Trying to list 10 Spanish motorcycles off the top of your head isn’t as easy as you’d think – but there was a time that Spanish-made motorcycles were incredibly popular, so we’ve decided to take a look back in time at some of the greatest Spanish motorcycles ever made. There was a time before the Japanese takeover, when European, Russian, and American motorcycles dominated the motorcycle scene, but while it’s easy for most motorcycle enthusiasts to recall dozens of British, Italian, and German motorcycle manufacturers, many will be left scratching their heads trying to think of more than a couple of Spanish builders – and that’s a terrible shame.
The Rise And Fall Of Spanish Motorcycles
The 20th century was a difficult time for Spain, with political power struggles, economic troubles, and civil war, but while most historians dwell on the negative points, 20th century Spain gave birth to a diligent motorcycle industry that included more than 80 manufacturers at its peak. Motorcycle manufacturing was big business on the Iberian Peninsula, and when the Spanish weren’t building their own engines and fitting them into their own frames, they were working hard building licensed copies of foreign branded machinery too, working with the likes of Ducati, Moto Guzzi, and other makers of Italian motorcycles.
Franco’s government ruled with strict anti-import policies which helped drive a bustling manufacturing industry, and after the ravages of the Civil War, the vast majority of Spain’s citizens found themselves in dire need of inexpensive, efficient, and economical transportation – and the motorcycle was the obvious choice. Unable to import from abroad, Spain had little choice but to build their own machinery. This time led to a golden age of Spanish motorcycles, with brands like Montesa, Ossa, and Derbi gaining in popularity across the nation. In fact, some of these manufacturers managed to make an impression abroad, with some models being exported to the rest of Europe and the USA.
Despite the success of small displacement Spanish motorcycles in the Grand Prix races of the 60s and 70s, it was mainly Spain’s off-road, trials, and enduro machines that garnered the most acclaim abroad. After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain relaxed its import situation, and most small Spanish manufacturers found themselves overwhelmed by the competition from Japanese multinationals, and unfortunately, most of these brands were forced to close down. In fact, very few Spanish names still live on today. From the original big Spanish names, only Ossa still survives: sure, Bultaco has been revived, and Montesa have partnered with Honda, but only Ossa have managed to soldier on without help…sort of.
That being said, Spanish motorcycles have enjoyed something of a small Renaissance, with many smaller production factories grabbing international attention lately. Gas Gas have made waves in the States, alongside brands like Beta Motorcycles and Sherco, while old classics like Rieju and Derbi are still fighting the good fight in Europe. That’s the situation today, but what about the brands and models that we’ve lost? Here, we’re going to look at some of the best Spanish motorcycles that time has forgotten.
10 Spanish Motorcycles That Deserve To Be Remembered!
#10. The Rieju Jaca 125
Originally founded as a bicycle accessories manufacturer, Rieju has become one of Spain’s most enduring motorcycle manufacturers. Based out of Figueres in Spain’s Catalunya region, the firm was founded by two friends, Luis Riera Carré and Jaime Juanola Farrés, in 1934. The pair lent their initials (RIEra and JUuanloa) to create the brands name. Unfortunately, the Spanish Civil War interrupted the company’s expansion, but after the war, the firm got back on track, enjoying multiple successes until they eventually branched out into building motorcycles in 1947. It wasn’t until the late 50s that the Rieju name really began to take off though.
In 1959, Rieju released their “Jaca” model, a small motorcycle that was economical to run and cheap to produce. Over the next five years, Rieju would sell over 3000 units. Things changed in 1964, however, when Rieju entered into an agreement with Minarelli, and using their licensed engines, Rieju improved the Jaca. The new Jaca model was capable of producing a heady 3.5 horses of peak power and hit top speed of 43 mph…which was limited to 24 mph for the sake of moped regulations. The Jaca was a remarkable success, and paved the way for more Rieju success in the future, with the company still going strong today where Rieju motorcycles can be found all over mainland Europe, in some parts of the UK, and you hear of the occasional import turning up in the States too. While the name isn’t as famous as the usually referenced Bultaco-Montesa-Ossa and Gas-Gas foursome, the Rieju motorcycle company has made some absolutely incredible motorcycles.
#09. The 1973 Derbi 50cc GP Angel Nieto Replica
Founded in 1922, Derbi has enjoyed almost 100 years of glory in the motorcycle industry, having evolved from a humble bicycle rental service in Spain, to a World Championship winning factory racing team, before being absorbed by the Piaggio Group in 2001. Despite having over 21 racing world titles to their name, the Derbi of today focus more on small-capacity scooters and off-road motorcycles than Grand Prix racers– but if we turn the clock back to around 40 years ago, we can see some of Derbi’s finest offerings, and some of the best Spanish motorcycles ever made. This race replica was built in 1973 as a tribute to Angel Nieto’s incredible success on the track. Nieto won no less than 13 Grand Prix Championships, and this replica was built to encourage privateer teams to get involved.
50cc might not sound like a lot, and with only 15 horsepower on tap you will be amazed to learn that this little motorcycle could hit speeds in excess of 124 mph on the track! Powered by a small disc-valve single cylinder 50cc motor, with a Mahle piston and an IRZ carburetor, mated to a six-speed gearbox, the Derbi was an absolute weapon on the race track. This faithful replica even hides an awesome detail: the frame holds onto a spare spark plug and wrench, because Nieto was forever worrying about being stranded by a faulty spark plug whilst out on longer races. While you’re probably not going to see many of these on eBay, you can’t deny that these vintage racers are some of the greatest Spanish motorcycles ever made.
#08. The Cofersa 200 JM
Rieju and Derbi are names you’ve probably heard of, but Cofersa is definitely more obscure. Construcciones Ferrusola S.A. – or Cofersa for short – was founded by José Mercader in 1953. Before starting the company, José has specialized in building auxiliary engines that could be installed on bicycles, and he used that experience to develop Cofersa’s first models. The company then went on to use Hispano-Villiers 125cc and 200cc engines for their bikes until the firm ceased operations in 1962. While the company didn’t last very long, Cofersa machines were popular, and even have a bizarre cult following today – if obscure Spanish language blogs are to be believed.
The first Cofersa on sale was a 125cc unit that offered customers a functional, eliable and safe package, wrapped in classic and conventional aesthetics. It was such a success that Mercader had to increase his staff to 100 to keep up with demand. The 200cc JM model is what we’re focused on here though, which included some interesting stamped sheet metal features, and a new four-speed gearbox. The new JM designation also added a whopping horsepower to the bike’s peak power output. The 200 JM was replaced by a model called the “Helix” in 1959, which added a protective grid on the rear fenders which is believed to aid female passengers, preventing their skirts from getting entangled in the rear wheel. It was a nice touch, but not enough to keep the company alive, with it sadly closing its doors in 1962, less than a decade after it started production.
#07. The Sanglas 400T
Sanglas was a manufacturer of Spanish motorcycles that could trace its roots back to 1942. The company was formed shortly after the end of the Spanish Civil War by two brothers, Javier and Martin Sanglas, who were also engineering students. With the financial backing of their textile entrepreneur father, the brothers started their company with a mission to design motorcycles that would take the best influences from both German and British motorcycles, and roll them into one unified package. The Sanglas brothers thought their product could rival the likes of BMW, Zundapp, and DKW in terms of reliability, functionality, and durability.
While the company produced numerous models that are worthy of note, from small capacity city bikes to more sports oriented 500s, the most iconic Sanglas was model was the 400T. Essentially, the 400T was a 423cc motorcycle that borrowed the same kind of monoblock, four-stroke, single-cylinder OHV engine from a DKW, with a BMW inspired chassis. While it might not have been leading the charge of innovation, it certainly was a handsome motorcycle that was incredibly popular in Spain. In fact, the 400T was a staple of the Sanglas line-up, and continued to have a presence until the brand eventually disappeared completely in 1989, after being absorbed and sold to numerous owners since 1981. If you can speak Spanish, there are plenty of interesting blogs that go into great detail about this unusual model and interesting marque.
#06. The Bultaco Sherpa T
The Bultaco Sherpa T is easily one of the most famous Spanish motorcycles ever made, and a two wheeled legend in its own right. Bultaco is one of Spain’s most iconic motorcycle manufacturers, and the firm is still active today, though it specializes in making small, electric and pedal powered trials bikes rather than two-stroke trail thrashers. Bultaco was first founded in 1958 after Montesa gave up on racing – a number of employees broke away to form their own brand, and Bultaco was born. From 1958 to 1983, Bultaco was a force to be reckoned with in the observed trials scene. Then it closed its doors –however, the brand was revived in 2014.
The Sherpa T was a runaway success thanks to its simplistic but power nature. Powered by a 237.5cc single-cylinder, air-cooled, two-stroke engine that could hit a peak power figure of 14.1 hp at 5,500 rpm, and produce 14.5 lb-ft of peak torque at 4,000 rpm, the five-speed Sherpa T was a success thanks to its small and compact engine, and it’s incredibly lightweight and highly maneuverable chassis too. With trials racing in mind, the Sherpa T quickly defeated its four-stroke competitors, rendering most four-stroke equivalents completely obsolete from the word go. If you were wondering where this iconic motorcycle got its cool name from, it’s a reference to the world’s most famous Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, who conquered Everest alongside Sir Edmund Hillary back in 1953 – the world’s first successful ascent of the legendary mountain. The Sherpa is one of the most famous Spanish motorcycles Bultaco, or any other Spanish motorcycle company, ever released.
#05. The Gimson Skipper Trial
Die-hard motorcycle history enthusiasts might debate whether Gimson should be considered a Spanish or French company, but we’re calling them Spanish…because they are. Yeah, the company’s founder, Pierre Gimbernat i Batlle, was born and raised in the French city of Perpignan where he was a well known clockmaker, but after securing some licensing rights for a French manufacturing company he was tasked at expanding the firm’s interests in the northern Spanish province of Girona. Based out of Figueres, Pierre started a small workshop that specialized in building bicycles and importing spare parts. However, he decided to form his own company, and develop motorcycles. Originally named “Gimbernat and Sons” which was shortened to “Gimson,” the new company began trading in 1930, and survived until the 80s.
Unfortunately, our favorite Gimson model, the quirky 50cc Skipper Trials off-road motorcycle model, doesn’t come equipped with an original Gimson engine. Instead, it uses a Belgian made Flandria engine instead. For a brief period in the 70s, Gimson used these Belgian engines to great success, however, the company eventually moved on to other Spanish engines, and even using Peugeot engines until the company collapsed in 1982. The Skipper Trial, however, is such a cool looking bike, and it’s one of the finest examples to have come from the Catalonian company. As far as 50cc motorcycles go, this is one of the coolest looking ones ever made, in our humble opinion.
#04. The Lube Motorcycles Condor
If you’re thinking of lubricants, you obviously haven’t picked up on the odd naming convention that most Spanish manufacturers seem to enjoy. “Lube” (pronounced loo-bay) is actually a combination of initials from the founder’s name (they like that, don’t they?) Luis Bejarno Morga. Founded in 1947, the company enjoyed great success. Despite the popularity of the brand’s early models, the company decided to swap from Spanish made engines to imported power plants from Germany. Using NSU Motorenwerke engines from Germany, Lube Motorcycles’ Condor motorcycle quickly became a best seller. Lube Motorcycles enjoyed some amazing success, selling over 1000 units a year, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough, because the company went bust in 1967. The manufacturer enjoyed a short but successful life, and very few examples of these fine Spanish motorcycles remain today.
The Condor was available in three different engine sizes, 125cc, 150cc, and 175cc, and these two-stroke motors could produce some impressive performance figures. The 150cc version (pictured here) could achieve a peak power output of 17 horsepower, and came with an interesting front suspension arrangement, with leading-link forks and external strut suspension too – we’re not sure if that’s original or an “aftermarket” solution to a suspension problem. Either way, good luck trying to hunt one of these down, but if you’re interested one did recently go on sale in Florida, with an asking price of around $3,250 – so they do exist and can be found in the USA. Finding spares, on the other hand, might be quite a tall order.
#03. The Montesa Impala
Montesa was formed in 1944 by Pedro Permanyer and Francisco Bulto (of Bultaco fame), and the idea behind the company was to manufacture Motobecane style motorcycles that featured a two-stroke engine wrapped in a lightweight chassis, and the rest is history, more or less. Montesa’s early models eventually evolved into a 125cc trail bike that was good enough for competition riding, and the first Montesa model was entered into the 1951 International Six Days Enduro race – while it didn’t win, it stoked the fires for greater things to come. After consistently performing well, Montesa developed better machinery, and by 1960 they’d perfected their most famous motorcycle: the 175cc Montesa Impala. And the world paid attention.
In 1963, an enterprising American by the name of Kim Kimball saw the appeal of the Montesa Impala and began importing them to the States with the help of movie legend and motorcycle enthusiast Steve McQueen. The 175cc Impala Cross (known as the “Scrambler” in the USA) was a roaring success, and what started as a small garage-run operation eventually expanded into 350 dealers nationwide. The Impala came equipped with a powerful 175cc, two stroke, single cylinder engine that could produce 18 horsepower and reach top speeds of around 81 mph. And it looked the part too, making it one of the most attractive Spanish motorcycles ever made – and one of the most recognizable Spanish motorcycles to ever arrive on US shores.
#02. The Ossa BYRA 1000
Ossa was first founded in 1924 by an industrialist called Manuel Giró who had a goal to build lightweight two-stroke motorcycles. The name OSSA is an acronym of Orpheo Sincronic Sociedad Anonima, which completely stumps Google Translate, but we’re not here to decipher names. Unfortunately, the arrival of Japanese technology in the mid-70s led to Ossa’s demise, despite the firm’s amazing success in observed trials and enduro competitions. The company eventually collapsed in 1982, despite a failed merger with Bultaco and other attempts to keep the name going. The trade name was bought and revived in 2010, and the new breed of Ossa machinery has gained some success, though it will never be as popular or as iconic as it once was.
Our favorite Ossa model is the company’s BYRA 1000. Unlike most of the firm’s line-up, the BYRA 1000 is big and brash, and to make things even more interesting, only two were ever made. Essentially, the BYRA 1000 was a race prototype with a street-legal version built alongside it. It was a 997cc four-cylinder, air-cooled, two-stroke beast that was based around two Yankee engines placed side-by-side. The BYRA 1000, or “Big Bear” as it was sometimes affectionately called, was raced at the 24 Hours Of Montjuic races in 1972 and 1973, but that was about it. With only two models in existence, the Ossa BYRA 1000 is one of the rarest Spanish motorcycles on our list, with one model being a permanent exhibit at the Bassella Motorcycle Museum in northern Spain, and the other in a private collection.
#01. The Bultaco Pursang
And in first place, there could only be one winner: the legendary Bultaco Pursang – the king of Spanish motorcycles, and the most popular Bultaco model to go on sale in the USA. The Pursang was so widely respected because of its ultimate versatility – it could spar with any off-road motorcycle in almost any discipline and still succeed, making it one of the greatest off-road competition motorcycles of all time. The Pursang came in a number of flavors, 125cc, 360cc, and 370cc, but most riders will remember the original 250cc machine with the fondest memories. First introduced in 1965, the Pursang quickly inspired a new breed of riders to take part in “rough scrambles” – off-road events that would eventually evolve into modern motocross as we know it today.
The Pursang really made history in 1973, when Jim Pomeroy – a relatively unknown American rider – managed to win his first major race, the Spanish Grand Prix, becoming the first rider to win his debut GP, the first American to win a GP of that kind, and the first rider to win on a Spanish made motorcycle. As you can imagine, this catapulted the Bultaco Pursang into the spotlight and boosted sales all over the world. Powered by a two-stroke, single-cylinder, 244.29cc engine that could produce 35.2 horses at 8,000 rpm, the Bultaco Pursang meant business. Even to this day, it’s still remembered as one of the most formidable off-road machines ever made – and easily one of the most remarkable Spanish motorcycles ever made.
Like many classic motorcycles, most of the models listed above have been confined to museums as nothing more than contemporary art. However, many of them are still out there and in perfect working condition. Some have been turned into cafe racer customs, others into cool scramblers, but the majority of them are being left in pristine condition for collectors. The classic Spanish motorcycle market might not be a big one, but it’s one of the fastest growing niches in for enthusiastic collectors and if you happen to stumble across a vintage classic from the Iberian Peninsular, we recommend that you snap it up and take it home with you.