Motorcycle Classics

1971 Bultaco Matador 250 Mark IV

Evolution of a Woods God.

1971 Bultaco Matador 250 Mark IV

Engine: 244cc air-cooled 2-stroke single, 72mm x 60mm bore and stroke, 10:1 compression ratio, 23.5hp @ 7,000rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 74mph (period test)
Carburetion: Single 32mm Amal Concentric
Transmission: 5-speed, right-foot shift, chain final drive
Electrics: Femsatronic breakerless capacitor-discharge
Frame/wheelbase: Single downtube/54in (1,372mm)
Suspension: Telescopic front fork, twin rear shocks; 6-1/2in and 4in travel
Brakes: 5.5in (140mm) diameter mechanical drum front, 6.3in (160mm) diameter mechanical drum rear
Tires: 3.0 x 21in front, 4.0 x 18in rear
Weight: 268lb (122kg)
Seat height: 32in (813mm)
Fuel capacity: 2.75gal (10.4ltr)
Price then/now: $895/$2,000-$7,500

close up of the silver dash of a motorcycle

Competitors in the challenging International Six Days Trial events during the 1960s had some worthy motorcycle brands to choose from. But if they wanted a guaranteed shot at earning an ISDT Gold Medal, smart money was on riding a Bultaco Matador 250.

The Matador 250 was one of the young Spanish motorcycle company’s first models — an enduro in this case — introduced in 1964. In the coming years Bultaco engineers continually refined the Matador as a production model that proved a perennial contender for motorcycling’s Olympics, the International Six Days Trial (renamed Six Days Enduro in 1981). To fully appreciate the Matador’s prominent place in our moto-history, though, we should probably also pay a quick visit to another “enduro” bike of that same era, Yamaha’s DT-1.

right and slightly back view of a red motorcycle

Without question, the gutsy DT-1, a crafty and compact dual-purpose bike powered by a spunky proprietary 250cc single-cylinder 2-stroke engine, is recognized as the bike that cemented the phrase “street enduro” into motorcycling’s sometimes cryptic and confusing lexicon of phraseologies. Introduced in model year 1968, the DT-1 was truly a compromise, a street bike that could marginally double-time as an off-road bike. Eventually Yamaha’s popular street enduro line stretched from Mini Enduros to a 400 model. Consequently street enduros were the bikes that countless neophyte off-roaders itching to get a little mud on their tires turned to for their introductory off-road adventures.

Count me among those early Yamaha street-enduro devotees. In fact, I entered my gold-tank DT-1 in the 1972 Elsinore Grand Prix. If you were there you might have seen me; I was the dork dressed in a dark sweat shirt, faded blue jeans and old Army combat boots, sporting number 660 on flimsy number plates that I attached to my bone-stock (OEM trials-tread tires and all) DT-1 to finish way-back-teenth after six (compared to the winner’s 10) grueling and merciless laps. It proved to be my longest day, and afterwards I sheepishly and humbly resumed my road racing shenanigans, never to be seen on a dirt race course again, and never again to mention my Elsinore GP escapade … until now.

That’s how influential the DT-1 was to America’s growing, enthusiastic and curious motorcycling populace. On the other hand, Bultaco’s Matador was a frontline enduro bike that particularly serious off-roaders gravitated to. Consequently, while Yamaha scored a marketing bullseye with the DT-1 in dealer showrooms, Bultaco sold fewer (much fewer, in fact) Matadors but scored gold medals by the handful, year in and year out, at the prestigious Six Days events with its street enduro. In fact, the lead sentence in Cycle World magazine’s track test of the 1971 Matador Mark IV — the same bike, owned and restored by Kenny Easton, that’s featured on these pages — stated: “Twenty International Six Days Trial Gold Medals have been won on Bultaco Matadors since 1964.” Quite a feat.

Ah, heck, given the Matador’s ability to scoop gold medals with the efficiency of a steam shovel, let’s finish the entire hyperbolic lead paragraph of that CW test: “This fact alone would give some indication of the new Mk IV’s potential. There is not an Enduro anywhere in the world that this machine is not capable of finishing right out of the crate.”

front left view of a red motorcycle

Boy journalist No. 2

And with that I’ll drag another moto-journalist, one Barry Brown, through the mud with me. Essentially a sports car guy who happened to own a Porsche 911 in 1966, that same year Brown was coaxed by enduro expert (and motorcycle importer) John Taylor into entering an enduro in New England, a region regarded for its notoriously brutal enduro events. As East Coast importer of Bultaco motorcycles, and through his connections with Cycle magazine, Taylor had arranged for Brown to ride a new Bultaco Matador so he could report about his (mis)adventure in the November 1966 issue. Brown began his post-enduro narrative: “Of all the painful indignities we invent for ourselves, none is more elegant than the motorcycle enduro.” (We could add the 1972 Elsinore GP to that list, too. — DG)
But, as with just about all good things, there was a caveat to how a Matador performed in the wild, and those early models had a notable Achilles Tendon — their brakes. Deep water crossings often left a Matador’s rear brake soaked and rather useless during an enduro until the drums and shoes finally dried out. Brown learned that the hard way after emerging from his first aquatic encounter of the day: “There’s a turn ahead and I clamp on the brakes,” he wrote, “but they [the brakes] are not there … The Matador and I have made the curve, but I’m afraid now. I cannot trust the machine as in that first idyllic and successful hour [of the enduro].”

close view of the silver chain guard on the back of a motorcycle wheel

From that point on, Brown’s enduro misfortunes spiraled in a downward direction, and in wrapping up his report he wrote “the shift lever is almost broken off, the brakes are gone, the clutch is failing, the handlebars cock-eyed, the [beautiful alloy front] fender a pretzel.” To be fair to the Matador, most of those maladies resulted from some of Brown’s more serious get-offs. He continued, “But the bike is still going. Bultacos are very long-lived … unfortunately for me.”

Alas, Brown didn’t finish the enduro, summing up his experience thusly: “You’ve got to be a little nuts; but you’ve got to be strong and want to win if you’re going to finish an enduro. But that’s what makes it real competition — maybe the best in the world.” He could have added that it takes not only a tough individual but also a rugged and worthy motorcycle to win, even finish, an enduro. A rugged bike, as you’re about to read, much like the Bultaco Mark IV.

man in gray plaid shirt riding red motorcycle

On your mark, get set, go!

It wasn’t by mistake that the Matador was such a successful off-road fighter. The bike’s initial design parameters had actually been expressed on a build sheet by Upstate New York resident John Taylor. As an experienced and skilled enduro rider who also happened to be Bultaco’s distributor on the east coast, in early 1963 Taylor pined Bultaco’s head honcho, Francisco “Paco” Bulto and for whom the brand was named (Bult-aco … get it?), into building a lightweight, 2-stroke-powered bike for the woods. A bike, Taylor touted, that could compete and defeat the heavier and more cumbersome 4-stroke bikes dominating most of the off-road events in America at the time. By late 1963 a prototype, powered by Bultaco’s workhorse 200cc single-cylinder engine, was ready for Taylor to test in Spain.
In a reminiscing article published in Cycle World’s June 1987 issue, Frank Conner (a former employee of Taylor’s) wrote that “after a day’s ride, John (Taylor) thought the prototype was fantastic, just the kind of machine he was looking for.” Soon a finished bike was ready for the 1964 market. Taylor suggested the name Matador for the U.S.-bound model.

More to the point, and from the beginning, Bultaco’s intent was to offer a road-legal bike worthy of competing — and winning gold medals — in Six Days Trial competition. The logic was that if a bike could compete successfully in that international arena, then it could compete in enduros, even scrambles, anywhere in the world. And with that concept in mind Bultaco engineers, many of whom rode enduro and trials bikes themselves, set their sights on their biggest market, America. By culling information about what American enduro competitors sought in a competition bike, and mixing that with what they already knew about bouncing off boulders, bushes and backwoods trees, they incorporated features such as a quiet and out of the way muffler, lights, a healthy horn, mirrors — even a license plate bracket– into their final product. Viva, el Matador!

The first rendition, the Mark I if you will, rolled onto dirt in 1964. Its 200cc engine produced a claimed 10 horsepower at 3,000rpm, peaking at 16.5 horsepower at 6,500rpm. Elegant alloy fenders covered an 18-inch rear wheel and 21-inch front, both wrapped with trials-tread tires. A perforated skid plate protected the bike’s family jewels down below, and the purposely tuned exhaust system with quiet muffler snaked its way up and along the stout frame’s right side. Everything on the bike had a purpose, and that was to contribute to a winning performance on the open trail, while being perfectly perfunctory when negotiating traffic on public roads and thoroughfares.

right view of a silver engine on a red motorcycle

Easy as one, two, three

Two years later the 200cc engine was bulked up to 244cc (what became the Mark II) that, by 1971 as reported in Cycle World’s Mark IV test, pumped out 23.5 horsepower at 7,000rpm. The Mark III? That would be the 1968 model that brought with it various improvements such as increased fuel capacity, a more dignified and efficient air cleaner housing (which, unfortunately, required taking precious time to remove the seat to access the air cleaner filter element) and improved spring-loaded foot pegs.

Perhaps the Mark III’s most notable new feature was the totally enclosed chain guard that isolated the drive chain from nature’s destructive forces. The payback was less need to lubricate the chain, and prolonged chain life, thus bumping up the Matador’s reliability factor even more. The bike’s new rear section also allowed a redesign to permit removal of the wheel assembly without having to bother with the chain, sprocket carrier or enclosed cover, a bonus when servicing flat rear tires in the outback’s dark nether reaches during enduros.

In prepping the Mark III, Bultaco designers also improved the Matador’s suspension. Stated Cycle World editors in their 1968 test, “As your weight settles on the seat, both the front forks and rear shocks compress enough to make you notice their softness immediately.” The rear shocks, with five-notch spring preload adjustment, offered four inches of travel; the front fork “a whopping six and-a-half inches,” lauded CW.

The Mark III had one more feature that Cycle contributing writer Barry Brown would have welcomed for his 1966 enduro foray, and that was new and sturdier fenders. As CW reported, the fenders were “made of very ductile, chrome-plated aluminum. If a fender is bent, as were a few in our tests,” they confessed, “it can be straightened.”

left side view of a silver engine on a red motorcycle

A whole lotta loopin’ goin’ on

The Mark III frame was new and improved, too. And also heavier. Single tubes, joined by a gusset on either side, were welded to the top and bottom of the steering head. A top tube aimed straight back, slightly angling down to a point just behind the new and larger fuel tank. At that point a smaller tube looped under the seat and over the rear fender. The rear shock absorbers’ mounting lugs were welded to this loop, slightly above the air inlets in the seat (where, the engineers determined, vital fresh air was directed into the new air cleaner box). As noted, the rear suspension and swing arm were reconfigured, too, and the entire frame accounted for a stronger, yet heavier bike than the 1966 Mark II. Cycle World’s scale pegged the 1968 Mark III at 247 pounds ready to ride; the 1971 Mark IV checked in touting 268 pounds on the same scales. Meanwhile Cycle’s test showed 264 pounds for the Mark IV, so those figures are probably indicative of actual weights.

The 1968 Mark III engine achieved its new 244cc displacement with 72mm x 60mm bore and stroke figures. Compression ratio was set at 9:1, resulting in a claimed 22 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. Clearly, year by year, the Matador 250 was improving in every which way.

The times, they are a changin’

Then, something happened. Progress reared its ugly head as the Six Days competition got stiffer and tougher with each passing year. If Bultaco was going to remain competitive with its Six Days competitor, the company’s engineers couldn’t rest on the seventh day — they had to make some serious changes (read: improvements) to the Matador Mark IV for 1972. Their efforts resulted in the Matador 250 Mark IV SD, the “SD,” of course, standing for Six Days, where, the year before (1971), Bultaco scored even more gold with what amounted to prototype versions of the Mark IV SD.

Up to the 1971 Mark IV, every Matador model since 1964 had been based on a platform that touted Bultaco’s street enduro prowess. In essence, if a Matador customer had no intentions of competing in any enduro or other off-road event, he or she could still enjoy the bike for what it was, an all-around dual-purpose model in the same spirit as — you guessed it — Yamaha’s DT-1.

But Bultaco didn’t want just another adequate street bike that was also adequate off road. Bultaco wanted gold, and while they had exhibited their Midas touch at the annual Six Days events with all previous incarnations of the Matador line, they knew they could do better, and they did with the Mark IV SD. However, in the process, the bike lost some of the visual charm found in its old-school components. Things like a contemporary-styled gas tank flanked front and rear by those beautiful alloy fixtures, and a stylish exhaust with functional heat shields made way for narrow-focus components intended to win enduros, not catch an onlooker’s eye. Perhaps Cycle World editors said it best in the January 1972 issue that introduced the Mark IV SD to America, stating, “Unlike the original, the Matador Mk IV ‘Six Days’ is not a dual purpose machine in any sense of the word; it is a faithful replica of the machines which won four gold medals in last year’s ISDT. Nothing has been spared to make the ‘Six Days’ an out-of-the-crate winner.” And with that, the street enduro world changed a little bit more in the path famously blazed by the DT-1.

man standing behind red motorcycle

Going for the gold

It was the Mark IV’s classic charm that caught old-bike collector Kenny Easton’s eye when he spotted this 1971 model on Craigslist. The bike had all the right stuff, prompting Kenny to give it a closer look.

“It was so cool looking,” he recalls, and considering that it was in rather good shape, making it suitable for a garage-restoration, he bought it. But before beginning the restoration he took the bike to the annual Steve McQueen Car and Motorcycle Show, a charity event that supports the Boy’s Republic in Orange County, California, every year, to show it off.

“I entered it as a survivor,” says Kenny, “and it got a lot of attention.”

Then it was time to give the bike its just reward. Most of its rubber trim and grommets were weathered, so they were replaced, and there were more than a few tarnished pieces that needed polishing or re-chroming. The seat’s cover was ripped, and perhaps most of all, the alloy fenders were damaged (Barry Brown, where are you?!). One more thing: the bike’s frame had been painted black, and that had to be changed, replaced with Bultaco’s classy metallic silver.

As a skilled painter, Kenny had no problem matching colors and applying his mixes to the frame and body components. He called on a local trim shop to re-upholster the seat, and when they did the crew managed to retain the “Bultaco” script on the seat’s rear section. What parts that were beyond saving were replaced with reproduction items, and Ken put his metal-forming skills to test by straightening the bent alloy fenders before performing some serious polishing.

The finished bike looks brand new, and among the first eyes to gaze at its restored classic beauty were those at the monthly old-bike ride-in hosted by Vintage Bike OC (Orange County) at Casteneda’s Mexican Cafe in Huntington Beach, California. The Matador scored a bull’s eye, winning The Bike of the Month award as voted by the other VBOC attendees. That actually was Ken’s second time winning the award, the first being with a Bultaco Sherpa that he restored.

Beyond its traditional-style beauty, though, every Matador variation proved to be a joy to ride, which partially explains the bike’s success at enduros around the world. With that let’s close with this rather poetic recount of a ride aboard the Mark III, as experienced by one of Cycle magazine’s test riders: “Low speed tractability is amazing. You can be putting along at a few miles-per-hour at the base of an impossible looking hill, turn up the hill and open the throttle smoothly, and be half-way up before you decide whether or not you’ve done the right thing. A log in the path requires only that you pull back on the handlebars and open the throttle to get the front wheel high enough to clear the log. As soon as you are half way over the log, ease the throttle off, and the weight transfer bumps the rear wheel right on over.”
Presto! Good as gold … again. MC

  • Published on Dec 14, 2021
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