ONE MAN’S PASSION
Francesc Xavier Bultó Marquèz
1912 – 1998
Bultaco had a huge impact on the world of motorcycles, with road models like the Traila and Metralia gathering an army of fans while the TSS road racer, the Pursang motocrosser, the Matador enduro and of course the Sherpa T trials bike made their mark in national and international events. And it all started because of one man’s passion for motorcycle sport.
It’s said that money spent on racing has caused the downfall of many motorcycle factories, and this may well be true. But the story of the Spanish Bultaco factory proves that exactly the opposite can also happen. For if there had never been any racing, the Bultaco concern would not exist and that famous “thumbs up” sign would not be known the world over.
The saga of what was Spain’s largest manufacturer of motorcycles goes back almost 63 years, to a day in May, 1958 when a board meeting of another well known Spanish maker of two-wheelers, Montesa, decided to abandon their racing program.
This decision was a bitter blow to Francisco Bulto, a tall slim aristocrat of a man who was at that time a director of Montesa. In fact, he had been one of the founders of the Montesa company when that factory had been established in 1946.
A wealthy man, with interests in the textile industry and owning a piston ring and piston factory, he was passionately interested in racing and had been the driving force in the development of the little 125cc two-stroke Montesa racers which performed so well in the mid-fifties.
Sick at heart he immediately resigned from Montesa – but as he soon learned, he was not the only person at the factory who was appalled at the decision. For within a few days he was invited to a dinner given by members of the technical staff, top men – mechanics and factory riders. And at the dinner they told him that they felt exactly as he did, that they intended to leave and they asked him if he would start a motorcycle factory and employ them.
Deeply moved by the enthusiasm for motorcycle sport that made these men put their employment in jeopardy, not a thing to be done lightly in Spain where unemployment is high and wages low, Francisco Bulto decided then and there to agree to their wish and to start a motorcycle factory of his own.
Just a few days later, on June 3, 1958 to be precise, a group of twelve technicians started work at Mr. Bulto’s country house. Their aim was to design a 125cc single cylinder two-stroke roadster with sporting possibilities – for before they could go racing again they had to get themselves established with a bread and butter roadster.
Later that June the headquarters of the project was moved to an old farmhouse at San Adrian de Besos on the northern outskirts of Barcelona, the site occupied by the original sprawling Bultaco factory.
The designers occupied the out-houses and a lathe was set up in the farm-yard, covered only by a tin roof. The prototype 125 was completed on October 3, 1958, exactly four months after the design team started work. That evening Mr. Bulto rode the machine the forty miles out to his country home; it was a proud moment.
Still the factory had no name and when the date for the press review of their new model began to loom close a decision obviously had to be made. And it was Johnny Grace, Mr. Bulto’s right-hand man and at that time a leading road racer, who came up with the answer – to use Mr. Bulto’s telegraphic address of “Bultaco” – derived from his surname Bulto and Paco, the shortened form of his first name Francisco.
A name was a first step. What about a trade mark? Mr. Bulto came to the rescue there. He’d often seen British riders give the “thumbs up” signal as they flashed through the pit area signifying that all was well and it seemed an appropriate symbol with suitable sporting connections.
That first press day was held in February, 1959, and just two months later Bultaco machines were entered in their first race – the sports class held in conjunction with the Spanish GP at Montjuich Park, Barcelona. They took seven of the first ten places!
At Zaragoza in October of that year Bultaco gained their first win in the international racing class when Marcelo Cama outlasted such famous stars as Carlo Ubbiali on his works MV and Bruno Spaggiari on the factory Ducati to win.
For 1960 a 155cc roadster was added to the range, the factory started to take an interest in moto-cross, and a works racer with a six-speed gearbox was built to replace the modified roadster used during the first hectic year. Bultaco had made their mark and they intended to keep the pressure up.
In 1959 they made a total of 1,136 machines. In 1960 they built 4,171 and the following year output was nearly doubled with 7,039 bikes leaving the farmyard factory. By 1966 the output had risen to over 20,000 machines with nearly half of that figure being exported to 42 countries throughout the world.
That made then Bultaco the biggest producers of motorcycles in Spain and, in 1967 four out of every five motorcycles exported bore the “thumbs up” sign on their tank.