Back when Vy and I were in Spain, we visited Museu Moto Bassella. It’s a tremendous place that took me hours to explore, so I figure in these times when COVID is keeping us at home I could let you take a mental trip about a hundred miles outside of Barcelona. Today, let’s focus on the road racing bikes!
As the museum is so close to Barcelona, there’s an entire section focused on the 24 Hours of Montjuïc, one of the more interesting tracks in racing history. Founded in 1932, it is a former street circuit in Barcelona on Montjuïc (which translates to Jewish Mountain in Catalan). It featured a 2.35 mile long course, just 0.3 miles of which were in a straight line. For a few years, it hosted both the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix (alternating with Jarama outside of Madrid) as well as the 24 Hours of Montjuïc, a motorcycle endurance race, and now we get to look at some bikes that competed in the latter.
Early on, regulations only allowed production motorcycles to enter the race, bikes like this 125cc 1955 Montesa Brio 90 raced by Ernesto Millet and Jose Sol. The stock Brio was good for 7.2 horsepower and a top speed of approximately 60 miles per hour. It was the first Spanish motorcycle to be presented outside of the country (specifically at the Geneva show). 1955 was the first running of the 24 hour motorcycle race, and this Montesa ended up finishing in 4th place, having lapped the mountain course 488 times.
Per the museum, this four-cylinder, 392cc Derbi was a one-off prototype specifically built to compete in the 1954 race “but it was not reliable enough to do so” and the model was quickly cancelled because the high-revving engine cost too much to build.
Incredibly, a team of two Germans (Albert Pfuhl and Roland Muller) entered the 1960 race on this 175cc Heinkel Tourist scooter. Even better – it started off in the lead because it was able to get a much better jump than everyone else at the Le Mans-style start due to the electric starter! 24 hours later, it finished in a very-respectable 10th place.
This 1967 Bultaco Metralla Mk2 250cc was raced by Pedro Alvarez and Mariano Postigo. It features a gorgeous endurance tank, but unfortunately it crashed out in the 15th hour and did not finish the race.
Ducati built motorcycles in Spain under the name of MotoTrans, and when they won their first 24 Hour in 1965 they immediately announced a production model called the 24 Horas to commemorate their achievement. This was produced in limited quantities over three generations until 1974.
In 1975, Formula 1 drivers threatened a strike because they did not feel Montjuïc Circuit was safe, but race organizers and team owners quashed the threat. But on lap 26, Rolf Stommelen (who was leading at the time) had an issue with his rear wing. It broke off and caused his car to crash, launching over a safety barrier and killing a reporter and three track marshals in the process. Little trivia for you – the race was stopped before half the distance was covered so organizers awarded half points. Lella Lombardi was in 6th place at the time, netting her 0.5 points. It’s the only time in F1 history that a woman has scored championship points in the series, and Formula 1 never raced at Montjuïc again.
Here’s the best video footage I could find. It’s from the 1979 race, and while the narration is in Spanish it’ll still give you a good feel for the Le Mans start, the track, and an understanding as to why riders would consider parts to be dangerous:
It took motorcycle racing over a decade to catch up to Formula 1 in terms of safety concerns. Some teams had already started to boycott the race due to safety concerns – Honda of France sent a letter to organizers in December of 1981 roughly saying that there was an “increasingly obvious awareness of the lack of security offered by the Circuit de Montjuich in the face of ever-increasing performance of machines and riders” – and many riders thought the race would be cancelled after Nikolaus Ruck died in the 1985 24 Hours – 19 hours into the race he veered off the track to avoid a pileup caused by a broken-down motorcycle and crashed into a street light on his Kawasaki 600. But the next year it was back on, and a couple of local heroes (Domingo Parés and Toni Boronat) ended up colliding 8 hours into the race. Domingo was killed, and the race would never happen again.
The 24 Hours of Montjuïc ran 32 times. Of them, Ducati won 12 times (7 with Italian built bikes, 5 with Spanish-built MotoTrans’), Honda and Montesa won 4, Kawasaki and Bultaco won 3, Dresda and BMW won 2, and Laverda, Norton, and OSSA all snagged individual titles as well. I realize that adds up to 33, but that’s what I learned at the museum…
Those are my highlights of the race bikes, but Museu Moto Bassella is quite vast so I hope to share other sections of it with you soon. Did you catch my previous Picture Intermissions dedicated to the signs and ads or to the off-roaders in this wonderful place?