Thursday, March 13, 2008
The French 'Majestic' is familiar to American motorcyclists who were lucky to catch the Guggenheim 'Art of the Motorcycle' show; otherwise its appearance is a mystery. I've poked around two of them - at the Guggenheim itself (which is a post waiting to happen), and the Coupes Moto Legende / Montlhery in 2000. Every Majestic seems to employ a different engine configuration, but the general layout of frame and bodywork is the same.
The concept was to create a two-wheeled conveyance which more resembled a car (think Art Deco Honda Pacific Coast), with full enclosure over all mechanicals (for cleanliness and styling), and hub-center steering via links and rods. The machine pictured (at Montlhery) uses a 350cc Chaise engine with vertical overhead valves, and the gearbox in unit. Note the cranked induction pipe and very high exhaust. Other engines were used by Majestic included JAP (350/500cc ohv and sv singles), Train (4-cyl 500cc ohv), Chaise (unit construction 350/500cc ohv), and the 4-cylinder 1000cc sv Cleveland engine pictured in the magazine scans from 'Motor Cycling' on July 10, 1929.
I have to say, this scan is a bit of a scoop over both 'The Art of the Motorcycle' and Tragatsch's 'Illustrated Encyclopedia of Motorcycles', as neither one mentions the use of the Cleveland engine (and I suspect the 'AotM' article was written using 'IEoM' as a reference!). Tragatsch gets his details a bit wrong by suggesting the bikes had rear suspension; the chassis ends in a pressed-steel rigid mounting for the rear hub. He also called it "another assembled machine [from France]", which gives short shrift to the brilliance and originality of the concept- the entire machine, barring the engine, was unique and manufactured for this purpose - only ancillaries like lights, seats, etc, were bought-in; even the hubs were custom-made, as there wasn't another hub-center steered machine of its scale. The nearest rival in specification is the Ner-A-Car, which was never as grand, and used lightweight engines - the Majestic aspired to be a motorcycling Grand Routier; a large, comfortable, and stylish tourer.
Georges Roy began motorcycle production with an unorthodox 'New Motorcycle' with a pressed steel chassis, then moved further from the mainstream, beginning production of the hub-center steered Majestic in 1929. The machine is a brilliant Art Deco sculpture, with a swooping unbroken line from the curved front wheel beak to the sporty abbreviated tail. The side panels are punctuated by louvers like a racing car (and the bike pictured is painted Bugatti / French racing blue). As the entire chassis is pressed thin-gauge steel, the overall weight is fairly low - I would estimate from hefting and pushing one around that it weighs 350lb. The chassis is constructed using two mirror-image side pressings, rivetted together by firewalls at the front and back of the engine, with further strengthening panels beneath the engine, plus the two large, fixed top panels. The whole structure, much like a monocoque car (or a late Cosworth /Norton racer), is extremely rigid. The central engine cover is removable for access (as shown in the engine pic), and as mentioned the side members are totally louvered to keep the engine cool. There's plenty of room in the engine bay for a large motor, or even a radiator for a water-cooled machine. The petrol tank sits under the front bulkhead.
Detail shots show the arrangement of the steering and front suspension; vertical rods allow sprung movement (probably undamped), and the steering rod can be seen connected to the central hub by a 'c' shaped lever. The inside of the hub is pretty complicated, as it must incorporate very large bearings, the swiveling steering mechanism, and the front brake.
The machine pictured has a shaft drive, and the oil reservoir for the final drive can be seen in pic 5.
I had a long conversation in broken French and English about this machine, which led to all sorts of interesting diversions. Apparently some of the Majestics were hand-finished in a faux 'crackle glaze' paint job, in a kind of greenish khaki (see an example here), and some were painted normally. The metal bodywork tends to get very hot over the engine, and the steering is similar to other hub-center models (like the Ner-A-Car and OEC Duplex), in that it prefers a straight line over robust cornering.
Georges Roy claimed his designs were 'the New Motorcycle', and far-seeing enthusiasts knew enclosed motorcycles were the future...and how right they were, although a few decades ahead of time. Ascot-Pullin, Velocette (LE), Vincent (Black Prince), among many others, had similar ideas. Nowadays it's easy to buy an enclosed motorcycle, but Yamaha and Bimota are the only recent builders to address hub-center steering (many writers still consider it the future of moto-development).
The period magazine scans show a slightly different chassis layout for the Cleveland engine, using a frame much like a car - 'C' section steel channels running from the front to rear wheels, with the bodywork dropped on top. I don't know whether this was a one-off (not that many Majestic were made) for the Cleveland experiment, or perhaps this is the original frame design which evolved into the monocoque. My guess - the Cleveland was the prototype, as the magazine mentions the debut of the marque with this engine at the Paris Motor Show.