Gas Department Bultaco Cafe Racer
By Ross Sharp - 24 Jun 14
The Spanish may have forgotten how to kick a football but at least the two wheeled fraternity are showing the world who rules. The man with the national anthem machine at Grand Prixs must have burnt his mixtape by now and put La Marche Real on loop. Anybody who's been to Spain knows that motorcycling is ingrained in the nation's DNA. Whippersnappers tear around in a two stroke fug, nonchalantly weaving around as if motor skills required for riding were picked up in the womb. The rich heritage of motorcycle manufacturers stretches way back too; Bultaco, Gas Gas, Derbi, Ossa and Sherco have all competed at the top level on a world stage. With this in mind the guys from Gas Department in Barcelona wanted to acknowledge the past but put their own stake in the ground. A chance stumble into a friend's garage yielded a well worn out 1964 Bultaco Mercurio 155, a fine machine in period but a style very much of that moment and slightly lacking in the buzzing here and now. The brief was to retain as many parts as possible, whilst allowing the creative juices to flow. This meant an inordinate number of hours stripping, cleaning, polishing, plating and painting the original components. On such a waif of a frame the tank needs to be subtle so one rescued from a Bultaco TTS was given an in-house two tone paint job with neat pinstripe and logo, topped off with a machined ally cap. To match, a TTS tail section was remodelled to achieve the correct proportions and allow for an integrated tail light. Local firm Xtrim made the seat pad and although tricky to see from these pictures they also made a lovely leather strap to keep the tank in place. Up front the forks internals have been serviced and the springs exposed, reminding us of the mechanical simplicity of older machinery. Brakes are original and adequate for stopping such a light bike. For a touch more ground clearance at the rear, aesthetics winning more than anything, Yamaha Virago shocks replaced the originals, again with exposed springs to mirror the front end. The simple two stroke motor was completely rebuilt to original specification and maintains its standard louvre-shielded paper air filter. The exhaust though needed restyling so was chopped and shaped to suit the rest of the bike. The result is a pleasant improvement of the engine note, definitely two stroke without sounding like a wasp in a beer can. Subtle polishing of the cast alloy engine cases looks period and shows how engines used to be made before mega mass production got into its ugly silver-painted stride. The headlight is original with the glass tinted yellow, which works well on this build against the mellow colours and historical feel. Grips are from Biltwell. For a more sporty feeling ride in the foot department reclaimed Yamaha R1 foot pegs were grafted on with new levers to match. Remarkably the old and new blend well. As you can see from the quality of the photographs, these chaps are not messing around at this customising lark, to the extent that they had enough time to produce this video of the process. Overall the result is well executed and handsome. But more than anything it demonstrates that if the history and heritage of motorcycling's early manufacturers is to remain fresh in our minds and on our streets, the young folk in sheds, workshops and studios around the world need to get inspired and involved. Regenerating old brands with little more than a sticker on the tank and a generic factory far, far away will not cut the mustard. Right, the soapbox has been pushed back under the bench, for now.