1973 Maico 400
Vintage Motocross Bike
In the late 1960s and early ’70s, one of the most prominent European motorcycle brands building top-tier, large displacement motocross racing motorcycles was Maico.
The German-built Maico motorcycle was a force to be reckoned with on motocross tracks all over the world. In fact, Maico was such a prominent player in the 250cc and 500cc MX World Championships in their day that many people find it hard to realize they never won a world title.
Maico, despite a host of talented motocross riders and consistent podium finishes, was forever a bridesmaid, coming up second place more times then they cared to remember.
The two most significant motorcycle racing titles Maico earned were on American soil in the vaunted Trans-AMA series. Swede Ake Jonsson dominated the 1972 series in convincing fashion, winning so many motos he didn’t even have to show up for the final four rounds. He did anyway and continued to dominate.
The following year Adolf Weil, perhaps the most handsome man to ever race motocross (many compared him to superstar Paul Newman, only more handsome), won the MX series the following year in 1973 on a highly modified version of the motocross bike pictured here.
Maicos possessed a number of innovative and distinct characteristics that separated them from other motorcycle brands. The Maico utilized a leading axle fork and a triple clamp that had the steering stem almost directly in line with the fork tubes and handlebar to create a more exacting steering feel.
The Maico dirt bikes also used a primary chain (a double-row chain that connected the crankshaft to the clutch instead of a primary gear). In actuality, a primary chain was a very efficient way of transferring horsepower to the transmission.
However, the chains wore out quickly and frequently failed due excessive wear and were the root cause of a lot of DNFs (as well as a lot of expense, as the thrown chain often ruptured the engine case).
Primary chains weren’t the only problem. Maico motorcycles had a tendency to vibrate themselves apart. A rider had to be vigilant with the wrenches to ensure everything was staying tight. The number of nuts and bolts that vibrated loose and bounced off, never to be found again, was incalculable.
There were also electrical issues. Motocross bikes back then used points to create spark. The cam worked off the crank and would invariably wear down rather rapidly, the point gap (as it was known) would gradually shrink until the opposing points would get welded together. Another DNF.
Another common disaster was when a chain was thrown it often shattered the magneto case cover (yet another expensive motorcycle part). Naturally, as a result of all this, the humor-minded nature of motocrossers dubbed the German bikes, "Maico-Breako."
The 400cc motor was very high-compression, necessitating a compression release (see the lever underneath the clutch lever) to aid starting. Even so, the bikes possessed a notorious habit of kick-back, which could do some serious damage to the ankle.
The 1973, Maico 400 was extremely fast and had significant power. Looking back at the period that we actually rode these things it’s hard to comprehend we were dependent on small drum brakes to bring the big displacement Maico to a stop.
The Bing carburetors occasionally drew small pieces of dirt from the less then perfect airbox, which had a tendency to cause the slide to stick-usually at full throttle. At that point the kill switch was often overridden by the heightened electrical pulse created by the high RPM and all you could do was step off the thing.
By the early ’80s Maico was in serious trouble. The Japanese onslaught was in full swing, decimating one manufacturer after another. In 1982, I was Scott Johnson’s mechanic with Team Maico on the AMA indoor and outdoor nationals. We would be Maico’s last official 250cc effort before infighting within the Maisch family–who had founded Maico–resulted in the factory falling into receivership.
Despite all the potential problems, the unreliability, the stubborn motors, the Maico was a superb handling motocross machine in its day. Incredibly stable and accurate turning, the Maico delivered unequaled performance. Anyone who was around back in the day remembers the reverence these machines once commanded. It’s a thrill to see one so beautifully restored.
Visit www.theowencollection.com to see more examples of motocross machines from the glory days of motocross and to schedule a look at the collection in person.