In 1971, under the direction 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, an off-road motorcycle competition. In 1974, Can-Am was the first brand to sweep the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) 250cc 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, Bombardier shifted its priority from recreational products towards 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. In 1983, Bombardier licensed the brand and outsourced development and production of the Can-Am motorcycles to Armstrong-CCM Motorcycles of Lancashire, England. The final year that Can-Am motorcycles were produced was 1987.
Forty years later, many of the original production Can-Am Motorcycles continue to be successfully used in competition in Vintage Motocross events throughout the world.