Many of the Commentariat weren’t even alive when this brand existed. This was back in the day when the British thumpers like the BSA Victor 441 were being eclipsed by the next generation of dirt bikes with names like Husquevarna, CZ, and Maico, as well as Spanish bikes with names like Ossa, Montessa, and…tada! Bultaco.
Bultaco, based in Barcelona, Spain, was named for its owner, Paco Bultó. Although it built both street and dirt bikes, Bultaco was probably best known for its trials bikes ridden by Englishman Sammy Miller.
The Matador was designed as an enduro bike, so it had lots of tractable low end power, just the opposite of a motocross bike. I got the Bultaco in trade for a logo that I had designed for the owner of a rotational plastics molding company in suburban Chicago. I had a weekend job at the firm in which I would fill molds with resin, hit a switch, set the casting process in motion, and then twiddle my thumbs. Or learn to ride a motorcycle–that the owner’s son owned–on the company’s back lot, twenty minutes at a time. That’s when phase three of the molding process was done, and I had to prepare another set of molds for the oven.
When I presented the logo that I had designed to the father and son, I bumped my price up to $500. After all, I had spent a lot of time on the job, and it was a most excellent logo. That pissed daddy off beyond belief and he refused to pay. But before heading back to Chicago in my ‘60 Plymouth, I reached a deal with the son: his beat-to-crap Bultaco and a really nice three-bike trailer for the logo. Done deal. This was 1970.
Except my ‘Taco didn’t look anything like the photo. All of the chrome was pitted and rusty. The fiberglass gas tank was missing major (non-essential) chunks, and the aluminum fenders and lighting had long since gone to dirt bike heaven. But the essential goodness was still there.
Fortunately my first job out of school was with CBS Labs in Stamford, CT. The design department had its own spray booth and we were right next to an incredible in-house machine shop. The machinists often needed their pet projects (i.e. govt. jobs) to be painted, and we were not opposed to accepting them on a quid-pro-quo basis for a little metal work.
The son had told me that the bike was a ‘68 Matador 250, which would make it a Mk3, but the condition of the bike was so poor that I really thought it was an earlier Mk2, probably a ‘66.
The refurbishing process was fairly simple. Take the bike apart. Wire brush the frame to bare metal. Repair the tank, recover the seat, re-chrome the handlebars and rear springs, and fab some new fenders from some Kydex stock that we had in house.
Bultaco knew what it took to be a winner. Or maybe, what it needed to leave out, which was mainly weight. This was no Honda 350 Scrambler (or whatever it was), dual purpose dirt/street bike and no good at either task.
If you wanted to do enduros or motocross in the late ‘60s, a Matador (or equivalent motocross bike) wasn’t a bad choice. Yes, it was more expensive than the Japanese offerings, but it was ready to race, right out of the box.
The Matador 250 had torque from the drop of the clutch. No slipping, just grunt. I could pull a wheelie from idle without jerking the bars. It had supreme tractability. Top speed? Probably 40-45 mph, but it left the Hondas and Yamahas sucking hind tit off-road.
I think that the Matador weighed right around 200 lbs (91 kg) dry. Super low center of gravity. The first time I jumped on my friend’s Bonneville it came over on me and burnt the living shit out of my right ankle (what? socks? gimme a break!).
Later, when I once owned a Triumph, I drove my friend’s Honda 750, and at a gas stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, forgot his admonition ”always have your hand on the front brake lever”. Yah, you guessed it, I didn’t. Laydown city. Never a fan of high CG. (But boy, that Honda was smooth!)
If you are a fan of trials bikes and Sammy Miller, you know about Bultacos, specifically Sherpa Ts, even more minimalistic than the Matador. Unfortunately the Japanese, ever a quick study, picked up from the Spanish, and began building really great dirt bikes at a much lower price. And that, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story.
I bought my first power tool, a Rockwell 3/8” reversible variable-speed drill, for $40 in 1970. Still have it, still works. I used it to wire brush the frame prior to painting it with metallic silver acrylic enamel. I painted the tank with straight white mixing lacquer. Sanded, buffed, and lovingly polished, it looked like porcelain. Used a lot of 400 sandpaper and Simichrome on the aluminum, and it was worth it. Wasn’t getting laid a whole lot in those days.