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.