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.
Very nice, Kevin, great job restoring that bike. And you do have a way with words as well, if I may say so. 🙂
Very colorful Bikes of a Lifetime story, about a manufacturer that I had heard of, but knew almost nothing about. I will publish my own BOAL in a couple of weeks, about a BMW.
Was the “Bultaco Swimsuit Issue” caption inspired by the nude advertisements that they used back in the 1970s? I saw one or two reproduced in a British motorcycle magazine article about motorcycle advertising. I assume that they were Europe-only, since I can’t imagine them being published in a US motorcycle magazine during that era.
Could you post up those ads?
Great article again Kevin.I used to see a lot of Bultacos in 70s motocross,there were still the odd 125 and 250 road racers in use back then.Also saw them in a lot of American flat track races,the Bultaco Astro must be one of the nicest looking bikes ever made
Well that story brought back some good memories. From 1970 to 1973 I owned a Ossa Stiletto 250 and a friend had a Bultaco. I think it was a Pursang. We lived in a very rural area and were able to really tear it up on a moments notice. We could ride the back roads and then get into the rough stuff without a truck or trailer. I do remember that I was all in at about 50 mph, but the torque on that Spanish spitfire was insane. I sold it to buy a Honda 750 and never looked back, but the memories remain. Nice write up Kevin.
If memory serves, the Pursangs were motocross bikes, relatively high strung.
My bff had a Bultaco 350 Montadero. We would tune our bikes at his father’s Dodge dealership in a small western Illinois town, next door to my uncle’s tire shop. We would ride our bikes on his dad’s farm (we carved out our own course) and rode our bikes till the sun set. I’ve never felt greater contentment.
Great article, Kevin.
By the way, when I am in the car around lunchtime, I still miss listening to Paul Harvey.
Such a pity that those Catalan brands (Ossa, Bultaco…) disappeared with the 70s and 80s. I know people who have actually worked in those factories and I can tell you they were built almost artesanally, but they were known for being great machines. Thanks for the post
Spanish bikes were great according to people in the know. Dick Mann tried to make Ossa a household word in this country by creating the Yankee from two Ossa barrels. A twingle. I never had one and doted on Yamahas for dirt bikes. Have a DT175 in my shop right now and keep trying to talk myself into getting started on it.
From you stories you must have gotten around the globe pretty well. Love hearing about it.
Nice to see again…. I was introduced to these by a friend in high school in 1966, freshman year. He was in my homeroom in a regional high school, which despite the huge school, opened a lot of “doors”. Every Monday morning I would get run down on his Bultaco exploits of the previous weekend. Good times.
Bultaco, ossa, sanglas, derbi… great machines from spain still in our memories.
Enjoyed your article. Growing up, my friend’s father had an old, used-up Bultaco that he cherished, but would occasionally let my friend ride. Today I can better understand his attachment, these are cool bikes on many levels. I love the thumbs-up logo too, it’s like an endorsement from Chuck Norris.
I’ve fixed up a few old bikes the way you did and had fun with them and learned a lot. I laughed that you used the term “government job”, we use that term too, or “g-jobs”. The guys at my first job out of college (also in CT) taught me how to sneak pet projects into our shop.
My first bike was a Bultaco …. a 175cc 4 speed Mercurio street bike, 1965 with way-ahead-of-their-time 17″ wheels front and rear (skinny little ones, however). I tore it down, added clip-ons, a Metralla tank and a racing style seat with a fiberglass tail section. It was horribly unreliable and never really ran well. So naturally I sold it and bought another Bultaco, this time a 250cc Metralla … 5 speed, 18″ wheels. It was horribly unreliable and didn’t run much better. So I sold it and bought a Honda … the first of many.
Love that whole last paragraph.
Had an acquaintance with an old Ossa Pioneer a few years ago. I should give him a call…
Memories! I met Sammy Miller at his shop in southern England back in the ’70’s and was thrilled to have him photographed with me in front of his place. I have since inherited a Matador completely dismantled that I want to restore. Less than 1000 miles. Also a Hodaka Wombat from the same era that had been immersed in water and never dried out. The electrics are rusted out now and mice ate the wiring. Now trying to find affordable parts for both machines.
Thanks for the shots and story. Huskys, Pursangs, Stilletos, Maicos and the odd Thumpers…. they were the days!
Well I used to Race Bultaco’s in the Texas panhandle and owned 4-5 of them at one time. I had a 100 Lobito, a 125 Sherpa S, a 250 Pursang MK 3, a 250 Matador Six Day trials bike that I entered into the 125 mile National Enduro back in Childress TX many long years ago. I finished 44th out of 225 riders. I think John Penton’s son won this race but they had a helicopter hovering overhead during the whole race. I think they may have been filming the race.
I just scored a 68 Matador two days ago, can’t wait to restor it!
I rode a 250cc Bultaco Matador long long ago. It was possibly for sale so I had a test ride round my employers sports field (no zero hours contracts in the good old days and good employers had sports fields!) It was a great bike with plenty of torque for romping through long grass but it was not really ideal for road use. The bikes owner got a posting to Ascension Island so the Bultaco was dismantled and put in the boot (trunk) of his Ford Consul which was shipped out there. Once on Ascension the bike was reassembled and put to good use. Riding along the beach and jumping turtle-craters was allegedly great fun especially when the big boss was in a crater having an affair with a married lady! Good Annual Report this year eh?
i stumbled across this submission by accident.. loved it, especially since i still have a 68 matador mk 3 in my garage that i bought new in 68 (ny )
Hi I have couple matadors model 4 , 26 the 26 runs , after some top end part , and points cond, ,, I rember summer 71 a friend from high school Larry his family was from Little Rock ark. We were in eureka ca. His dad helped him purchase a brand new pursang mk4 , was beautiful , sounded like a monster , he was most famous kid in eureka ca, for popping wheelies a block long with this bike , we had a little track in center of town a big lot where all kids would hang out , I had a Honda 50 , , I never forgot that summer , l received my draft notice the next year , and my friend Larry was older , was sure he reported to draft that year , happy bultaco
That pic at top of page looks exactly like my first Bultaco Matador250. Bought that one new in 1966. Others I owned: Sherpa S125, El Tigre, Alpina, and Matador Mk3 which I still have. It’s a rust mess in the barn but I can’t decide to let it go yet.
I bought a used 1966 Bultaco Matador in 1969. It ran good, hard to start. In 1970 I took it all apart and striped it down. Cut off kick stand, 86th all the lights and stuff. I cut off the transmission case rock guard, installed new fork springs, new rear shocks and springs. 86th the old handle bars and installed new fork crown that more standard handle bars could be used. Installed simple kill switch, new clutch, new piston rings. painted frame black. It was light weight and ran great. I like the simplicity of the piston port engine and magneto system. Used premix fuel. No battery or values. I loved that bike, had it for years. I would ride it all over Lake Arrowhead back country area in southern Calif. Traded it to a carpenter for his labor. He ran it off a cliff. I treasure those memories!
Liked the mods you did to the bike except I really liked the clipon bars much better than top mount type. When you drop the bike (and riding the rough trails I did a lot) the bars would swivel and not bend because I tightened just enough to move on hard impact. Simple to adjust back with no bends or lever/cable breakage. I best mod I did was to drill & tap head & install a one-way compression release.
A great engine brake for those tricky downhills where wheel brakes could trip you.
My Mk2 never failed to get me back from the worst boonies Texas had except the time I almost lost it to quicksand mug that sank it up to gas tank top. Took 2 of us and a car to dig and pull it up. I kicked the mud off enough to find the kick start and it started first kick once again. Having the air intake up under the seat and exh. tip same high I rode through creeks and swamps up over the engine head. i finally retired it in 75 and bought a MK 3 and later the best Bul I ever had: an Alpina 250. I never should have sold that one. I currently still have a
MK 3 rusting away out back for last 25 yrs I will be selling soon.