1974 Ossa Phantom 125
1974 Ossa Phantom 125
Like many European motorcycle manufacturers, the history of the Spanish Ossa brand is fascinating. Ossa’s founder Manuel Giro established Orpheo Sincronic Sociedad Anonima for the production of cinematic equipment in the 1920’s. His passion for motorboat racing transitioned to motorcycle racing all the while building his own engines!
In the 1960’s Manuel’s son Eduardo got involved in R&D, leading the development of Ossa motocross, enduro and trials bikes. Demand from US dealers stoked Ossa’s interest in producing a competitive 125 motocross bike in the early seventies. The result was the mid-1974 introduction of the new 125, 175, and 250 Phantoms, imported by Yankee Motor Company of New York. I think the only differences between the three models other than displacement were; carb, flywheel, rear tire and pipe. The 125 also apparently had a different frame part number than the 175 & 250 and according to Steve Levi, it weighed slightly less.
Some enthusiasts may remember Joe Bolger, an AMA Hall of Fame Inductee who was at the forefront of American scrambles/motocross and a true American motocross innovator. Joe may have acted as a consultant for John Taylor of Yankee at the time he designed an innovative rear suspension linkage. It worked so well that John took Joe to Ossa HQ in Spain to encourage them to utilize the technology on production bikes. From what I understand, the “wasn’t invented here” mentality precluded that opportunity. They then went to the Big Four in Japan who also declined to invest in the technology. Apparently Suzuki showed initial interest, ultimately announced that they weren’t interested, and then introduced their Full –Floater rear suspension - which was essentially the Bolger Suspension System with the exception being it utilized one shock instead of two. Yankee Motors ended up simply offering it in the US as an aftermarket item to Ossa customers.
Compared to the rest of the competition the 125 Phantom was praised for it’s lanky stature, decent suspension, good handling, good brakes, Betor forks with 6.5” travel (the shocks only had 4” travel), Motoplat CDI, Spanish 32mm Amal carb, aluminum triple clamps and swingarm, and the natural rubber grips. The beautiful medium blue and orange color scheme was incorporated in the fiberglass airbox, fenders, tank and number plates. Ossa wasn’t too concerned with paperwork as they didn’t even provide owner’s manuals for the 1974 models, only service bulletins.
The 1974 Ossa 125 Phantom was extremely rare. In fact, it’s believed that only 25-50 ever entered the US. At $1450, they were priced significantly higher than the Japanese competition and consequently very few of these bikes sold in the US. As Cycle Guide stated “For that amount of money a person should be able to role up to the starting gate and race it competitively as is without any heavy modifications. Handling or no handling, that won’t happen with the 125 Phantom. Not against today’s competition. No way.”
Although I’ve seen literature for a 1975 Phantom 125; if they were in fact manufactured, possibly they were available in Europe or imported into Canada. I don’t believe any ever entered the US. Based on the literature, the only obvious difference was the change to laid down rear shocks. Ossa never made another production 125 motocross bike.
From what I understand, concessions to labor union demands and the resulting increase in production costs severely hampered Ossa’s potential to compete with the Japanese competition. By the early eighties, sixty years of the original Ossa business had come to an end.
1974 Ossa Phantom 125
Of all the bikes in my collection that I’ve personally picked up from the seller, this one was the most fun. Why? Because on my way west from Chicago to Cedar Rapids, I stopped at my favorite motocross track (Sunset Ridge) to put in 3-4 moto’s on a beautiful autumn day before loading up my bike and continuing on to Iowa to pick up the Phantom.
At an early stage of my collection I had accepted the fact that I may never have a clean, original Phantom 125 due to their rarity. At the 2007 AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days the secondary Marquee was Ossa. This was the first time that I had ever seen a Phantom 125 in person. There was only one original at the entire Ossa tent and it was being displayed by Steve Levi. Not only is Steve a great guy, but he also happens to have extensive experience with Ossa.
In 1972 Steve began working for a motorcycle salvage yard turned Ossa dealer named All Motor Sports, unpacking and assembling Ossa’s. He quickly became manager of the service department and soon began building winning Ossa flat trackers. John Taylor of Yankee Motors (the US Ossa importer) heard of Steve’s success and brought him to Yankee in New York to lead the development of a production Ossa flat tracker. The result was the Ossa ST-1. Steve continued to work at Yankee as the Service Manager and Director of Ossa’s US racing efforts.
At the time, all Ossa’s went from Spain to the Yankee Motors warehouse in NY or CA, then directly to the dealer. Yankee then decided to set up regional distributors to support the dealers. There were five distributors total; three east of the Mississippi River, one on the west coast, and the small dealership that Steve started at became Ossa Central, the Midwest distributor.
Ossa Central received one Phantom 125 ever. It was sold to Iowa Wheel Sports, an Ossa dealer in Colfax, Iowa. In 1979, the customer who had purchased the Phantom 125 returned to Iowa Wheel Sports and traded it for some other bike. As a courtesy, Iowa Wheel Sports contacted Steve to see if he wanted the Phantom. Steve accepted, got it running, cleaned it up, and installed period correct bars and Hoss plastic replica fenders. Hoss was commissioned by Yankee to produce plastic fenders to offer as aftermarket replacements for the stock fiberglass fenders. In other words, not only was this bike brought back to life by Ossa’s US Service Manager, it’s 100% original with the exception of the bars and fenders.
Iowa Wheel Sports asked Steve if they could display the bike as an homage to their Ossa heritage, which they did for 10 years before Steve decided to bring it back home. Having had this bike for 28 years when I met him, Steve wasn’t in a rush to part with it, but possibly felt comfortable knowing it was going to a collection. I was grateful to have acquired this amazing Phantom 125 from Steve in August 2007. Riding my favorite motocross track, visiting with Steve, then driving home with a Phantom 125 in the back of my truck, what a day.