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About Montesa!

A Bit of History of The Montesa Marque

The Spanish Montesa company, and was founded in 1944 by Pedro Permanyer and Francisco Bulto. Their first models were to be small two strokes based on contemporary designs, and in a buoyant market, these found commercial success, and Bulto set about designing more advanced machines.

This lead to an advanced 125cc machine that was the basis of a string of successful road and off road machines that competed in national and international events, in Spain, and the rest of Europe, as well as a successful road racing machine, which creditably took rostrum finishes at the Isle of Man TT.

In 1958, argument over their future involvement in Road Racing lead Bulto to leave Montesa and set up on his own to found Bultaco. Bulto's racing interests would lead him to back a very young Barry Sheene, but more notably, another Englishman, Sammy Miller, was to take Bultaco to world renown in the sport of Trials.

With Miller riding and developing it, the Bultaco Sherpa was an almost instant hit, proving that there was more to high performance two strokes than temperamental racing machines that often struggled to last race distance, and ironically establishing Bultaco's reputation firmly in dirty bikes!

But at Montesa, without Bulto, Permanyer promoted chief test rider Pedro Pi to chief engineer, and a brand new 175cc, unit construction engine was developed for the 1960 season, to be used in road, racing and scrambles machines.

Racing the bikes on and off road, as well as developing them, Pedro Pi musty have had limitless enthusiasm & energy for his sport. However, develop them he did, and stretched to 250cc in 1965, that new unit engine became the cornerstone of Montesa's production for well over the next decade.

Initially concerned with road racing and scrambles, Montesa's response to the Sherpa came in 1967, when they launched their own trials special, imaginatively named the Montesa "Trial".

With much taken straight from the Scorpion Scrambler, the bike was not initially competitive, but under Pedro's guidance, it was to become the first 'Cota' made available to the public in 1968.

With Bultaco's Sherpa & Montesa's Cota spearheading the 'Iberian Assault' on the sport of trials, both companies grew rapidly, becoming synonymous with specialist trials machines, along with their other Spanish Rival OSSA, who with Mick Andrews as their development rider, honed a similar machine, the OSSA MAR or 'Mick Andrew's Replica'

Previously in the world of trials world, the ascendance of the two stroke had come through the adoption of small capacity 'economy' motorcycles, such as the BSA Bantam, or the many similar machines using proprietary Villiers engines, such as James.

And these machines were usually well under 200cc; most usually 110, 125, or 150cc; however, they were growing, and enlarged to 175, were starting to show their promise, enlarged further to 200 or 220cc, even more, until they were taken out to a full 250cc, capacities that had traditionally been the preserve of the smaller bore four strokes.

The trend for stretching the two strokes further and further would continue for another ten years; but Pedro Pi, was one of the first to look back on the small bore strokers and wonder...

Lore suggests, that his interest in small bore machines came about when he decided to build a 'little' trials bike for his son; using smaller wheels and a small capacity commuter engine; and co-incident in with the inception of 'school-boy' sport, captured Pedro's imagination such that it was developed into both small wheel 'youth' machine, as well as large wheel 'adult' machine.

This range of smaller trials bikes to compliment the Cota 247, ranged in sizes from 50cc to 175, with Pedro convinced of the original benefits of the small bore bikes of light weight and easy power delivery in the sport.

But, Montesa's emergence from the Spanish home market into the world arena, and with the sport gearing up for a full FIM sanctioned World Trials Championship, the European competition calendar was becoming increasingly demanding, as was the intensity of activity to develop the bikes at the factory.

For all Pedro's energy, he couldn't continue as Montesa's chief engineer, as well as main works rider; so with Spanish national Scramble's, trials and Road race championship honours on his mantle piece he retired from the sport to concentrate on the machines, while Montesa put their support behind existing name riders in, nationally and international competition.

Brits, Jim Sandiford; Gordon Farley, Malcolm Rathmell, Martin Lampkin, father of Dougie, all campaigned Cota's, along side Swede, Ulf Karlson, on the European circuit. While in the USA, Martin Belair & Marland Whaley, campaigned the machines both to promote the marque and the sport, in a country where even 'road racing' was a minority interest!

But, with Malcolm Rathmell as their main development rider, in 1975, the 250cc Cota '247' was stretched yet further to 310cc, to become the Cota 348 for customers in 1976.

That was to remain Montesa's flagship up until 1979, when the range was revised and brought up to date with all new machines.

The 348 was replaced with an all new 349, which was a full 350cc machine, with a new lightweight frame using the alloy bash-plate as the bottom frame rails, and the engine as a stressed member.

The 349 was essentially merely sleeved down to produce the 248 cota, which replaced the venerable old 247, in 1980, the year Ulf Karlson took the world Trials Championship with a 349/4.

Competitively, Montesa were at their zenith that year.

1981, was far less fortunate. They managed to retain the world champion title, but the world-wide economic recession had left Montesa Spain's sole major manufacturer, and even that was seriously in question.

Talks had been ongoing for Honda to offer the Marque a 'rescue plan', and partnership with Honda was the only surety they could find, with the Spanish Government, who underwrote a deal with shares in the business going to each of the three parties.

From then on Honda gradually increased their holding in Montesa, until by 1986 they owned the controlling interest, but for the main part, Honda was content to let Montesa continue to produce Trial bikes fairly independently, while they made Honda Mopeds for the European market.

The relationship must have been strained in many ways, for at the time, Honda were still doggedly attempting to achieve the 'Clean Sweep' of a full set of world championships in all the major disciplines, from Grand Prix Racing, to super-bike endurance racing, to motor-cross, desert enduro, and trials, all with four-stroke machinery.

For GP racing they had Ron Haslam on the oval pistoned NR500, and for trials they had Eddy Lejeune piloting the twin shock TL250 four stroke. Neither were remarkably successful; though Lejeune, to his credit, and most give him the credit, not the machine; did manage to get the Honda close to the rostrum in the World Championship; placing fourth, behind Montesa's an one and three, and an italjet and number 2.

Honda had come into the trial bike scene with the other Japanese makers; but Sochiro Honda was renouned for being ardently anti-two strokes. Their first machines, based on XL/XR road and scrambles engines, were notoriously dire, and they initially wooed Sammy Miller back onto a thumper to try and make them competitive.

After keeping the Areal HT5 at the forefront of the sport, maybe three seasons after every-one else had migrated to the two strokes, and the most prolifically successful trials rider of any era, if ANYONE could have taken a Honda to victory in the sport, he should have been the man. He gave them a lighter frame with more clearance, and got the factory to do something about the excess weight, using magnesium engine casings, but why it never 'happened' no-one knows, and it seems the folk at Honda and Mr Miller didn't seem to have the same ideas on how trials bikes should be built.

Any way, When Lejeune was enticed to the factory, he was even more discommoded, being one of the exponents of a new 'hop & pop' riding style, that saw the bikes bounced into position, then fired over obstacles on the throttle response. A heavy, underpowered, four-stroke, lacking in response would not immediately seem ideally suited to this, and by all accounts it never was!

So, Honda could, at a swoop, removed one of their strongest competitors from the game, merely by insisting Montesa stop supporting top flight trials, or by taking their entire competition operation 'in-house' and putting it behind the four-stroke campaign.

In the end they did neither; and continued developing the four strokes, following Yamaha's lead, building a 'Mono' around 1985, and fighting the weight with ever more intricate frames.

However there was an awful lot of politics going on, and with the involvement of the Spanish government, pressure to keep the Marque alive.

Montesa, making Melody mopeds from kits, was relatively secure, and they continued trial bike production and development.

The Honda partnership, saw some sharing of ideas; initially in 1983, in the form of the Cota 242.

The 242 was the first Machine to be known, and in some markets badged, as a 'Montesa-Honda'.

With twin-shock rear suspension, and a heavily Honda subsidised price tag, these machines were marketed as a 'budget - clubman' bike, that was probably a bit unfair - Just two years earlier, it would have been a championship contender.

The perceived 'dated' design and bargain price, made it seem that The Honda partnership was going to see Montesa bow to price pressure and stifle development., but Honda's own machines were still using twin shock frames, and public opinion was still uncertain about the mono's; some people still grumbled that the light weight of a plunger or rigid made better trial bikes!

But the 242 was a step forward. The 349 had shown a weakness in its frame, and the 242's was accordingly reworked, the removable struts between the swing arm and engine being replaced by fixed frame rails; and it was the first 'big bore' class machine not to use the same bottom end as the original 247 Cota.

The 349 Cota, continued for a few years until about 1986; though later models got 242 style bodywork, before the last versions had the big bore motor shoe horned into the 242 frame.

1985, saw Montesa beat Honda to releasing a factory 'Mono', with the 335 Cota. It was a good three seasons behind the Fantics and Yamaha's, but with disk brakes but tight geometry and yet a further revised engine, it had the right credentials.

Only two things let it down I think; it's price was actually a bit low, so as not to show too huge a price rise from previous Cota's, and I think many inferred it was still a 'budget' clubman machine, without an edge on its rivals. The other, was the contoured tank & red on red colour scheme that screamed 'I want to be a Fantic'!

Honda released their factory Mono, the RTL in '86; the same year they completed the acquisition of Montesa, though they didn't take the opportunity to rationalise Montesa's trials interests.

They had by this point, and the death of Sochiro Honda, produced thier own line of two stroke trials bikes, the TLM's; and so, for five years or so, Montesa and Honda developed thier machines, both two and foru stroke in parallel to those made by Montesa.

A large part of this was recognition of the strong association between the sport of trials and the Montesa marque, and that the sport was most strongly supported in Europe, and had not expanded into America as had been anticipated in the 1970's.

So, Development progressed, and Montesa kept the pace with steel framed, air cooled mono-shock bikes until '92 when they introduced the 311, with an aluminium twin spar frame and water cooled engine.

The 248 & 349 of 1980/81, were the last 'real' Montesa, made before influence from Honda.

BUT the 311, was the last Montesa wholly designed and built, in house in Spain

Though, that aluminium twin spar frame, with its sweeping curves and changing section, MUST have been computer designed on the same modelling equipment they designed Honda's NSR Grand prix machines, giving lie to how much Honda influence went into it

1994 saw the 314R, with Honda unashamedly taking credit for the engine, with the HRC logo where the old Montesa 'M' used to always reside on the crank covers.

And the works machines started being listed in competition programs as full HRC entries.

Press releases also re-wrote Montesa's trial's history, almost as if it had always been a part of the mighty Honda corporation.

1997, saw the updated Montesa re-born with subtle revisions, as the 315R, that has been the most dominant machine in the sport in recent years, with nearly a ten year reign at the front.

And, ironically, for 2005, it was FINALLY over to the four strokes; with The Cota 4t. As finally, the manufacturers bow to the ever growing 'opinion' of legislators, and the battle cry of 'emissions'!

So Montesa was founded in the post war boom that saw the growth of the European Industry.

It flourished in the sixties when motorcycling enjoyed its hey-day, but survived into the troubled seventies mainly on the back of specialisation in trials machinery.

The 1980's saw them rationalise their operation with Honda, and the 1990's saw them start to develop the trials machines again, to the extent that today, Montesa, as a Marque, is the Trials division of HRC.

 

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