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In 1971, under the direction and leadership of American Gary Robison, working with a team of Canadian and Californian development technicians, Can-Am began development of motocross and enduro bikes using engines developed by the Austrian Rotax company, another Bombardier subsidiary. Former motocross World Champion Jeff Smith was later engaged to test and validate prototype motorcycles and establish a race program. Serial Production began in 1973. The machines made an immediate impact with riders winning Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at the International Six Days Trial, a form of off-road motorcycle Olympics. In 1974, Can-Am was the first brand to sweep the AMA 250 cc motocross national championship with Can-Am riders Gary Jones, Marty Tripes and Jimmy Ellis, finishing first, second and third. Can-Am rider Skip Olson finished second to Dick Burleson in the 1976 AMA Enduro national championship. The bikes gained a reputation for their high power outputs.
The Rotax Engine design used a slightly unusual style of intake. A compact rotary disc system was employed and this plate was altered between T'n'T (track and trail) and MX models to provide the desired power curve. This compact rotary disc is accredited with the horsepower gain over conventional piston port engines used on Japanese motorcycles. The MX3, produced in 1977, was the pinnacle of Can Am. Its 36 horsepower (27 kW) was 6 hp more than the closest competitor.
However, soon after the Can-Am introduction, the Bombardier corporation shifted its priority from recreational products towards diversification into the transit equipment industry and then, several years later, into aircraft manufacturing. As a result, investments in the young Can-Am division were reduced substantially and chose the status-quo. In 1983, Bombardier licensed the brand and outsourced development and production of the Can-Am motorcycles to Armstrong-CCM Motorcycles of Lancashire, England. 1987 was the final year Can-Am motorcycles were produced.
40 years later, many of the original production Can-Am Motorcycles continue to be successfully used in competition in Vintage Motocross Events throughout the World.
In 2006, BRP, Bombardier Recreational Products reintroduced the Can-Am brand with its all-terrain vehicles (ATV). In 2007, the Can-Am brand was also used for the Can-Am Spyder a new three-wheeled roadster. The most modern is the Spyder RS.
- "Jeff Smith at the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame". motorcyclemuseum.org. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- "Gary Jones at the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame". motorcyclemuseum.org. Retrieved 2 April 2012.
- Familiar Faces Fill the Forest, American Motorcyclist, January 1977, Vol. 31, No. 1, ISSN 0277-9358. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-03-05.
- Can-Am at BRP corporate website