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this is a reprint of a story I wrote for Bike Bandit recently, part two comes tomorrow….
I have been pondering my next adventure for a while now. Last year it was Vietnam, an amazing trip. Naturally I was thinking of something similar for the next outing. But I kept having trouble trying to come up with something that would really motivate me, give me something to plan and work on. Vietnam was more of a lark, I got invited so I just hopped on a plane and went along for the ride. I didn’t really put much planning into the trip.
Bultaco M143 Frontera
I realize I probably sound a bit conceited at times and I completely accept that. So bear with me here. My bar for adventure is pretty high. I have ridden or raced in many exotic locales. Trust me when I say, that like anyone, they were things I only dreamed of at one time. I am very fortunate for the opportunities that have come my way. When Baja is your backyard, raising the bar takes some creativity.
Anywho, back to our story. So I was looking for a challenge. Not a race, but a legitimate challenge and something sort of off the beaten path too. I had a couple of ideas floating around, really more like adventure bike rides. I am all for getting the 950 out and heading for parts unknown. But the ideas were all just a little too easy.
I kept coming back to the story I recently shared, “Two Yankees in Alaska”. It is hard to describe how much that story captured my imagination. Of course I am sure I have over romanticized it. But I think it is the simplicity that struck me the most, packing some gear on the bike and pointing it toward the horizon.
Yankee 500 riding through Alaska
Any such trip would be so easy today on a big adventure bike. But on an enduro bike of 40 years ago, that would be something completely different. That was my proverbial “light bulb” moment. Could I be as tough as they were back then? Could I do it the same way they did? Heck, to them, they were riding the latest equipment and making it work. Can I do the same?
So I have the trip planned out, but I am going to wait to share that part. Today I present to you the bike I have chosen for it – the 1975 Bultaco 360 Frontera. For those who speak Bultaco, a Mark IV M143. As soon as this wild idea formed in my head, I knew this would be just the bike for the adventure.
As is, the Frontera looks beautiful, but in reality it is all cosmetic, it is not in riding condition
I come from a long line of Bultacos. Most of my formative years of riding came on one. At 12 years old I was riding an old 250 that I couldn’t touch the ground on. My dad, Gordon, raced them for many years. Our garage saw a string of Bul’s – El Tigre, Campera, Sherpa S, Lobito and even a Frontera. That is right, I actually rode a 250 Frontera quite a bit as a teenager. I have not ridden it much in recent years, but I have a M90 Astro too. It hangs from the rafters in Gordon’s shop. A few years ago while in financial straits I parted with my 125 Streaker.
The Frontera seems like a pretty good choice for an extended adventure ride. It has a wide ratio transmission and comes with a lighting coil. Even by 1975 standards, the Frontera was not quite cutting edge as an enduro race bike. Its low pipe and mild tune were slightly out of step with the likes of KTM, Husky and particularly Can-Am. But it was a durable trail bike and that is what I am looking for.
The Frontera has many distinctive looks
Oh, there is one other thing. I already knew that Gordon would want to come along. At 81 he is still up for anything short of full blown extreme riding. Well, I guess there are two things. The second being, he already has a very nicely restored identical Frontera. He even races it.
I now had a whole plan mapped out. But of course it all revolved around me finding a bike for myself too. But I was confident that something would show itself. The Bultaco resto market is pretty strong. A Frontera is not nearly as sought after as a Pursang or something really rare like am El Bandido.
Gordon racing his Frontera in Idaho, photo by Kato
But I had no idea just how close I already was to finding my bike. The first call went to my local restorer, Bruce at BR Bultaco, as it turned out it was also my last. He just happened to have an amazing original condition M143 in need of a new home. A customer had bought it off eBay and had it shipped directly to him. Then came a change of heart and the 360 wasn’t needed and now it sits in my garage.
What you see here is a beautiful condition bike that has not had any major restoration work. It only has 440 original miles on it and the original Pirelli rear tire. Frankly it is too nice for what I have planned. But it was just too good to pass up. All the pretty bits will come off and get preplaced by modern plastics.
It has not even been started. So the first task will be to pull the motor to take it back and have the top end and crank inspected. At the very least it will get new crank seals. Other items on the to do list include Mikuni carb, Preston Petty fenders, Clarke tank. Of course I am sure that list will grow. Bruce built the motor in Gordon’s bike and is excited about the adventure too.
I mentioned the new adventure to the group of riders who I went to Vietnam with last year. I casually threw out the idea that maybe they could join the trip on adventure bikes if they wanted. Next thing I knew Brian Holt seized on the idea and a week later he is now a Bultaco owner too! We are a party of 3 and in for quite the adventure. More on that later, for now feast your eyes on my new ride.
Beauty is in certainly in the eye of the beholder, so I understand not everyone will see the same grace in the Bultaco as I do. That huge exhaust is sort of an eye sore, but it is forest legal so it will stay just the way it is.
Oh! I forgot another part of the story. Narcis Casas was an engineer/racer who developed the Frontera at Bultaco. He went on to found Gas Gas. I was associated with him when I worked for Gas Gas. I got the chance to talk with him quite a bit about his days at Bultaco and this particular bike. Narcis debuted the Frontera prototype at the 1973 ISDT in Dalton Mass. He would end up with a DNF.
1973 Dalton Mass ISDT results for Narcis Casas
1975 Bad Rock ISDT Qualifer, factory Bultaco rider Mike Hannon wins the Open Class on his M143