Memories of Yesteryear
A detour to France
While sorting and filing photos in my archives, I recently came across a batch of old black and white images that must have been taken at a vintage motorcycle gathering somewhere in France in the 1970s or 80s.
I usually reserve these images for my good friend Dave Richmond, with whom I like to share some of my latest vintage machine finds, knowing as I do, that as a dedicated enthusiast, he will appreciate such pictures.
This close-up of a sublime Jonghi engine is part of the photo set. The French marque, created in 1930, is known for great race wins, such as the 1932 Bol d'or, the 24 Hours World Record in 1933 and the 250cc World Hour Record in 1934. The company was born from the meeting of the Argentine Tito Jonghib, (who supplied the initial financing), and the Italian Giuseppe Remondinic, (who handled design and production). Production ceased in 1957.
If they deserve it, some of the photos may be appreciated by a wider audience through the pages of his excellent website, dedicated to the past glory of motorcycling.
By the way, if you're a fan of these 'antiques on two or three wheels', I'd like to recommend a visit to this site. There you will find a superb page compiling wonderful photographic testimonies showing how motorcycling used to be.
The images I've used here were all found for sale on eBay France, but give absolutely no information on the machines themselves.
Unless one is an expert in the field and the brand can be easily identified from the image itself, then apart from the most recent machines it's difficult to identify with any certainty any of the models and their production dates.
Is there a knowledgeable reader among you who could tell us the make and model of this venerable steed?
One thing is certain though; these venerable steeds that were once roaming the roads of the last century are apparently all from French factories.
I was reminded recently by my good friend Pascal Bouculat, a disciple and close friend of Jean-Marie Debonneville, and above all a passionate collector of old machines, that before 1914, there were no less than 800 different French brands of motorcycle around. Whilst Pascal owns and exhibits a number of vintage motor bikes himself, his main pleasure derives from riding almost all of them in various rallies in France and beyond.
Among the multitude of pre-1914 French makes, Rochet produced two-speed single-cylinder IOE motorbikes, (including a vertical in-line twin and a tri-car), from 1902. Chain-driven models were introduced from 1906. One model weighed only about 40 kilograms and had some interesting features, such as a spring-loaded front fork and a closed oil bath rear chain; (chain drive being rather rare in 1906). The brand ceased production in 1927.
The desire to share these exceptional photos
If I were to keep this YESTERYEAR series in true chronological order, I would have to continue my saga of the famous women motorcyclists of the 1930s in this chapter, or at the very least describe the highlights of the rich motorcycling period between 1930 and 1935.
However, this will not be the case.
Instead, these pictures of old machines taken at some French meetings have given me the urge to share them with you now rather than later.
Whether you're an enthusiast of the period or not, it seems to me that it would be a good idea to relive the sensations and delicious thrills our ancestors felt in the saddle, and to demonstrate the giant leap that motorbike technology has made over the years.
So let's visit this compilation of photos showing a small part of what the French industry of yesteryear was able to produce last century. I have added illustrations and advertisements of the time in order to complement things.
The Delage brand was founded in 1905 in Levallois Perret in the Paris region by the famous manufacturer Louis Delage. For about half a century, the prestigious brand was mainly dedicated to the production of luxury and racing cars, as well as aircraft.
A very rare Claude Delage from the very beginning of the last century
A very limited number of motorbikes with innovative technical and engine solutions were also produced in the Clichy factory and marketed under the name Claude Delage.
A close-up of its engine
These were motorbikes equipped with 4-stroke engines of various displacements, but with a strong orientation towards the 175cc cubic capacity which, given the times and the absolute need for reliable drive units with acceptable fuel consumption, was considered the best compromise under the circumstances.
An advertisement for the brand in a newspaper of the time
In short, what is known about the Griffon brand is that it was originally a limited company building French bicycles and motorised two-wheelers.
Founded in 1898 by Eugène Peugeot, it built its first motorbikes in 1902 using one of his bicycle models with a Zédel engine.
Development was rapid, and the following year the company presented 10 different models at the Paris Motor Show. Competition successes followed, and in 1904 one of their machines reached the astonishing speed of 110 km/h (65 mph) for the time. At this stage, factory team riders and private riders on Griffon machines dominated the competition.
One of the Griffon models photographed at this French gathering of vintage machines
In 1902, Star Engineering Co motorbikes of Wolverhampton imported Griffon machines; and by 1904, the brand was represented in England with offices in London at 16 Upper St. Martin's Lane.
By 1905 the Courbevoie factory employed 300 people. Motorbikes produced in the following years included 2¾hp and 3hp unicycles, and 3½ and 5hp twin-cylinder models. They also made tricars.
A splendid Art Nouveau commercial poster for the Griffon brand by Walther Thor (1870-1929). A student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Thor worked for some years in Paris. His works include French automotive related posters, often with a touch of humour.
In the years leading up to the Great War, Griffon fell into decline and, shortly after the Armistice, merged with Peugeot. In 1919, Griffon was part of the La Sportive consortium, which included the French brands Peugeot, Hurtu, Alcyon, Automoto, Griffon, Liberator, Labor, La Française, Gladiator, Clément, Armor and Thomann.
In the 1950s, Peugeot created the company France Motor Cycle (FMC), which brought together the brands Aiglon, Automoto and Griffon. Peugeot built Griffon motorbikes until 1956.
The story of one René Gillet also deserves a mention, summarizing the highlights of his career. Originally from Troyes, his interest in engines and other technical equipment began in his teens. At the age of 18, he found a job in an engineering firm in Puteaux, near Paris. As he had to travel a long way to work on his bicycle, he had the idea of adding a motor to it.
His first motors were fixed above the front wheel. At the beginning of the century, he began to build machines with the motor located in the axis of the pedal crank, which soon became the norm. It is important to note that he was the very first to adopt this design.
Rare commercial poster of the brand when it was still installed in the small factory in the 14th arrondissement of Paris
In 1900 he produced a small motorbike with a displacement of about 350cc and 2.75hp that could reach speeds of just 30 km/h.
Gillet went on to produce motorbikes with single cylinder engines of 1.5 or 2.5hp in a small factory in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris.
In 1902, a single cylinder motorbike was presented at the Paris Motor Show and mass production of the first Rene Gillet motorbikes followed.
A very rare René Gillet 350 single cylinder model pictured here at this unknown meeting
The success allowed him to build a new production plant on the route d'Orléans in Montrouge.
Close-up of its engine
From 1904 onwards, he produced 45° V-twins, in different versions, including a 500cc engine with 3.5hp or a 750 with 6hp, until a 1000cc engine came on the market in 1928. From 1912 onwards, the machines were equipped with parallelogram front forks.
The success of his company was confirmed with orders for V-twins for the French army before the Great War was declared.
Commercial poster and advertisement of the famous V-twin side-valve
The side-valve V-twin of the 750cc G and 1000cc J models was widely used by the French army and police in the 1920s and 1930s and became the machine of choice due to its reliability and durability. Rear suspension was introduced in 1929. Many V-twins were equipped with sidecars, particularly Bernardet with whom they were associated.
The company was absorbed by Peugeot in 1955 and production of René Gillet motorbikes ceased in 1958.
This brand was started in 1862 when Charles Terrot and Wilhelm Stücklen founded a machinery factory in Cannstatt, Germany. Later, in 1887, Terrot added a branch factory in Dijon, France, and in 1890 the Dijon factory added bicycles to its products, (originally circular knitting machines).
This 1909 advertisement praises the merits of the Terrot motorbike through brilliant results obtained in 4 competitions. In particular, the exploit in a hill climb near Nice of having managed to climb in 45 minutes without stopping the terrible 20km 600 hill from l'Escarene to Peira-cava at a gradient of 14%.
Three years later the manufacture of bicycles began, ceasing as recently as 1970. The expansion of the business continued methodically with the construction of new buildings and the addition of new products. In 1899 De Dion motor quadricycles were produced, in 1900 two-seater buggies, in 1902 motorbikes and Ballot motor cars from 1910 to 1914.
Before the First World War the brand was one of the most renowned in France. However, by the end of the conflict the company was suspected of collaborating with the enemy and was ‘confiscated' by the French State because Terrot's in-laws were German!
In 1921, Terrot was taken over as a limited company by a group of industrialists.
Close up of an old Terrot engine.
In 1922, Terrot bought a licence from the owners of the Magnat-Debon motorbike brand, which itself had just ceased production and was therefore allowed to use its name and network.
From 1928 onwards, Terrot became the leading French manufacturer of two-wheelers.
An artistic commercial posters of the famous Dijon brand
Unfortunately, the repercussions of the stock market crash of 1929 were increasingly felt and from 1936 onwards, the sharp rise in prices caused production to fall despite diversification in 1934 into children's cars and in 1938 into sidecars as well.
Their participation in the war effort in 1939 meant production started once again but in 1940 the factory was occupied by the Germans and ceased all two-wheeler production to instead produce Zündapp power units.
A beautiful 1930's Terrot 500 RCP competition model photographed at this vintage motorbike meeting. The sound of the engine running with this type of exhaust may shatter the eardrums of the most hard-of-hearing
From 1940 to 1944 some machines were assembled from stock, mainly RDA and RCMA models, and in 1946, production slowly resumed with the main pre-war models, only slightly modified.
The same Terrot 500 RCP seen from the other side
1956 was a year of ‘rebirth‘, with the launch of new serious models such as the Tournoi and the Fleuron.
But it was already too late, and the low price of secondhand cars, the increase in insurance rates and the enforcement of the highway code concerning two-wheelers, got the better of the motorbike in France. Despite the appearance of new models perfectly in tune with the times; the Ténor and the Rallye, Terrot was absorbed by a subsidiary of Peugeot (INDENOR) in 1960.
A school blotter offered by the brand as a promotional gift
The death knell for the brand was sounded definitively in 1961 when the last machines were assembled from stocks at Automoto, (another Peugeot subsidiary) under the Terrot or Peugeot brands.
Le logo de la marque
M.G.C is the acronym of Marcel Guiguet and Company. The brand logo is derived from the WWI 'Escadrille des Cigognes' (Stork Squadron) with which Marcel's older brother Joseph-Henri Guiguet had flown, and who was co-founder of the MGC company.
In 1928, Marcel and his brother Joseph-Henri set up the company in Corbelin, Isère. The brand produced around 250 machines before ceasing production in 1938.
In 1929, at the Lyon exhibition, they presented their prototype equipped with a cast aluminium ‘Alpax' frame which caused a sensation among the specialist public. It later turned out that the alloys used were not of today's standards. The frames were prone to failure and the built-in fuel tank leaked.
Marcel Guiguet proved to be a pioneer as the practice of moulding motorbike frames in one piece now saves manufacturers the cost of cutting materials to size and welding them manually or robotically to form a unit.
Another technical innovation of M.G.C. was the integral braking system, very similar to the one used by Moto Guzzi almost fifty years later.
By 1931 the machines had been improved. Despite this and some good racing results, three years later sales had again slumped, largely due to the financial crisis of the then emerging world economy.
The M.G.C.machines were equipped with JAP engines of 250 and 500cc, and a Chaise of 350cc.
When the Second World War arrived, Marcel Guiguet converted one of his racing machines to road use and continued to drive it for many years after the war. However, no more M.G.C. bikes were ever built.
- Jean-Francois Helias