closed. And in 1987 Bombardier drew the line at the end of the Can-Am era. Do not forget to use Can-Am VIN decoder in order to avoid potential problems when buying a used car.

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