Montesa celebrates its 75th birthday with a special museum exhibit

Got Montesa? The museum has plenty of Spanish-built motos on display, but chances are we'll never be able to see the collection before it closes, thanks to travel restrictions. Photo: Honda

It’s a year late, but Montesa is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a pretty cool museum exhibit—but alas, it’s something most Canadians probably won’t see.

Montesa, founded in 1945, planned a 75th anniversary museum exhibit for 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic ruined that plan. Now, a year after pandemic restrictions started slamming down, the exhibit is back on. But, since it’s in Spain, at Museu de la Moto de Bassella, chances are you couldn’t see it, even if you wanted to. Out-of-country flight restrictions have put the axe to most tourism.

It’s too bad. Montesa is a niche manufacturer these days, really only known for its trials bikes. The company has a very interesting backstory, though, going all the way back to sensible street-legal commuters and even a lot of roadracing bikes in post-World War II period. Montesa was at the Isle of Man TT, in GP racing—it was a legit player in Europe’s motorcycle scene. By the 1970s, Montesa was one of the biggest names in offroad motorcycling, and through the 1980s, it built many respected motocross and enduro machines.

Montesa is best-known for dirt bikes, but it has a lot of roadracing history as well. Photo: Honda

However, the Japanese competition was too much. It’s pretty much the same story as most of the other small Euro brands: Lost market share to the Japanese, worker unrest, and generally crap financials put Montesa under in the early 1980s. However, unlike many other European manufacturers, Montesa survived onwards thanks to a friendly buyout by Honda. Similar to the much more recent deal between Kawasaki and Bimota, the Japanese manufacturer saw an opportunity to strengthen itself, and Montesa lived on.

In later years, the Spanish factory built trials bikes under the Montesa name, but also many Honda-branded machines, from mild commuters to several of the company’s flagship adventure bikes.

The exhibit at Museu de la Moto de Bassella (see the museum’s website here) has a lot of Montesa’s earlier street-legal machines, as well as its roadracers and plenty of dirt bikes. In total, there are 130 machines on display. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a virtual museum tour available, as many other moto museums have done to get through COVID-19. Perhaps Honda can arrange something, though, if there’s enough demand?

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