Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Ruby helmets founder Jérome Coste is alive and well and racing his father's ES2 Norton
Why on earth, my friends ask, would I travel 20 hours on a round-trip plane to Paris, and spend a couple of grand of my own money to attend a weekend event at a suburban Parisian racetrack in lousy condition, with shabby amenities, mediocre food, which is a pain to reach unless you have a car?   The reason is simple; it’s worth it.  If you’re a fan of pre-1940 racing cars and motorcycles, there really isn’t a comparable event, anywhere.  Vintage RevivalMontlhéry has become to my eyes the most authentic vintage motorsports event in the world.  Not as in ‘period correct’ as per the Goodwood Revival, that glorious costume party of 50,000 people, who are not allowed access to the truly interesting stuff, like the pits.  It may be the right crowd, but it’s Disneyland crowded, and shares a bit too much of that park’s gloss for my taste.  I prefer a little grit, because pre-war racing wasn’t a theme park, it was dangerous and poorly-paid stuff, and the participants did it for the love of the sport.
The four horsemen strategize
I suppose if that tens of thousands turned up at Montlhéry there would be tiered access as well, but as the crowd is still 4-figures small, with a very large playground, it feels very much in tune with the old Brooklands ad – the right crowd, and no crowding.  VRM is the work of Vincent Chamon, who took on the mantle of the late lamented Jacques Protherat, the grandfather of vintage racing in France, who organized a ‘Vintage Montlhéry’ gathering for decades, before his untimely death 15 years ago.  The track was without such a mixed-vehicle event for ten years, until Chamon decided to do something about it.    This is the third of these bi-annual events, and it just seems to get better.

Amilcars need love too
Unlike most motorsports events, the organization is almost invisible, with a very light touch.  Gents and ladies in white boiler suits direct the action, and their attention is generally focused on getting vehicles onto the track in an orderly fashion.  The glorious chaos of the scene, which actually has a fluid and orderly movement, includes a mix of pedestrians, bicyclists, children, and racing vehicles using the main throughfare/track access, which means there’s a constant mix of revving racers and ordinary folks milling along, with a kind of friendly acceptance of of each group’s needs.  The frustration level looked very low, and I didn’t hear a voiced raised in anger amongst the scrum between pits and track, which considering the high temper of a rider or driver about to do hot laps, is really something. 

A 1921 Leyat Helica aerocar, surely the most remarkable vehicle at the meet, and a pleasure for all to witness!  Powered by an Anzani v-twin sidevalve engine.  A very special version reached 171km/h (102mph) in 1927 at Montlhéry
Perhaps it’s because there’s nothing to win; the track time is a ‘parade’, which means a few take full advantage of the fantastically historic track’s banking and chicanes, while most are content with a fast but not furious pace.  Some even potter, and know well enough to stay out of the way, clinging to the very bottom of the banking, while the really fast ones sail up the top line, which feels awfully near vertical when you’re on it.  It’s an eerie sensation to gaze at the top of another rider’s helmet as you pass by/over and they’re perpendicular to you.  But it is bumpy on the crumbly old concrete.  Riding the track is truly living the history of the place, as an awful lot of world speed/distance records were set there from its inception in 1924 through the 1960s.  Unlike Brooklands, competing interests (like tanks) never sullied the architectural concrete track banking, and we can still enjoy the magnificence of the place today.  I found it especially poignant to be back at Montlhery after visiting Daytona for the first time last September, during the Cannonball, and being sorely disappointed at the lack of romance about the place.  The center of the Montlhéry track is a forest, with big swaths of green grass, flowers, and shade if you need it.  The grandstands will hold a thousand people at most, all else is trees and sky in the environs; it’s simply gorgeous.  Visit the place before something stupid happens.

A lovely 1933 AJS OHC 'Trophy' model
What appeared in 2015?  Racers from collections all across Europe, from as far as the Czech Republic, with plenty from Germany, Holland, Italy, and England.  To date, no motorcycles from US stables have appeared, a situation I’d love to rectify in 2017.  There were American bikes certainly, Indian and Harley and Excelsior board trackers which seemed right at home on the banking – just about the only venue suitable for them actually.  Mostly it’s what you would have seen on European Grand Prix circuits from the early 1900s through 1940, with plenty of ultra-rare machines you’ll see nowhere else, dragged from the depths of family collections far from the public (and the tax man’s) eye.  The photographs here are a reasonable selection, but don’t encompass nearly everything – just the ones I managed in an attractive shot.

Lots of familiar faces, including Alistair Gibson, who built the 1100cc Brough Superior raced at Bonneville recently
Here’s huge thanks to Vincent Chamon and his team for putting on an exceptional and beautifully run weekend event, and for arranging perfect weather too!

Pudding basin helmets are fairly useless in a crash, but look great in photos...
Listed as an Amilcar, this recent creation is mostly new, barring the frame and a c.1918 Hispano-Suiza OHC V8 engine, rated at 200hp in the day, and an impressive piece of kit.  Note the cam covers making themselves known...
Plenty of cool stuff at the autojumble - enough to build a 'special' actually, with a few frames and engines laying around
The Brooklands Museum boys consider a one-family-from-new Bugatti circulating discreetly around the track
Teen heart-throb!  Aboard a 1930 Terrot NSS0
Bugs everywhere!  A Type 35 Bugatti lining up for a track session
Another Type 35; so distinctive, and truly effective on the track
The loneliness of the long-distance racer
Between track sessions, a racing Morgan makes a nice backrest
Run don't walk!  A 1902 Clement Gladiator, identical to my own machine, and the great-grandfather of all mopeds
Trés chic in an oily-rag Bugatti Type 35 in French racing blue
A rare OHV Blackburne v-twin engine powering a cyclecar
Engine not required!  A few bicycles and pedal-powered cars circulated too; quiet time.
Second oldest machine of the meet; the 1900 DeDion-Bouton trike
What has 4 connecting rods, 3 pistons, 2 carbs and exhausts, and 1 spark plug?  A supercharged DKW SS250, that's what.  Sadly not raced.
The furious complexity of a c.1928 Douglas SW5 racer, with the Freddie Dixon-developed 'still air box', which also provided 100% more air filtration than other motorcycles of the day.
Gorgeous early Excelsior board track racer in original paint condition
Start them early! Plenty of today's adult competitors at Montlhéry have attended since childhood
Untouchable!  Frank Chatokhine and his ultra-fast '39 Triumph T100 racer.  
More than one person asked me 'what's inside that thing?', to which I answered, 'time and skill'.
Serious raw fun with a pair of GN racers; the 'Piglet Special' and 'Parker Sport'; with chain drive an no differential, the rear wheels are slid around corners - fantastic to watch.  GN mostly build cyclecars, and was the creation of Archie Frazer-Nash  and HR Godfrey (HRG). Here's a period poem about them: 'Nash and Godfrey hated cogs, built a car with chains and dogs, and it worked, but would it if, they had built it with a diff?'
Period correct attire.
And the ladies too!
The engine room of the 1922 GN 'Parker Sport' - about as motorcycle as a car can be, with four separate air-cooled cylinders, 4 TT carbs, and all-chain drive.
An Amilcar after the final 'touring' lap of the track, the last event of the day, and hence no helmets
Marc Tudeau, the Montlhéry ambassador for Indian motorcycles, in clashing green!
A few Norton Internationals were mixed with the European racers; always a welcome sight
Kalle alternated between two and four wheels
A late 1950s Harley K model in bumblebee paint
Martin Heckscher and his lovely 1932 Velocette KTT Mk2
Oldest machine on the track; the 1897 Léon-Bollee trike, which sounded very healthy, and was bonked around the grounds all Saturday
Ueli Schmid and his 1926 Motosacoche 804 Sport with 1000cc f-head motor
A trio of early Mercedes GP cars were impressive in factory racing white livery
Hot stuff!  A special Cameron racing JAP engine for this Morgan, with post-war Speedway heads and enormous GP carbs fed by automotive SU float bowls.  Running on methanol, the owner reckoned 110hp
Morgans everywhere!  They even had their own racing grid.
If it doesn't exist anymore, someone like Pavel Malanik might just build it himself.  This is the big brother of the NLG-JAP which won the first ever race at Brooklands in 1907...very big 1909 brother at 2714cc!  The age of Monsters.
An ex-works AJS K10 racer with a lovely patina, which won my 'I'd like that please' award.
Oliver Way, the premier exponent/instigator of the current aero-engine car craze, aboard his first creation, labeled an Austin but considerably larger than the 7, with an airplane motor to boot.
Pushing in after hot track laps
Not just a man's game, racing.
I caught neither the lady's name, nor her machine info, although it appears to be a Magnat-Debon
A lovely Salmson, and the forest at the heart of the speed bowl
A monoposto racer with a motorcycle engine on the side; the Schashes cyclecar  of  1927

Not the Tatra you were thinking of...a 1925 flat twin Model T11 Rennwagen
A very patinated c.1931 Terrot-JAP
Tim Gunn explains a 1919 Grafton cyclecar only needs one tool.
The lovely Paval Malanik re-creation of the 1909 Torpedo fan-4 with 1640cc and F-head configuration

From the Brooklands Museum; a c.1934 Triumph-JAP special
Goosebumps; the final Bugatti GP racer, the 1934 Type 59 with DOHC straight-8 engine and 'piano wire' wheels.
A little maintenance of the Brooklands Museum Velo KSS racer
The right crowd...and no crowding
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Ade ward said...

Great pictures of a great event shame I missed it but the Jappic recreation isn't ready yet
The ohv blackburne engine in the cyclecar is the aero version called tomtit originally mounted inverted in the aircraft ,
I built the chaterlea cyclecar about 5 years ago but had to sell ot to finance the recreation of the Jappic cyclecar

Pictures of the chaterlea build are here

Unknown said...

The burgundy cyclecar with a side monted engine is Franck Seeger Schasche.
It was a pleasure to meet you Paul. Marc Tudeau, the flashy green ambassador ;-)

rudge de said...

dear Paul,
unfotunately i did not realize that it was you that took a photo of me on the Cotton in photo 44, otherwise we could have met personally

The French Owl said...

Hi Paul...

Goodwood Revival Costume Party... For me it's more like Circus Party for the Slightly Bored and Uninterested...


The French Owl said...

Griffon V Twin, no, it's a Magnat debon from Grenoble, later absorbed by Terrot. The Terrot JAP is not a Terrot either...

Tony Baxter said...

Hello Paul, lovely article as usual, pity we did not get to talk. Come and say 'Hi' next time at the Brooklands' stand. Tony.

rudge de said...

Dear Paul,
regarding my face in pic 44 i am pretty sure that this picture was taken after cancelling our start due one of the cars blewing its engine up and spilling large quantities of oil on the track.
After the races i usually had a large grin in my face.
anyway excellent job!!

Silas Ginn said...

I love the front hub on that Triumph in the "Four Horsemen" pic. Seems like a DIY hodge-podge of two conical drums cut down and bolted together. Pretty damn cool though it would probably benefit from some "bacon slicers" across the mid-section. I suppose that takes away some of the truly olde-timey vintage flavour. I've seen several similar composite hubs of the type, but they're usually made up of two automotive drums bolted to a spool-type center hub. This thing's got the correct spoke lacing for a better silhouette and of course a much stronger wheel with greater resistance to rotational flex, maybe a wee bit more radial flex to help with the bumps? It's brilliant. And I dare say the open gap in the middle actually looks better that way.

I've been thinking for a while now, that ... PERHAPS - some or all of those solid cast-Iron drums from back then, Harley stuff, Norton and Triumph etc. I've often wondered why people don't cross-drill 'em. The old Hot-Rod guys would sometimes do that, and I've heard it'd improve the braking force about on par with a disc conversion.

I'm tempted to try it on an Al-Fin type hub right now, but the only drums I'm currently working on are for my Daughter's bike. A Suzuki 4LS up front KZ400 rear and T500 Titan 2LS front hub on the side-hack wheel she proposes for it - all of 'em wrapped up in 3.0x16" Borrani rims, with Maxi-Scooter tires 110/70-16 & 140/70-16. The 4LS dront is already improved a wee bit with some wider shoes taken from the T500 Titan's 2LS version, filed down to just barely fit the hub. NOS asbestos shoes of course. But there's gotta be more than that which can be done. Shy of Ferodo green linings and wearing out the hub too quickly.

I've got half a mind to fast-track the resto on my old C70 Passport just as a test-bed to try out this cross-drilled drum thing. Might even have to stick a CB750 rear drum hub on my "CB900K0 Bol Bomber" for a proper "stress-test" on the concept. (((I'm sure the purists hate this type of shit but I love my retro-fried bikes - so long as the performance AND good looks are there!))) A drum would be very fitting. But only after I work out a decent "faux-leading-shoe" brake from the GL1500 fork and PC800 Pacific Coast "hub" cut out of the mag wheel and laced up to a wire rim. (Borrani 3.00x18" Rinforzatto)

If there's an AL-FIN type drum which could take it, that would have to be the Honda 190mm rear drum. Or an XS650 200mm, KZ900 or thereabouts.

Talking about tiny little holes, for air and water to bleed out of, for the shoe linings to gas-off, just as with pads on a disc brake. But a whole lot fewer holes, maybe four or five per drum. Pretty sure the old Hot-Rod guys did a lot more drilling than that on their Automotive drum brakes.


Silas Ginn said...

(CONTINUED ... ugh. Sorry!)

Thing is, a spare Suzuki 4LS drum I've got on hand has a rather deep pit in one spot, almost seems like a fault in the casting, as it only came to light after having the linings skimmed to maximum spec. So yeah, being that it's small enough, and that it's full of a large convoluted surface area which is gonna trap a lot of moisture inside - I was thinking I could drill a thin hole through that point, bevel it out broader to cover a good 1/6 or 1/4 of the lining's width, then add the complementary holes around the circumference to complete just ONE pass across the width of the lining. One consideration which bothers me, is I've got a 3rd specimen of the Suzuki 4LS hub which was damaged in a total-loss house-fire. And the Cast-Iron linings came out free-standing in the door-stop/paper-weight lump which remains, showing how the backsides of the cast-in rings have a toothed exterior surface just like the pulleys of the NOS belt-drive I've got for this same bike, the "KZ440LOL" - As such, I worry that a hole drilled through the thinner portion of that ... corrugated pattern, might be all the more prone to cracking. Well - either way, I'm gonna have to clean out this deep pit, at the very least de-burr it and back-fill it with a sealant of some sort....

If you consider the Oldani drums with their riveted-in liners, it's not unheard of - if they can take the cross-drilling, you'd think the mainstream Aluminum hubs could take it.

ANYWAY yeah - I should think that those heavy-assed solid cast-Iron BELL type drums would be able to take a whole bunch of holes, and they'd benefit in several ways not the least of which would be the weight!

If nothing else, it makes sense on a racing bike, or one that doesn't put on a lot of miles.

It might seem like the automotive drums are better suited, but consider how much higher the forces involved therein - the bike drum's gotta be the safer bet.


Silas Ginn said...


I picture it on a Norton Commando rear drum, or a Harley "Juice-Drum", or better still the Harley 6 & 1/2 inch dual drums, etc.

Of course I haven't yet TRIED this mod. But I'm eager to find a way to improve and lighten these drums I'm working with. Perhaps the better method on the Suzuki 200mm, would be to skim it out to the full 8" diameter, replace the shoes & side-plates with some British/American stuff.

I guess what I'm getting at here, is that this older British ... double-conical composite drum hub - I've gotta wonder how the weight of the thing compares to this Suzuki item. Given that they're about the same approximate size. Well, possibly a bit more width on the British version. Hard to say. And even if it's heavier, a cross-drilled version would probably make a favourable comparison.

Well it doesn't only have to be these vintage solid Cast-Iron BELL type drums - I'd bet the same thing could be done with some late '70s early '80s Motorcross hubs, preferably some Magnesium stuff from a rare Penton or Husqvarna etc. Or even Honda XR/XL type of stuff? Would make for a suitable 140mm-160mm 4LS drum for a light-weight racer, 50cc class etc. Though to tell the truth, for my Passport restoration, I've long eye-balled this T500 Titan 200mm 2LS drum, picturing it thinned down narrow, given an alternative shoe-plate, lighten the heck out of it. And a WM2-WM3 16" rim.

Well - It's just a brain-fart. I was just thinking - with s much newfound fascination (aka trendy hipster cache) for drum brakes and in particular 4LS and "Dopple-Simplex" front drums, maybe some of the other youngsters who ogle these pages might consider some of these old's-cool DIY methods such as the brake in the picture. Rather than paying through the nose for the "Unobtainium" slash "Re-Pop OB-tainium" drum hubs. Truthfully, I think they'd be better off with the "Faux-Leading-Shoe" hubs, for the bigger Japanese stuff that's so popular these days. But for smaller applications, this 440cc twin being the upper-most range of which IMHO, these dinky lil' 200mm drums still have a lot to offer.