1978 World Championship
For the Spanish manufacturer Bultaco the thumbs up symbol it displayed on all its motorcycles was undoubtedly a winning one, as they once again dominated the FIM World Trials Championship. They had won the first European Championship in 1968 and again in 1970 with Sammy Miller, followed by some bleak years with nothing to show for their efforts. A new breed of young riders was coming through the rankings though, and in 1973 Martin Lampkin made Bultaco proud once again. The 250cc model had been dramatically improved by opening the cylinder bore to 325cc and approved by its riders. The events were changing, and more power was needed, and Bultaco delivered in style. Lampkin was replaced at the head of the championship in 1974 by fellow Yorkshireman Malcolm Rathmell before the series was rewarded with full world championship status in 1975. As history recorded, the great Yorkshire trials legend Martin Lampkin won the first official FIM Trial World Championship in 1975. In a close contest, he outpointed Finland’s Yrjo Vesterinen. In 1976 and 1977 ‘Vesty’ had won the world title and was chasing a first for the sport’s third win in succession. As the series approached its conclusion, with three of the twelve-round series remaining, it was still wide open, with Vesterinen holding the advantage over Lampkin. American Bernie Schreiber was breathing down both their necks in what would turn out to be a very close series finale.
Wetake up the action and conclude our review of the 1978 series, starting at round ten in Sweden before moving to Finland and the Czech Republic.
Round 10: Sweden, Molndal, 20th August 1978
Any trials rider will always tell about the home advantage, where it all appears to go your way. It was the case in Sweden where around a difficult 20-mile lap course Ulf Karlson won on the Montesa, breaking the stranglehold on the Bultaco dominated championship. Separated by a single mark at the close of the day Vesterinen considered it almost like a victory as he fought all day for the win with Karlson, and Martin Lampkin slumped to seventh undoing all the hard work he had done to gain an advantage before Sweden. His low position behind Rob Shepherd meant that they would go to the next round in Finland as joint leaders of the championship on 103 marks each. Bernie Schreiber still considered himself very much a championship contender, coming home with some good solid points in third position.
Another disappointed rider was Rob Shepherd. Honda had supplied a new 360cc engine for him to use and even though he started well, the four-stroke power plant went off ‘tune’ during the second lap, much to his frustration. Lower down the order SWM were still struggling with the Rotax engined machines.
French rider, Charles Coutard, requested frame modifications. With the machine's overall dimensions lowered and lengthened, he still struggled to make the top ten taking the last championship point.
In an entry of 36 riders, Martin Lampkin and Rob Shepherd were the only two UK riders in the event.
RESULTS: 1: Ulf Karlson (Montesa-SWE) 78; 2: Yrjo Vesterinen (Bultaco-FIN) 79; 3: Bernie Schreiber (Bultaco-USA) 102; 4: Jamie Subira (Montesa-ESP) 110; 5: Manuel Soler (Bultaco-ESP) 113; 6: Rob Shepherd (Honda-GBR) 118; 7: Martin Lampkin (Bultaco-GBR) 126; 8: Timo Ryysy (Bultaco-FIN) 129; 9: Joe Wallman (Bultaco-AUT) 131; 10: Charles Coutard (SWM-FRA) 132.
Top Three World Championship
RESULTS: 1: Vesterinen 103; 2: Lampkin 103; 3: Schreiber 99.
Round 11: Finland, Ekenas, 27th August 1978
At such a vital time the defending champion Yrjo Vesterinen took a decisive victory on home ground as, once again, Martin Lampkin finished down the order in fourth allowing a small gap to open up at the top of the championship.
Before the start, the assembled 45 riders had been required to fit front and rear lights to meet the Finnish regulations.
Two laps of 25 hazards were ridden twice around a 28-mile course with a wide variety of terrain on offer. After an early five-mark penalty on the second hazard which the majority of the entry cleaned things just went from bad to worse for Lampkin on his opening lap. He improved considerably on the second lap, but the damage had been done. With Ulf Karlson finishing second it was a new face on the podium in the shape of 19-year-old sports student Timo Ryysy who finished third.
In an effort to give Rob Shepherd more support, Honda flew out his mechanic Mike Ember-Davies with his old 306 machine. The new 360 had blown up in practice, and he was still not happy with his spare 360 machine.
Finishing fifth ‘Shep’ admitted he was shattered at the end of the event due to the long nature of the hazards.
Bernie Schreiber’s sixth-place meant he would need a miracle at the final round to win the championship as it headed to its conclusion in the Czech Republic in late September.
RESULTS: 1: Yrjo Vesterinen (Bultaco-FIN) 54; 2: Ulf Karlson (Montesa-SWE) 59; 3: Timo Ryysy (Bultaco-FIN) 66; 4: Martin Lampkin (Bultaco-GBR) 72; 5: Rob Shepherd (Honda-GBR) 75; 6: Bernie Schreiber (Bultaco-USA) 83; 7: Manuel Soler (Bultaco-ESP) 85; 8: Joe Wallman (BultacoAUT) 90; 9: Charles Coutard (SWM-FRA) 96; 10: Jamie Subira (Montesa-ESP) 101.
Top Three World Championship
RESULTS: 1: Vesterinen 118; 2: Lampkin 111; 3: Schreiber 104.
Round 12: Czech Republic, Ricany 24th September 1978
Arriving at the final round, Martin Lampkin had one thing on his mind: attack. He wanted the world championship title and would give it his all on his way to a clear victory. With Bernie Schreiber finishing second Lampkin’s win was not enough to give him the world title, and he missed it by the closest of margins.
Setting a new benchmark in the sport, Finland’s Yrjo Vesterinen made it three consecutive world titles for himself and Bultaco; he was delighted. Coming home in fourth position and making the top four with his Bultaco was a new young Spanish star Toni Gorgot. For Ulf Karlson, it had been an inconsistent year rewarded with fifth in the trial and fourth in the championship.
Rob Shepherd rounded off another year with Honda in sixth position, with Great Britain’s Nigel Birkett back in world championship action for Montesa. He had been away in the summer months in South Africa on a promotional tour for the Spanish brand.
Rumours had started to appear of financial problems at Bultaco, but nevertheless, once again, they had dominated the championship.
As the championship closed for another year one name was missing from the top ten — Great Britain’s Malcolm Rathmell. After leaving
Montesa for a year with Beamish Suzuki, his results had not been what was expected, and he withdrew from the world championship. In 1979 he would be back home on a Montesa. Round 12
RESULTS: 1: Martin Lampkin (Bultaco-GBR) 44; 2: Bernie Schreiber (Bultaco-USA) 50; 3: Yrjo Vesterinen (Bultaco-FIN) 52; 4: Toni Gorgot (Bultaco-ESP) 64; 5: Ulf Karlson (Montesa-SWE) 65; 6: Rob Shepherd (Honda-GBR) 69; 7: Jamie Subira (Montesa-ESP) 72; 8: Nigel Birkett (Montesa-GBR) 74; 9: Ettore Baldini (Bultaco-ITA) 84; 10: Timo Ryysy (Bultaco-FIN) 86.
1978 World Championship Positions
RESULTS: 1: Yrjo Vesterinen (Bultaco-FIN) 128; 2: Martin Lampkin (Bultaco-GBR) 126; 3: Bernie Schreiber (BultacoUSA) 116; 4: Ulf Karlson (Montesa-SWE) 104; 5: Rob Shepherd (Honda-GBR) 63; 6: Mick Andrews (Yamaha/Ossa-GBR) 44; 7: Toni Gorgot (Bultaco-ESP) 29; 8: Jean Marie Lejeune (Montesa-BEL) 25; 9: Jaime Subira (Montesa-ESP) 25; 10: Manuel Soler (Bultaco-ESP) 22; 11: Timo Ryysy (Bultaco-FIN) 18; 12: Charles Coutard (SWM-FRA) 14; 13: Joe Wallman (Bultaco-AUT) 12; 14: Malcolm Rathmell (Beamish Suzuki-GBR) 11; 15: Jean Luc Colson (Montesa-BEL) 10.
WINS: Yrjo Vesterinen 4; Bernie Schreiber 4; Martin Lampkin 3; Ulf Karlson 1. MANUFACTURERS WINS: Bultaco 11; Montesa 1. MANUFACTURERS POINTS SCORERS: Beamish Suzuki; Bultaco; Honda; KTM; Montesa; Ossa; SWM; Yamaha. RIDER POINTS SCORERS: 25.
Austrian motorcycle manufacturing dipped its toes into the trials world with this prototype machine. Tall German trials rider Felix Krahnstover scored a single point on it in his home round.
Trials enthusiast Keith Wells was on holiday in Austria reading Classic TrialMagazine when he noticed the name Joe Wallman. After a little research he found that he lived near the KTM town of Mattighofen. Keith called to see him and found he still had his Bultaco from the 1978 trials season!
Finland’s Yrjo Vesterinen won Bultaco’s three consecutive FIM World Trials Championship titles from 1976 to 1978. After retiring from business when he sold his company Apico he applied the same commitment and dedication he had shown as a rider to renovating his three world championship machines.