Originally published November 2016
SOMETIMES all it takes is a photograph to bring back a flood of memories and recall a fascinating tale. This week, we came across a picture that had just such an effect. But before we show you the pic, let’s share the tale.
ALMOST 60 years ago, a huge personal and business fallout led to the creation of one of motorcycling’s most charismatic and, at least for a time, successful marques.
Two Spaniards, the talented and wealthy engineer Pedro Permanyer and the successful motorcycle racer Paco Bulto came together through friend-and-family connections in the aftermath of the Second World War. They agreed to design and build a Spanish two stroke motorcycle to take on the world. And they did.
Montesas quickly became original designs and, within a decade, they found success as road-racers. By 1956, Montesa 125s were the bikes to have in the ‘ultra light’ class. At the Isle of Man that year, they took out three of the top four places.
Despite the on-track success, times were tough for bike manufacturers in the late ’50s. Motorcycle sales, which had boomed after the war, were slowing down as private car ownership became commonplace. To make matters worse, Spain’s domestic economy was in strife.
Permanyer proposed that Montesa pull out of all competition as a cost-saving measure. Bulto wouldn’t hear of it, insisting that racetrack success and sales success could not be separated, but Permanyer pulled rank (he owned 70% of the company to Bulto’s 30%) and announced all racing activity would cease.
“Que hombre stupido!” said Bulto (well, probably), and he walked out the door. Most of the racing department went with him.
Fuming, Bulto headed for the family farm to punch walls and donkeys for a week or two. Legend has it that some of his former racing department staff convinced him to start building his own bikes in direct competition with Permanyer’s Montesa.
And so, in May 1958, a second Spanish motorcycle manufacturer was born: Bultaco. Señor Bulto’s company had a deliberate focus on competition and his bikes had a thumbs-up logo on the tank. The thumbs-up, of course, either means “everything’s okay” or “stick it up your bum” depending who you ask. In the context of this story, we reckon it probably meant both.
Bulto’s farmyard barn became company headquarters and manufacturing plant, and members of his family supplemented the old Montesa racing team as test riders and fabricators.
Bultaco launched its first bike, the road-going 125cc Tralla 101, less than a year later. Just two months further on, Bultaco entered its first Spanish Grand Prix — and took out seven of the first ten places. “Take that, Señor Permanyer Stupido!”, we reckon Bulto said.
In the years that followed, Montesa returned to competition and went head-to-head with Bultaco in the fast-emerging off-road sector. Montesa developed its wonderful Capra motocrossers and Cota trials bikes.
Bulto signed English trials superstar Sammy Miller who took Bultaco’s Sherpa T to God-like status in the world of trials. A similar strategy worked in motocross, especially in the United States, when Bultaco convinced Jim Pomeroy to throw his leg and ample talent over a Bultaco Pursang. (Remember that wonderful photo by Bill Petro of Pomeroy doing a cross-up on a Pursang at the 1972 Canadian 500cc motocross GP? We had an email conversation with Bill and he gave us the okay to reproduce it, down the bottom of the story. Love it!)
The Bultaco name disappeared in 1983, and Señor Bultó died in 1998, at age 86. Bultaco has recently been reincarnated as a specialist manufacturer of electric-powered bikes, but you’ll need to get to Europe to see one.
Señor Permanyer died 11 years earlier than Bulto, at 75, but the Montesa name has lived on. You can still buy a Montesa Cota trials bike today, although the company is now a subsidiary of Honda, and they run Honda engines.
And here’s that marvellous photo: