By Matt Cuddy
Back in the early nineteen seventies, the dirt bike craze had reached epic proportions, and every manufacturer of wheeled vehicles across the globe wanted in on the game.
Companies that produced gurneys for ambulances, shock absorber for cars, industrial taco carts, even wheeled shopping basket manufacturers wanted to cash-in on the off-road motorcycle scene, by designing and producing their own “dirt bike”.
Some of these companies produced just a couple of bizarre designs that mated shopping basket/golf cart technology with motorcycle design, and folded up like a cheese omelet, out of business before they knew what hit them.
1970 100cc Carabela
Others, that had some background in manufacturing motorized industrial vehicles like taco wagons, or small three wheeled trucks, made a better go at producing actual motocross motorcycles. These companies used stolen technology from European manufacturers, and produced some bizarre motocross machines that while nice to look at, were about as reliable as an intestinal disorder, and had design features that could only be described as “dangerous”.
One such machine was the Carabela, born from a company that produced 3 wheeled industrial plant work trucks, taco wagons, and mopeds for the domestic Mexican market. In 1969 they producted their first motorcycle, the 125cc Calente. Funny, but there seems to be no picture available for this fine machine.
By 1970 Carabela produced a full range of off-road motorcycles, from the Callente” to the 200cc “Carrera”, all built around a solid looking frame that copied the Maico MX125 frame to a “T”. Italian motors were used, like Minirelli or Moto-Moroni, potent looking engines that piqued interest in that country to the north, full of Gringos with greenbacks, the USA.
Larry Watkins with a pensive expression on the Carabela 200
The flagship machine for export that Carabela produced was the 200cc Carrera, not small enough to run in the 125 class, but just big enough to get its doors caved in by bikes in the 250 class. Some strange shopping-cart technology made its way into the design of the MX Carabelas, like u-bolts holding the handlebars on, and rubber covered footpegs that could be adjusted all that way, so they folded in the wrong direction (down).
Square slide DelOrto carburetors and Marelli ignition components made certain that the new Carabela owner would be well versed in the operations of both systems, since they made Lucas and Amal products look like rocket science.
1971 Pantera 100MX
Some design flaws were the first to show up in the early versions, as the motor manufacturing plant had some problems with heat treating gears, and making sure the transmissions were shimmed up correctly, so they didn’t blow up in the first 20 minutes of riding.
Items that pointed to a less-than-well designed motor started to show up, like kick starters snapping off at the shaft, shifters falling off in the dirt, with the shift shaft still attached, Exploding clutch baskets, that would bring the bike to an immediate and painful halt (as the rider got pitched over the bars from the weak u-bolts that held them on).
1967 175cc Carabela street bike.
The Carabela did handle good though, with the frame geometry stolen from Maico, and the fork technology pirated from Spanish Betors.
Gigantic heavy hubs and wheels from the street bike Carabela didn’t fare so well in the dirt, with broken hubs and spokes a regular problem for the hapless Carabela rider.
Things weren’t going well for Carabela in the USA, and soon the bikes became the brunt of many bad jokes. You had to dress like Zorro to get any respect.
By 1975 Carabela had enough of the MX market in the United States, and went back to producing 3 wheeled work trucks and taco wagons for the domestic market in Mexico.
Carabela produced these carts and trucks, along with a moped or two, under the Carabela marque, up until 1984 when Honda bought it and shut the factory down for good.
Beware to the person who finds a Carabela in some dank garage and wants to restore it. Parts and non-existent, and even a 100% resto produces a bike that while pretty, is pretty awful to begin with.