Riders to Remember: Leif "Basse" Hveem
My fascination of this rider has its roots in my youth, when I was about 14 years old. I have heard my schoolmates talking about him, I have read about him in the newspapers, and now in 1948 he was coming to my home town Odense, Denmark to start in a long track race on the Sanderum horse racing track in the south - western outskirt of the town. I simply had to go there. I was deeply impressed by his stylish riding, his shiny bike and his phenomenal speed, way ahead of his competitors.
He had just issued a book with memoirs from his career, even he at that time was only 28 years, still a young man. The book was titled (in translation) 'On two wheels'. Not a very creative title, but fully covering for its content. I went to the bookstall and bought it for a 'gigantic' sum of 7 DKK. I still have the book, now almost fallen apart. A lot of information is taken from this book. Other info I have found in a search on Google and Wikipedia. Also speedway historians Andy Reid and Duncan Luke have kindly contributed to this file.
Leif (Ole) Hveem (Born in Oslo, Norway 29. March 1920, dead 23. July 1964). He got his nickname 'Basse', which means a 'big boy' early in his boyhood. He liked it, and used it all his life, although he was far from a 'big boy'. He was a slim guy weighing a mere 55 kilos. He won European long track championship twice, last time in 1957. In his career he won the Nordic Championships 13 times (8 long track and 5 speedway), and won 21 Norwegian Championships (11 long track and 10 speedway). In 1947 he was awarded the Oslo newspaper Morgenbladet's Gold medal. Hveem rode for NMK Oslo.
Basse Hveem was a legend in the international motor sport in the forties and fifties. Nowadays he is almost unknown to most Norwegians, but a few still remember this fine rider with his stunning long list of titles.
Seven years at school were more than enough for Basse. A bright boy he was, but the school was too boring for him. He was good at athletics and often attended a gym in the neighbourhood of his home. One day he watched a long row of Dirt Track riders heading for Bislet Stadium with their shiny bikes. By selling empty milk bottles he got money enough to buy a ticket to the stadium. Since then he never returned to the gym. Too young for motoring he - like many other boys - took up bicycle speedway on a gravel pitch and learned the broadsiding technique.
His first bike was of the almost unknown make ATLAS, bought in 1934 for pennies from a scrap dealer. A little 2-stroke engine with 6 bhp. Not much to boast of, but the fact, that he could make a result on such a bike woke some influent people's interest for his talent. Later he got a REX and in 1935 a DKW. Then in 1937 he bought a 350 cc. Rudge engine in a speedway frame. Basse got his first Jap engines from England in 1938, and built his own bike that was a winner right from the start.
In 1940, the Nazi occupational forces made bike racing redundant overnight, and confiscated a lot of motor bikes and motor cars, for the "war effort". Basse dismantled his racing bikes and hid them in sheds and barns around Oslo, and then via Sweden he fled to England where he spent his war years riding military motor cycles as a messenger between different Army units. This included serving with the Invasion forces in France, Holland and Germany until the summer of 1945. He came back to Norway, located the bits and pieces of his beloved bikes. Although petrol was still rationed very strictly, the bikes ran on methanol and was racing again late in 1945.
In 1946 Basse Hveem had a terrible accident in an ice race at Bislet Stadium Oslo. A period of mild weather had turned to frost, and the snow banks lining the 400m track had frozen solid. In his second heat he lost control over the bike. He was slung off and hit the ice barrier at full speed. Split seconds after he got hit in the back by his 120 kilo heavy bike. He was rushed to hospital with abdominal bleedings. In surgery he got his liver stitched and a kidney removed. He lay between life and death for at week, and recovery took more than half a year.
In the summer of 1946, still recuperating, He went to watch a race at Bjerke track and saw his old friend and mentor Oscar Sagen fatally hitting a lamppost at trackside. After that no one, and at least Basse himself thought, he would ever be racing again. But he did come back to win numerous races on two wheels both speedway and long track races.
He began riding for British clubs in 1948 (Harringay?) , and from 1953 up to 1956 he rode for West Ham Hammers in the 1st league. Leif `Basse' Hveem is credited as being the first rider to lap a British track at more than 50mph (82 kmh). He achieved the feat at West Ham in 1953.
In a programme from a World Championship qualifying race at Stoke Speedway 11/ 1953 it could be read: "Basse Hveem is one of the greatest international riders in the world".
At the time he rode for West Ham, a newspaper wrote "First came Basse, then came nothing and finally came all the others"
In 1952 Basse appeared in the World Championship Final at Wembley Stadium as 1st substitute but didn't ride. Last time he appeared in the WC final was in 1956, where he finished as No. 11. Besides his riding and activities with improving his bikes he also took up designing racing leathers and helmets. The idea was that the leather should fit better to the body, weighing lesser and at the same time allow better movability for the rider.
In the fall of 1955 he rode in South Africa and suffered a horrifying crash in Durban that nearly ended his racing career. But once again, after some months of recuperation in 1956 he was back on the track and won both the Norwegian Championship as well as the Scandinavian Championship ahead of the Swedish star rider Olle Nygren. Same year he broke the 1000 m. Track record at Malmo Sweden with a time of 89, 9 second for 3 laps with flying start.
After 1957 his biking career declined, and he took up automobile racing from 1958 on four wheels using a Cooper Norton 500 to win on ice, gravel and tarmac. He also drove Volvo and Ford. In 1961 he won an ice race in a Porsche in front of a huge crowd headed by the Norwegian Crown Prince Harald. A Danish Speedway rider Svend Nissen who was an old friend of Basse told me, that he met him watching a race at the Bjerke track Oslo in 1963. Basse looked ill with a "Full moon face" like one being treated with strong medicine.
After he had recovered from his accident in 1946, he decided to build a new frame for the JAP engine. Weak as he still was he gave his father big credit for helping him with cutting and bending the tubes. Basse dominated motorcycle racing in Scandinavia through the Forties and Fifties, always using self-built machinery, with the exception of the wheel rims...and those JAP engines. Some of Basse's racing bike in that period were designed and produced by Kjell Samsing, a speedway mechanic and a near friend of Basse. The degree of Basse's taking part in the work is uncertain. The first bike (1946) was an ice racer (The one he had his accident with??). In 1947 a dirt track (speedway) bike was finished and redesigned in 1948 with a new frame placing the motor more backwards to improve the handling and mounted with a telescopic front fork. In 1948 Husquarna designed a brand new engine called SRM = Swedish Racing Motor. It was produced in very few numbers. It had up to 500 revs/min. more than the JAP and churned out 3 Hp more. More important it weighed 10 kilos lesser than the JAP. One of these new SRM engines was given for further development to Basse Hveem, who in 1948/49 built the long track bike "Hveem Special".
Kjell Samsing had a many ideas in designing and construction of bikes. In 1955 he designed and built in close cooperation with Basse a new long track bike of unusual design with some aerodynamic fairing and spring suspended rear wheel to improve the contact with the track surface. He and Basse were perfectionists. Every detail, even the smallest had to be nice and neat, and everything had to be absolutely right. Nothing was left to compromises. Basse was always looking for parts having the lowest possible weight. He also used his own models in helmets and leathers. Riding this bike, Basse among other wins took the Golden Helmet in 1955, The Scandinavian Championship in 1956 and 1957 as well as the European Championship in 1957. The Swedish Champion Olle Nygren bought the two bikes, Basse used in his last years as speedway rider. But he never found pleasure in the long track bike and sold it to another Swedish rider Sven Falen, who brought it to France, where he settled down.
After Basse Hveem's death in 1964, a search for this famous long track bike began in Sweden. At the end of the sixties Basse's widow Ebba Hveem managed to buy the bike back, and with some help a major restoration work began. At the long track Word Championship Final 1971 at Bjerke in Norway, the restored bike was shown to the public, and a few rounds were ridden on it by the Norwegian rider and European Champion Jon Oedegaard. Ebba Hveem donated the bike to the Norwegian Technical Museum in Oslo, where it still can be seen.
Soren runs the speedwaylife.com website.
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This article was first published on 15th October 2009
"I was interested to read the article by Soren Kjaer about
Norwegian rider, Basse Hveem. 'Way back when I was a wee schoolboy in Glasgow, I saw Basse racing in a World Championship Round at Glasgow White City
and became a Basse Hveem fan on the spot. White City was a difficult track to ride, with long M1-style straights and very tight corners and I remember
that Basse was so very fast down the straights, probably the fastest rider I had seen at White City in my schooldays, but not so quick on the tight
corners. I can't remember his point score for the meeting but I think he was up there in the top three and he left a very big impression on me,
both with his speed and with his exotic name as he was the first foreign rider I had seen in Scotland.
That was the only time I ever saw him
race although I ocassionally saw his name featured in the Speedway press and read about his early exploits in Norway when he hid his
Speedway bike from the approaching Germans during the Second World War. Real 'Boys' Own Comic' book stuff! Glad to see that his Speedway bike
survived and that it is in a Museum in Oslo which will make a good excuse to visit Norway even if they don't have a GP there any more! "
That was the only time I ever saw him race although I ocassionally saw his name featured in the Speedway press and read about his early exploits in Norway when he hid his Speedway bike from the approaching Germans during the Second World War. Real 'Boys' Own Comic' book stuff! Glad to see that his Speedway bike survived and that it is in a Museum in Oslo which will make a good excuse to visit Norway even if they don't have a GP there any more! "
"Excellent, very good. I remember the spring and autumn longtracks at the Solvalla during the mid of the 50's. He was number one. "
"Rumour had it that Basse Vveem burried his bike during the German occupation, dug it up after liberation, cleaned it off, fuelled it up & it fired first push. They don't build them like that anymore. Mind you they dont bury many nowadays, wonder if a new bike sprang up the following spring?"
"I saw Basse V. ride at HARRINGAY in 46(?). He broke the track record (held by VIC DUGGAN) in his first race! Basse realy was in a class of his own! "
"Basse Hveem's only British club was West Ham in 1953. He first appeared a a rider in the UK in 1949 in world championship qualifying rounds. He was highly rated at international level as the respected 'Speedway Star' world ratings between 1956 and the early 1960s testify."
"Jeg så Leif Basse Hveem blive nordisk mester i langbaneløb, på Fyns Væddeløbebane d. 25/9 1949. Jeg var selv da 8 år gammel, og den oplevelse gjorde et enort indtryk på mig, og var med til at jeg har bevaret min interesse for speedway og 1000 m. hele mit liv. Dengang boede jeg i Nyborg, og jeg husker at allerede da, var Basse Hveem en levende legende. Mange som aldrig havde set et motorcykelløb, kendte hans navn. "
"Another piece of the Husqvarna Success jigsaw.Thank you Basse Hveem."
"I was interested to see the bit about Basse Hveem - he did ride for a spell for West Ham but only for one season. He had meetings in the UK in his quest for World Championship glory. I was interested in the mention of Huskvarna as I'm sure I saw a Huskvarna engine at a BMF Rally at Peterborough and it looked for all the world like a copy of a JAP. It belonged to the late Richard Forshaw so I don't know who owns it now. "
"I enjoyed reading about my old idol of the 50s, watched him race around the old West Ham track in Custom House many times. I still have some photos of Basse in a box in my loft, what treasures."
"As well as Bert Harkins, I also watched Basse At the world champiomnship qualifier at White City Glasgow. It was around 1952/53. I was 12 years of age at the time. What I clearly remember was that Basse was unbeaten on the night and rode brilliantly."
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