Lost Trea­sure

Classic Trial - - CONTENTS -

The Tri­als De­tec­tive

We all en­joy a good read where the de­tec­tive goes in search of uncovering his­tory, in turn, leads to the find­ing of the lost trea­sure. In the world of mo­tor­cy­cle tri­als, a ma­jor­ity of the read­ers of Clas­sic Trial Magazine will be fa­mil­iar with the name Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen from Fin­land. He needs no in­tro­duc­tion as the first rider to win three con­sec­u­tive FIM World Tri­als Cham­pi­onship ti­tles for Bul­taco, from 1976–1978. Throw in a Scot­tish Six Days Trial win in 1980, the first for­eign vic­tory on a Mon­tesa be­fore a re­turn to Bul­taco in 1982 to be re­warded with the Bri­tish Tri­als Cham­pi­onship ti­tle; yes, the only for­eign rider ever to achieve this ac­co­lade. He is syn­ony­mous with the Bul­taco name and the his­tory of the man­u­fac­turer in the tri­als world and owns all his world cham­pi­onship win­ning ma­chines and other rare mod­els in his col­lec­tion. These have all been lov­ingly re­stored to, in many cases, bet­ter than new con­di­tion.

His restora­tion projects are amongst some of the best you will find in the world. Some of these other mod­els are the ones rid­den by his fel­low Bul­taco team rid­ers Bernie Schreiber, Martin Lamp­kin, Manuel Soler and Charles Coutard. He is in con­tact with many Bul­taco re­lated peo­ple from around the globe and is al­ways in search of in­for­ma­tion which will, very oc­ca­sion­ally, lead him to lost and for­got­ten but im­por­tant ‘miss­ing’ ma­chines. It was the case when he was con­tacted from the United States of Amer­ica as one en­thu­si­ast wanted to speak to the tri­als de­tec­tive Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen about his find. Words: Vesty with John Hulme • Pic­tures: Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen

This de­tec­tive story starts with good-old Face­book, where Vesty be­came friends with fel­low Bul­taco en­thu­si­ast Jim Carey from North Carolina. Jim con­tacted Vesty on Mes­sen­ger on 19th Au­gust 2013 to ask ques­tions about some Sherpa T mod­els he had pur­chased that ap­peared to have his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Jim had ob­tained them from long-time Bul­taco en­thu­si­ast and fel­low tri­als club mem­ber Phil Simp­son of Vir­ginia. Phil had pur­chased the ma­chines from Bul­taco In­ter­na­tional fol­low­ing the 1975–77 World rounds and had kept them safely for nearly 40 years. Bul­taco In­ter­na­tional In or­der to see the Bul­ta­cos, Jim and Phil ar­ranged to meet in Vir­ginia, where Phil was liv­ing and where he kept them. None of the ma­chines were in run­ning or­der; as is the case with many ma­chines they had been stripped down for ren­o­va­tion and the projects had never got off the ground. Phil in­di­cated to Jim that he thought they might have been fac­tory ma­chines sup­plied to the Amer­i­can im­porters for their works sup­ported rid­ers to use in the Amer­i­can world rounds.

As was nor­mal in those days, these ma­chines would then not have been re­turned to Spain but sold to the gen­eral pub­lic af­ter the events. The Bul­taco im­porters in Amer­ica were owned by the Span­ish man­u­fac­turer, headed by a man named John Grace who was bet­ter known as Juan Gar­cia.

In the 1960s, Bul­taco wanted to break into the lu­cra­tive and ex­pand­ing Amer­i­can off-road mar­ket and needed some­one from its Span­ish base to rep­re­sent the man­u­fac­turer in the USA. No one was re­ally keen to re­lo­cate from Spain, and Mr Bulto nar­rowed it down to two names in the com­pany whom he trusted to move to Amer­ica and make in­roads to the off-road mar­ket. They were Juan Soler, Manuel Soler’s fa­ther, and Juan Gar­cia. He de­cided the best way to de­cide who would be go­ing was to throw the dice, and as it hap­pened, it landed in favour of Juan Soler to re­main in Spain and Juan Gar­cia to move to Amer­ica. To make his name in the USA Juan changed his name to John Grace. The im­porter­ship would be called Bul­taco In­ter­na­tional, which coin­ci­den­tally hap­pened to be lo­cated in Phil Simp­son’s home­town of Vir­ginia Beach, Vir­ginia.

For sale The team rid­ers rode the Bul­ta­cos to be used in the world rounds across the At­lantic be­fore be­ing re­turned to the fac­tory for re­fur­bish­ment. They would then be fully re­built in Spain to the rider’s re­quire­ments and tested and is­sued with new frame num­bers be­fore be­ing shipped to Amer­ica. As was com­mon prac­tice, the ma­chines were then sold af­ter the event. That is the point of con­tact where Phil Simp­son comes into the de­tec­tive equa­tion.

He pur­chased some ma­chines and, for ex­am­ple, the Manuel Soler Bul­taco was around $600. Phil re­tained the orig­i­nal Bill of Sale. He used all of his ma­chines for a num­ber of years and even­tu­ally stripped them down with a view to ren­o­vat­ing them. They would re­main with him for many years be­fore he de­cided to re­tire from tri­als and sell his col­lec­tion of Bul­taco ma­chines and parts. Jim found out about the sale through mu­tual friends and mem­bers of the Carolina-Vir­ginia Ob­served Tri­als Club.

Af­ter a deal had been struck, and while load­ing up the ma­chines, Jim and Phil rem­i­nisced about the Bul­taco brand and its glo­ri­ous his­tory. The con­ver­sa­tion turned to the de­cal on one of the Sherpa fuel tanks that bore the name of World Cham­pion Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen. Phil sug­gested that this Bul­taco may have be­longed to the fa­mous world cham­pion. Jim fol­lowed up on Phil’s sug­ges­tion and searched the in­ter­net for in­for­ma­tion about Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen (Vesty) to en­quire about them. He was ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful, con­tact­ing Vesty di­rectly us­ing Face­book’s In­stant Mes­sen­ger. This is when things got very in­ter­est­ing in­deed.

Af­ter their ini­tial ex­change, Vesty was cu­ri­ous to find out more and asked Jim to email him some pic­tures of the bro­ken ma­chines. Straight away it was ap­par­ent to Vesty that these were some­thing spe­cial de­spite the poor state of them as he recog­nised the Bul­taco ‘Works’ fuel tank and MX-style side panel fit­ments for what was later iden­ti­fied as the one of French Na­tional Cham­pion Charles Coutard. Only he would have known what they were; such is his knowl­edge on Bul­taco. He was soon try­ing to de­cide which en­gine went with which frame etc. The cylin­der bar­rels, he knew, were from a cer­tain pe­riod but he was not sure from which rider’s ma­chines; was it Charles Coutard’s or even one of his own ma­chines?

Af­ter some re­search, he soon iden­ti­fied 100 per cent (in fact through the rear sus­pen­sion mount­ing points on the frame and swing­ing arm) that one of the ma­chines was the one of Manuel Soler. Vesty was elated with the new find. Now it got more se­ri­ous as he wanted to phys­i­cally see the ma­chines him­self. He knew that the sig­na­ture from Bul­taco would be found in the form of the rather sus­pect weld­ing qual­ity! State­side With the long dis­tance prov­ing a prob­lem, Vesty and his wife Diane de­cided to make the long jour­ney so that he could phys­i­cally iden­tify the ma­chines. They flew to At­lanta where on ar­rival Vesty hired a Jeep with a large boot so that he could get some ma­chines in if he needed to. They then drove the 400 miles to a mo­tel near Jim’s house where for the first time he would shake hands with Jim Carey.

They both got on well and im­me­di­ately be­gan shar­ing their pas­sion for Bul­taco mo­tor­cy­cles. Phil Simp­son then ar­rived, hav­ing trav­elled a fair dis­tance from his home, and the de­tec­tive work could be­gin. All the parts were laid out on the floor, and the ma­chines that could be were put onto work­shop stands. It was a case of see­ing what went where try­ing to gain a men­tal pic­ture of each ma­chine. Watch­ing the de­tec­tive The first ma­chine to be iden­ti­fied was the Charles Coutard one as the cylin­der head, which had been drilled for light­ness, was iden­ti­fied by Vesty as the same one as he had been us­ing at that time.

With the first bike iden­ti­fied, they moved on to the later model one with dual rear sus­pen­sion mount­ing po­si­tions. The next part of the jig­saw came to light with the frame num­ber: no 1, as this was on the re­ceipt for $600 for the 1977 Manuel Soler ma­chine. It was ob­vi­ous to some­one with the knowl­edge that Vesty had col­lected over the years; all the hall­marks of a fac­tory sup­plied Bul­taco were there.

Watch­ing the de­tec­tive were both Jim and Phil, who were left in awe at Vesty’s su­pe­rior knowl­edge of the Bul­taco mo­tor­cy­cles. The weld­ing on the Soler ma­chine, where the rear shock mount­ings had been repo­si­tioned, were a real give away as were the other frame mod­i­fi­ca­tions, swing­ing arm changes and the air fil­ter box, which took the air in from the front and not the top as you would have found on a pro­duc­tion Sherpa ‘T’ model.

Ever in­quis­i­tive, Vesty wanted to dig even deeper, and he re­moved the cylin­der head and bar­rel to re­veal a mod­i­fied in­let port, an­other ‘Works’ mod­i­fi­ca­tion he knew about. He also wanted to split the en­gine crankcases to see if it had the new pro­to­type gear­box ‘clus­ter’ fit­ted but time was run­ning out for their visit. Vesty and Jim talked, and it was agreed that he would take the Coutard ma­chine as he knew this would be the most chal­leng­ing to re­store. Home­ward bound Af­ter a nice meal with Jim and his wife, Terry, the Coutard ma­chine was lifted into the Jeep, and they all said their good­byes. The next stop was Charleston, South Carolina, where a ship­ping agent for the home­ward bound jour­ney of the Bul­taco was found, at the cost of around £500 to Lon­don.

Once home, Vesty con­firmed all he had seen and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the lost trea­sure started to open out on the Coutard ma­chine. All the con­tracted Bul­taco rid­ers had been re­quired to write re­ports af­ter each com­pe­ti­tion and re­turn them to the Span­ish man­u­fac­turer. If you did not do this you did not get paid, sim­ple!

Manuel Soler con­firmed on the phone re­gard­ing his ma­chine that it was all cor­rect, and con­firmed that it had been his for the Amer­i­can and Cana­dian world rounds in 1977. Im­pressed with his en­thu­si­asm for the whole de­tec­tive work, Jim Carey called Vesty to say that he would like to of­fer him the Manuel Soler Bul­taco. A mu­tu­ally agreed deal was struck, and Jim or­gan­ised for this ma­chine to fol­low the same route from the USA to Great Bri­tain, and it duly turned up de­spite some worry over the three months it took!

An ex­cited Vesty im­me­di­ately went into the work­shop to pull the en­gine apart. All his ex­pert knowl­edge was con­firmed, as the works pro­to­type gear­box, as used in the Scot­tish Six Days, was in­side and the cases had been hand-ma­chined to ac­com­mo­date the larger gears in the gear­box.

Over the next few months, both ma­chines would be lov­ingly re­stored by Vesty to the ex­cep­tion­ally high stan­dard he is well known for. The lost trea­sure was back in the land of the liv­ing.

Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen would like to thank both Jim Carey and Phil Simp­son for mak­ing this story hap­pen. would also like to ac­knowl­edge the help from ev­ery­one in­volved in this ‘Lost Trea­sure’ story.

John Hulme: “The pas­sion shown from ‘Vesty’ to bring these Bul­ta­cos back to life is a credit to his com­mit­ment to these ‘lost’ ma­chines, and long may it con­tinue. If you ever find he is ex­hibit­ing any of his Bul­taco col­lec­tion at a show, please go and have a look at these su­perb, bet­ter-than-new ma­chines from a golden era in tri­als.”

‘El­e­men­tary dear Wat­son’: If the hat fits, wear it. ‘Vesty’ the de­tec­tive!

Some­times one ma­chine is just not enough.

French Cham­pion Charles Coutard in ac­tion on the Bul­taco.

John Hulme: “The at­ten­tion to ex­act de­tail is un­real and in all hon­esty quite scary! It just winds the mind back to ex­actly what a fac­tory sup­plied works model was like ‘back in the day’; a golden era for tri­als.”

Charles Coutard was the French Tri­als Cham­pion on Bul­taco from 1971–1977

Phil Simp­son: “Thanks to you all for mak­ing this hap­pen; please un­der­stand that the Bul­ta­cos were rid­den of­ten and hard in the in­ter­ven­ing years, not put away and saved. We tried to eat it all, only the bones were left for restora­tion!”

Vesty knew that these ma­chines were some­thing spe­cial de­spite the poor state of them as he recog­nised the Bul­taco ‘Works’ fuel tank and MX-style side panel fit­ments for what was later iden­ti­fied as the bike of French Na­tional Cham­pion, Charles Coutard. Only he would know what they were, such is his knowl­edge on Bul­taco.

All the parts were laid out on the floor and the ma­chines that could be were put on work­shop stands. It was a case of see­ing what went where and try­ing to gain a men­tal pic­ture of each ma­chine be­fore ar­riv­ing at some­thing that re­sem­bled a Bul­taco.

On first impression­s this Bul­taco just looks a like a wreck. Not through the eyes of Yrjo Ves­ter­i­nen though!

This pic­ture on the 1978 Bul­taco cal­en­dar con­firmed the Bul­taco was that of Manuel Soler as you can see the rear shock mount­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

The weld­ing on the Soler ma­chine where the rear shock mount­ings had been re-po­si­tioned were a real give away, as were the other frame mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

Swing­ing arm changes on the Soler Bul­taco in­cluded the repo­si­tioned bot­tom­rear shock ab­sorber mount­ing po­si­tions.

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