BULTACO METRALLA MK2 TT RACER
The appearance of the Bultaco Metralla Mk2 in 1966 heralded a new level of performance and handling in a standard 250cc road bike that was available to the general public – or at least to “those in the know” about this relatively rare machine: only 5,508 were ever made, compared to the millions of their Japanese opposition.
Developed from the earlier air-cooled TSS road racers, the Metralla Mk2 was considered by many to be the fastest 250cc standard road bike in the World in 1966 – 67, listed at 103mph. This was certainly achievable, but the bike had to be in perfect tune, a cool overcast day, a long straight stretch of road and a jockey-sized rider lying down on the tank! It was only a matter of time before race kits (called “Kit America”, as they were originally designed for the American market) and fully race kitted bikes became available for production/clubman racing, with many successes achieved world wide.
Bultaco firstly made a hand full of special factory Metralla Mk2 race kitted bikes in 1966-67 for selected riders and events; these are the Holy Grail for any keen Metralla enthusiast. In 2001 I was very fortunate to find one of these special bikes in Wangaratta, Victoria where it had been hidden for 15 years or so, languishing in a garage, apart from an outing at Phillip Island. Little did I realise I would be unexpectedly offered the chance to buy the bike by the owner Ken Lucas. So after selling my soul I am now the proud owner of a very rare and special piece of Bultaco racing history – the bike was raced by Tommy Robb into second place in the 1967 Isle of Man 250cc Production TT. Bultacos also came first, ridden by Bill Smith and sixth, ridden by Aussie Kevin Cass. The shattering performance of these
bikes astounded the motorcycle fraternity, Bill Smith’s race time was 1 hour 16 minutes 38.2 seconds (averaging 88.63mph / 142.64kph), with Tommy Robb just 0.4 seconds slower: fast enough for them to place third and fourth in the 500cc Production race and sixth and seventh in the 750cc Production race! Bill Smith’s lap record stood until 1974 when it was finally beaten by resurfacing of the track, modern race tyres and new engine technology. Tommy’s bike also came fourth in the 1968 250cc Production TT, ridden by Brian Richards who bought the bike through Bill Smith after the 1967 TT and who sold the bike to Kenny Lucas in 1980s. The Bultaco’s TT win was very controversial, many thought that they were “cheating” using special factory bikes equipped with un-muffled expansion chambers. However, all the race kit parts were listed as optional extras in the standard road bike parts catalogue so they were legal – even the incredibly loud expansion chamber! In those days there were no noise limits on road/race bikes, in fact there was no way of accurately measuring the sound level. The race rules at TT Production bikes stated that “bikes had to be fitted with an efficient exhaust system”, and there is nothing more efficient than an expansion chamber! The racing kit was summed up in a factory brochure: “the kit can be easily installed by the customer himself, all that is required is a set of spanners, a medium cut file, a drilling machine, three drills and a dose of enthusiasm”. It cost about half the price of a standard new Metralla and consisted of a special fibreglass race tank with mounting brackets, a steel 2-piece adjustable hump-backed single seat, a silver bikini fairing, clipons, rear-sets, rear brake switch mount, ported barrel (same as the Pursang Mk2 moto-crosser), 11:1 or 12:1 high compression head, modified piston, a close ratio gearbox, assorted drive sprockets, expansion chamber, carburettor bellmouth and jets, cables, a FEMSA electronic ignition system and even a racing spark plug. Complete race-kitted bikes could also be purchased directly from the various Bultaco dealers. This bike was meant to be raced, so I have set about fixing it up to race in the Australian Post-Classic scene to see how well it goes, before retiring it. The bike is a little different to when it raced in 1967 due to race damage, wear and tear etc. over the following 20 years but the main parts of it are still original. I fitted a larger 36mm Amal Mk2 concentric carb in place of the 34mm Amal Mk1 that came with the bike which have a bad reputation for breaking slides and destroying pistons. There is also a lot of information around re jetting the 36mm Mk2, which I decided to run on 100 octane petrol rather than alcohol, with synthetic racing oil at 25:1. The gearing and ignition were checked, starting was hard, first gear seemed very high but once under way the bike seemed to run O.K. A very firm front suspension was traced to the right hand fork leg sticking on the stanchion, but a replacement fork leg fixed this. The front brake backing plate was also replaced due to a very loose brake shoe pivot pin and the brake pads radius ground to match the iron liner. The front wheel rim had also been laced up with an incorrect offset, resulting in the wheel being off centre.
A faulty top coil stopped proceedings at our first race meeting at Sydney’s Eastern Creek in February 2002. The next race meeting was at Sydney’s Oran Park in April 2002 which was a bit more successful than the one at Eastern Creek, at least it started
and finished it’s only race – but it had a mysterious “miss” in the engine. Three different ignitions and two different carbs? It can’t be ignition or carburation – but what else can it be? After a thorough clean out of the fuel tank and fuel I took it out onto the highway and turned up the wick – but it was still “missing”! A strange sort of “miss” though, as it only did it in 3rd gear (both under load and not) and anywhere between medium to high revs. I deduced that the only thing it can possibly be, by a process of elimination, is a gearbox problem, 3rd gear is momentarily slipping out of gear then back in, so quickly that it feels like an ignition problem, there is no time for the revs to peak like when a bike normally jumps out of gear. The engine was removed from the bike and stripped down, and to my horror, the sleeve gear on the main shaft appeared to be the same as a Pursang moto-crosser – one tooth more than a standard Metralla Mk2 race kit cog. A quick count of the teeth on some of the other main-shaft gears produced the same result: they were not standard Metralla race kit either! My stomach sank, it appeared that it may not be the correct race kit gearbox; did this mean that a Pursang gearbox was fitted instead? Maybe the whole engine was simply a Pursang “ring-in”? I had visions of all the $ I paid for this “special” bike being wasted! In short, every cog in the gearbox was different to any other 5-speed cog that Bultaco had ever made. It was a special factory gear box after all, confirmed by calculating the overall ratios which turned out to be almost identical to the standard race kit gearbox, just a tiny bit higher. I felt very relieved, the bike was indeed a genuine factory racer, one of only a hand full made. A new 3rd gear selector fork and a “silk shift” modified selector drum were bought and I made a new lay shaft spacer. While the engine was apart I had the piston skirt teflon coated and the crown ceramic coated, by High Performance Coatings in Melbourne. The “miss” in the engine had been eliminated, the engine runs as smooth as silk in all gears at all speeds. The bike completed its next meeting at Eastern Creek in 2003, so now that the bike had been successfully raced I could retire it and restore it to its former glory as raced at the Isle of Man. I had an unexpected but very welcome visit in March 2003 from Harry Lindsay, the original Bultaco importer into Ireland in the 1960s and the first owner of my bike. He flew over to Australia for a few days to visit friends, including Aussie racer Kevin Cass who raced one of Harry’s Metrallas in the 1967 Production TT, coming sixth after being plagued with engine problems. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours talking Bultacos and “the old days”. In early 2004 I contacted Tommy Robb and Bill Smith in the UK to see if they had any
information or photos of my bike. Tommy sent me a signed photo of his bike racing in the TT, Bill Smith confirmed that my bike is indeed one of the three 1967 IOM 250cc Production TT bikes. My plans to restore the bike were sidelined in 2003 when I took up racing VMX in the NSW HEAVEN series, and racing kept me busy for the next few years until my body cried enough! I obtained all the genuine parts and information I needed to fully restore the bike as it was raced at the 1967 IOM TT. I started the restoration in earnest in mid-2016 so the bike could be finished by June 2017 – the 50th anniversary of its 1967 IOM success. The first task was to make a new expansion chamber (using standard Metralla race kit specs), modified to tuck in under the engine as per photos of the original bike. I made a new tank strap, race stand, rear sprocket cover, tacho mount, front tank mounting bracket and fixed the original steel race kit seat base, made a cushion and had it professionally covered with black leather – rough side outwards. The frame, swing arm, triple clamps, rear brake torque arm, headlight shell and foot brake lever were stripped down, bead blasted and painted gloss black (one coat of rust proof enamel straight onto the bare steel, as per the original). The wheels were stripped down, the steel spokes were cleaned up and re-zinc plated (the original finish), the hubs bead blasted, polished and the ribs around the outside painted satin black. The original nickel plated brass spoke nipples were still good so I re-used them. New wheel bearings and seals were fitted. A pair of old Dunlop “triangular” race tyres were fitted as these were used in the TT, a 2.75 x 18 front and a 300 x 18 rear. These are for display only, as I plan to build a spare pair of wheels fitted with modern tyres so I can safely ride the bike on the street. Meanwhile I had all the chroming and zinc plating done and restored the front forks, fitting new fork oil seals and valves in the damper rods and refilling the forks with 85cc of ~30 weight hydraulic oil. The Girling shocks were rebuilt and filled with 5 weight fork oil, they now work perfectly.
“A pair of old Dunlop ‘triangular’ race tyres were fitted as these were used in the TT...”
The rest of the restoration followed normal procedures, then lastly restoring and painting the steel mudguards and fibreglass tank (which I sealed inside with epoxy resin to proof it against the nasties in the modern fuels). I followed the factory parts book to ensure that all the parts I used were correct and wherever possible original or genuine NOS– right down to the “Bultaco” headed bolts, anti vibration washers and rubber handgrips, gear lever and carb top rubbers and control cables. But I did use Loctite products to ensure parts did not vibrate loose! A wiring harness was made up using the correct size and colour wires pushed through “spaghetti” tubing. The wiring was modified from the standard roadster harness as no rear brake light, switch or resister were fitted; the headlight, tail light and horn are fitted and work, as per production racing regulations. The colours of the racing plates and numbers are strange. During the TT the oval front plate on the bikini fairing was painted white, with black numbers, the two oval plates on each side of the bike (where the roadster tool boxes would normally go) were red, with white numbers. To complicate matters, there are photos of the bike taken sometime after the race showing a red front plate with white numbers, to match the side plates! In these ‘photos the Girling shocks have also been temporarily replaced with standard Betors – but who knows why? The end result is a bike that I am proud to own and which takes pride of place in my collection of Metrallas. I plan to give it the occasional outing at selected rally events, beginning with the Debenham Rally at Moss Vale in June 2017, which is where the photographs you see here were taken.
Now, if only I can find Bill Smith’s winning bike!
TOP LEFT Tommy Robb heads for second place in the 1967 TT. TOP RIGHT 250cc Production TT winner Bill Smith. ABOVE Robb rounds Quarter Bridge during the Production TT.
The Metralla duo at the 2017 Debenham Rally in the NSW Southern Highlands. John Somerville’s well-travelled model (left) and Andrew Flowers’ race-kitted version.
Factory race kit components.
Andrew Flowers’ metralla which is fitted with the customer race kit. The power department of Andrew’s bike, with MkII Amal Concentric fitted. Andrew Flowers giving his Metralla a dose of country air.
Rear chain which runs in a sealed case with snail cam adjusters. Extra looped bracket to hold the footrest and exhaust pipe distinguishes the TT frame.
Tacho drive is taken from left side crank. The “efficient exhaust system”. Original-spec Amal Monoblock carb with its rubber cap.
ABOVE Works fuel tank is higher than the Bultaco race-kit version. ABOVE RIGHT ‘Inside out’ leather seat. RIGHT Switchgear; that’s it. FAR RIGHT Authentic Bultacoheaded bolts throughout. BELOW RIGHT Cockpit view. FOOTNOTE: This story is edited from John Somerville’s book, “Bultaco – Mi Obsesion”, copies of which are available form Bultaco Parts Australia at Toongabbie, Victoria. Undergoing restoration RIGHT Light and functional – the superb front brake. BOTTOM LEFT Girling rear shocks replaced standard Betor. BOTTOM RIGHT Front cowling with its controversial number plate – should it be red? in the workshop.