Motorcycle Classics

Au Naturel: 1978 Bultaco Streaker

1978 Bultaco Streaker
Claimed power: 13.3hp @ 9,000rpm
Top speed: 72mph (claimed)
Engine: 119cc air-cooled 2-stroke single, 54.2mm x 51.5mm bore and stroke, 12:1 compression ratio
Weight(dry): 187lb (85kg)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 2.3gal (10.5ltr)

This is the story about Bultaco’s Streaker, a model that hit the showroom floor in 1977, and the only bike from that Spanish brand to sport cast aluminum wheels. 

Before we talk about the Streaker, though, let’s cut to the chase: When somebody mentions the word streaker in casual conversation, the first thing that many people envision is a classic 1970s scene starring a naked runner streaking in public, his or her oh-so-vital anatomical attributes dangling precipitously in the breeze. Perhaps a clip of Will Ferrell, jogging au naturel in the movie Old School, pops playfully into your mind. If you’re to proceed with this particular classic motorcycle feature article, you need to erase those mental pictures right now. So close your eyes, take a deep cleansing breath and let your mind wander freely to a happier place where you inwardly reflect on soothing, pleasant thoughts about vintage motorcycles. There are no streakers and no naked, overweight, middle-aged Will Ferrell to clutter your mind.

With that we present Bill Myers’ 1978 Bultaco Streaker. It’s one of about 750 examples that Bultaco built from 1977 to 1979, before the factory experienced a full shutdown of operations. That crisis lasted through the following year when the factory doors in Barcelona, Spain, reopened for another three-year run before the government put the company on life support again, where it lingered a few more painful years before mercifully shutting down for good in early 1987. Recently, the iconic Bultaco name was resurrected and it’s now found on, of all things, electric-powered bicycles — a far cry from the magical motorcycles, all powered by blue-smoking 2-stroke single-cylinder engines of varying displacements that commanded a worldwide presence from the Iberian Peninsula starting in 1959. 

From Montesa to Bultaco

The Bultaco story has its origins in May 1958, when the Montesa motorcycle company (itself founded in 1944), like many industrial entities in Spain, suffered from a recession that plagued the nation at that time. In a classic knee-jerk reaction, Montesa management, which essentially consisted of the company’s founder Pedro Permanyer, elected to forego its successful racing activities while the company, and the country, recuperated from declining economic times. Less money spent at the race track translated into more cash left in the corporate coffers for other matters such as meeting payroll, underwriting inventory and paying the mortgage.

On the other side of the executive’s conference table at Montesa HQ sat the distinguished and dashing figure of Francisco Bulto, who commonly went by the nickname Paco. Paco also headed Montesa’s racing program that was responsible for some notable international race wins. He and Señor Permanyer must have peered long and hard at each other before the race team manager finally blinked, deciding it might be a good time to vacate his office and quit his job. It helped, too, that several other key members of Montesa’s racing program had urged Señor Bulto to leave the firm to join them in the start-up of a new motorcycle company, which they did in an empty barn owned by Paco himself. Thus was born Bultaco, a company name that has its origins from Paco Bulto’s surname and nickname — Bult-Aco. Bultaco, and it has no connection whatsoever with that most delicious of Mexican dishes, the famous and irresistible taco.

Racing is in the blood

Little did that small yet loyal gathering in Paco’s barn-cum-factory, nor Señor Permanyer himself, realize at the time that something big lay on the horizon for the motorcycle industry and motorcycling community. That something big would be driven by motorcycles with small-displacement engines. Lightning first struck when a new Bultaco 125, officially known as the Tralla 101, was presented to the world on March 24, 1959. Tralla is Spanish for whip or whiplash, but more relevant to motorcycling history, the diminutive bike also served as the basis for a new road racer, called the Tralla Super Sport 125, better known within racing circles then and now as the TSS 125. From the get-go the TSS 125 proved fast, nimble and reliable. A 250cc version was added, creating the TSS 250, and both models served the privateer road racing ranks well. These two bikes helped pave the way to fame and glory for many soon-to-be-legendary racers, including the late Barry Sheene, who raced his TSS 125 to second place in the 1968 British national championship before competing on Yamaha and Suzuki factory team bikes in 500cc Grand Prix world championship events.

Closer to the Bultaco factory, Bultaco’s Streaker formed the nucleus of a Spanish spec-class championship series. Bultaco offered the Streaker with two engine options — the 119cc (125) model primarily for the U.S. and export markets, and a smaller 74cc (75) model intended as a beginner road bike for the domestic market. Both models shared the same chassis, but the 74cc variant was also legal for the Spanish road racing class. The payback to Spanish culture and road racing history proved strong: Alfonso “Sito” Pons, later to become two-time 250cc world champion, got his start in the Streaker-based class. So did a handful of other notable Spanish riders in coming years. 

But perhaps the real back story to this little Bultaco model was its roundabout contribution in helping form the foundation for Spain’s domination more than 30 years later in today’s MotoGP. Witness the success of Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez in MotoGP. Even though they didn’t race Streakers, that little 74cc-powered motorcycle helped set in motion the swarm of talented Spanish road racers that continues today. It’s also, in many ways, a legacy to the late Angel Nieto whose distinguished career got rolling back in 1964, culminating in 13 world titles before he retired in 1984, two years before another Spanish racing legend, Jorge Martinez, won his first of four Grand Prix world championships; their presence in GP racing inspired young Spaniards to pursue racing in the Streaker-spec class.

Streaking home

Racing wasn’t in the picture for Bill Myers when he first learned about the Streaker a few years ago. Bill’s moto background focuses more heavily on offroad riding, and he’s been a longtime fan and owner of Bultaco trail bikes. It was during one of his outings with fellow Bultaco riders that he first learned about the Streaker. One of his companions brought a Streaker to show off during a dirt day. The little bike caught Bill’s attention, and almost instantly he fell in love with the diminutive street bike.

“When I first saw it I thought that it was cuter than a button,” Bill says. His wife agreed, and because Bill showed such enthusiasm for the tiddler she told him that she’d search for one on eBay. “I figured that she’d never locate one. They are so scarce.” That they are: According to most sources, Bultaco imported fewer than 100 of the model to the U.S. during its three-year lifespan in the lineup. “A few years later, though, she found one!”

Bill bought it, making the drive from his home in Illinois to eastern Indiana to fetch his barn find. The bike was in serious need of restoration, but he figured there probably weren’t a whole lot of those little Streakers to choose from, so he acted on it. As with most restorations like this, the first step was to pull the engine to see just what was — or wasn’t — inside the cases. What greeted Bill wasn’t pretty; the lower end was full of water, as if the engine had been left out in the rain or, worse yet, submerged in standing water. 

“I just packaged the engine up and sent it to Bultaco Classic, the restoration specialist in Craryville, New York,” Bill says. Bultaco Classic, formerly known as Hugh’s Bultaco, (and later Bultaco Motorcycle) has been in business since 1970, specializing in — you got it — the famous Spanish brand. Hugh Weaver and his wife, Barbara, originally formed the company, and today their son Tim helps manage the business, shipping and refurbishing parts to Bultaco owners across the country. Hugh is the main engine man, so he was tasked with restoring the 119cc single-cylinder 2-stroke engine. 

Most of the engine’s internals were replaced with new-old-stock or all-new components. Hugh says he rebuilds about three or four Bultaco engines a week, and while Bill’s engine required many new parts, it wasn’t in especially sad condition. The parts manifest included replacing the crank pin, connecting rod and “all sorts of other internal components,” Bill says. Before Hugh buttoned up the cases and ceremoniously placed the cylinder over the new piston and rings, he gave the external parts a coat of much-needed fresh black paint, which the Streaker originally reported for duty with back in 1978. 

The Weaver family is especially familiar with the Streaker. When son Tim got married, Hugh had a Streaker to transport the bride and groom during the ceremony painted Wedding White. Eight other of the black-and-gold beauties were reserved for the rest of the wedding party. Speaking of Streaker paint schemes, all U.S. models came with the black-and-gold paint scheme. A light grey or white with contrasting trim was available for the European market.

While Bultaco Classic refurbished Bill’s engine, he sent the expansion-chamber-style exhaust pipe to a nearby chrome shop for replating. That proved to be a rather costly proposition. “It is beautiful chrome, and it ought to be,” he says, with emphasis on the word ought. “It cost more than $1,000!” That’s when Bill thanked his moto stars that Bultaco specialized in single-cylinder engines.

You might say that Bill recouped some of the expense spent on the exhaust can when he refurbished the bike’s seat himself. Despite all the water damage found inside the engine, the bike’s seat was in salvageable shape, so he didn’t have to replace its black cover or foam padding. “It took a lot of elbow grease — well, soap and water actually — to clean the seat cover up,” Bill says, adding, “I also used some leather restorer.” As you can see, the hard work paid off.

Bill also rebuilt the front and rear hydraulic disc brake systems himself. There were no replacement parts to be found, so he followed the same course of action he took with the seat, this time carefully dismantling the master cylinders and calipers in hopes of not disrupting (that is, destroying) any gaskets or seals inside. With all the parts exposed, he carefully went about massaging the seals back to health before flushing out the system with fresh brake fluid. 

The bike’s original rear shock absorbers were pretty much toast, and since Bill had plans to ride the bike, he opted simply to chuck the old suspenders for something new. He replaced them with Hagon shocks, but before mounting them he removed their coil springs for repaint, using the same custom rattle-can mix that he had the local auto paint shop concoct for the cast wheels and other miscellaneous gold components found on the bike.

Bill also called on Bultaco Classic for the replacement seals he put in the hydraulic fork legs. Other than some fine detail work to the tubes and sliders, not much more was needed to make them look new again. Bill enlisted John Warden from nearby Iowa to prep and paint the sheet metal and fiberglass gas tank. John also applied the gold stripes and graphics, basing them on decal patterns he and Bill copied from another Streaker they located to serve as the template. Unfortunately, and for reasons that can’t be explained, some of the paint on the tank has since bubbled slightly. “But I’m not going to repaint it,” Bill said. “The tank was signed by Bultaco trials competitor [and nephew of Bulto himself] Oriol Puig Bulto, and I don’t want to lose that autograph.” 

As the project neared completion, Bill located new 18-inch tires — an Inoue for the front and a Ching Shin for the rear — before calling the restoration complete. The next thing on the checklist was to ride the bike.

Time to streak

Bill reports that the little 2-stroke engine starts easily. Turn the fuel petcock to let gasoline from the 2.3-gallon gas tank into the Bing carburetor, set the carb at full choke, then give the left-side kickstarter a swift and forceful nudge. A quick note here about the bike’s Femsatronic electric ignition: Hugh Weaver says that when the over-square engine initially received its electronics, someone at the factory didn’t take into account the Streaker’s shorter stroke, so the ignition timing wasn’t properly set. This threw the timing off, which in turn was the source for a rash of holed pistons in customer bikes. 

Fortunately, Bill’s bike had the ignition fix, and the engine starts and runs fine. Bultaco rated the Streaker’s 13.3 horsepower at 9,000rpm, and Bill agrees that it takes more than a few revs before the engine delivers any kind of bark and bite. Once underway the little single delivers a smooth and entertaining ride. “You shouldn’t be in any hurry to get anywhere,” Bill says. “It’s a little bike with a little engine. But it’s big on fun.”

Even so, beyond the Streaker’s initial ignition-timing woes, the bike itself experienced bad timing in terms of marketing. By the late 1970s, most American motorcycle enthusiasts were in search of bikes with more powerful engines than what the Streaker offered. 

The Streaker’s timing in terms of government regulations was off, too: The Environmental Protection Agency was calling for cleaner-burning engines, a goal that clearly got lost in the 119cc engine’s haze of blue exhaust smoke. Those factors, mixed with Spain’s convoluted and regulation-laden labor laws, nailed the coffin closed not only on the Streaker, but on the Bultaco motorcycle company itself. 

And so, like the streaker fad of the 1970s, the Bultaco Streaker is but a faint memory of one of the most halcyon decades in our nation’s history. Now, will someone please direct Will Ferrell to his dressing room? Please, oh please. MC

  • Published on Oct 26, 2017
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