Saturday, February 14, 2009


My friend Yves Hayat sent photos from this year's Paris Retromobile show, which is primarily a vintage automobile exhibit, but this year had a small but high-quality motorcycle display. I've always wanted to attend, but luckily Yves shared his camera work... The above photo shows Bernard Salvat, noted collector and author (of 'Sidecars - Cent Ans d'Histoire', etc), with a ca. 1925 Peugeot M 500, which is an OHC racing vertical twin, not well known outside France, but an epic motorcycle. It was developed from their amazing Double-Overhead-Cam vertical twin racer from 1914, which appeared briefly at Brooklands that year for testing, but never reappeared at that venue. This machine deserves a full post, so I'll defer further explanation for now; suffice it to say that the French were way out in front in the early years of motorcycling (and airplanes, and cars), being inventors or early adopters of most of the engine technology we take for granted today.

The Peugeot is a groundbreaking machine, with an integral gearbox, and robust shaft-and-bevel cam drive system (the earlier DOHC engine used gear drive). Flat-tank OHC machines are rare as a rule, and an exciting mix of advanced engine design and a very lightweight chassis. The 500M uses an external flywheel (properly light in the center, with weight on the rim), an AMAC carb, Bosch magneto, and is bare-bones to the point of being skeletal. What a motorcycle.

More rarities; a brace of Koehler-Escoffier v-twins; a late-model 'Mandoline' OHV (ca. '25) and an early example (ca. '28) of their OHC v-twin, the 'Monneret' model (see pic above), named in honor of Georges Monneret, the French national champion who continuously developed this model even after the factory stopped production and eventually closed, and could still be seen racing his K-E into the 1950s. I made mention of this machine in an earlier post, and will go through the development history of this model in a later post.

You have to love the twin twin-port exhausts - so stylish - and again it's an OHC machine in a flat-tank chassis, although the cycle parts are more substantial than the Peugeot. A very fast machine, the weak point is a total-loss lubrication system, which means the cams are only fed a drop of oil every few seconds, not the flood they need to keep from premature wear. Many later owners have modified their oiling to pressure-fed dry sump to keep the cams wet, and Monneret did this as well in later years.

The 'Mandoline' 500cc OHV model (above) emerged in 1914, and was very advanced for the day, with an interesting cam arrangement. The detail photo of the engine, below, give the clue - the rockers are turned 90degrees to 'normal', as the pushrods can be seen peeking inside the 'v' of the cylinders. The cam is driven within the crankcase, above the flywheels; a good spot for lubrication actually, and for keeping the pushrods short and stiff, like a Vincent or Velocette - a 'high-cam' pushrod motor.

Koehler-Escoffier is a very obscure make to many, but these two machines, plus their 500cc OHC single-cylinder 'Grand Prix' model, should be better known, as they are really top-tier machines.

Another vertical twin produced well before Edward Turner made them famous was the Blériot
(above), with a unit-construction 500cc sidevalve motor, from around 1923. Blériot is a name well-known to airplane enthusiasts, as Louis Blériot was a real aviation pioneer, and became the first person to fly across the English channel in 1909. Later his aircraft company produced the famous
S.P.A.D. fighter aircraft in WW1. His motorcycles were beautifully engineered, if short-lived.

I love the French Racing Blue color scheme, and the disc wheels - so Art Deco. Note also the small muffler at the front of the crankcase, and the delicate fishtail emerging from behind the rider's footrest.

In the Pioneer category, this Werner (above) can be thanked for settling the issue of 'where does the engine go'; it was this machine which became the model for just about all subsequent motorcycle layouts to this day - previously motor-bicycle engines could be found over the front or rear wheel, on under the seat, high up near the steering head, etc, but the Werner handled so much better than all other early experiments that the light switched on, and this layout became the standard.

Another early machine on display was this ca.1906 Indian 'Camelback' ioe v-twin (above), with an atmospheric inlet valve. It nicely illustrates my point about the Werner - the 'where' argument hadn't been settled yet. In those early days Indians were blue as well as red.

Somebody brought along their RS54 BMW 'Rennsport' OHC racer - always a crowd-pleaser - and don't we wish BMW had produced such a machine for sale to the public. A totally different animal to the rather staid image projected by their roadsters of the period.

And of course, there were some outrageous cars on show and on sale at the hall. This Mercedes-Benz W165 GP racer wasn't for sale, but is the last of the factory racers from the 1930's, of the type driven by Caracciola to win the Tripoli GP in '39.

Here's the cockpit - hop in!

This Jaguar XK120C was for sale at Gregor Fisken's acre of blue carpet - Fisken always offers the most interesting racing cars - I would presume this is an aluminum-bodied early racing model, ca.'5o, complete with 'Brooklands' windscreens and leather bonnet strap.

And if you can't afford the real thing, there's always the desktop model Bugatti... the 'Real Thing' was on offer at the Bonhams auction; the two-owner 'Barn Find' 1937 Bugatti Atlante Coupé Type 57S, which sold 3.4million euros! There's a great story about the Bug here.

Many thanks to Yves for the photos!


Jeff Stracco said...

I have always admired the French aesthetic in motorcycles. Great post. Loved seeing these "unknown" bikes.

Frank Sider said...

Great Post Paul, its a shame i didnt go there... will try next time.
very nice photos.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. d'Orleans

I accidently stumbled on to your site a few months back. I have checked it every day since to see what's new. It's fantastic.

One of the digits got left out of the date on the line below the photo of the right side of the Mandoline 500.

The reason this is a big deal to me is that I designed an engine identical to it in 1990 and built them in small guantity for the next 8 years. Please see the attached photos.

I knew about the stillborn Harley XL and the Moto Morini 3 1/2, but I had never heard of Mandoline before. What a great bike. I have always thought that this is the correct layout for a pushrod v-twin. Do you have any other info on this bike?

Best regards,


southsiders M.C. said...

Hi Paul

Do you this interesting site about Koehler-Escoffier and Monet-Goyon
sorry in French...
we can translate some parts.

southsiders M.C. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Just a few comments on your Retromobile 2009 blog, re the Koehler Escoffier:

Of the few 1000cc that are still around, only one factory special is refered as the Koehler "Monneret", that's the one in the Lyon Rochetaillée muséum, with just 2 pipes and derived from mating older 1928, 4 reinforcing webs, crankcases with newer inclined 1930 GP 500 OHC cylinders, later modified in 1937 with a new set of 6 reinforcing webs crankcases and stronger engine mounts:

All the other ones, so called "quatre tubes" (4 tubes) have the generic name "Eddoura" (in the catalogues, they are only D1 for the single OHC 500 and D2 for the OHC 1000) from the famed racer that extracted all that could be extracted out of them in the late twenties hill climbs all over France. His 1st race mount, about 1924, at around 14 years of age, was a by then well worn out "Mandoline" (due to the shape of the crankcases, another generic name not used by the factory) with 2 speed "Enfield/Motosacoche" gear change :

The note from his father says "everyone is asked to put 2 cents for the hair dresser"; The father was one of the richest industrial guy in France, electrics and chemistry in Grenoble, Mr Grammond. Don't know why the son, Edouard Grammond choose to race under his forname anagram of "Eddoura", the father most probably knew he raced...

Eddoura went on in 1929 to make the record at the famous Laffrey hill climb near Vizille Grenoble, a time for the 4 miles dirt road at average 6% rise over 150kmh, that was only beaten in the 50's, by then wider and tarmarced... tells you what a rider he was!!! It's so steep, lorries and coatches are not allowed on the way down even today...

Eddoura died in 1930, racing a Bugatti T35 in the Grenoble GP, when he clipped another racer and the Bug overturned on him. There's still a massive stone memorial to his memory in Grenoble... Still, he gave his name to a mythologic bike, that's no small achievement. In France, I can only think of Monneret for the other Koehler 1000 and Gregoire, a Belgian racer, that gave his name to the Belgian Sarolea Monotube 500 OHV racer from the late 30s... If you say to a fan in France "I have a Gregoire", he knows what you're talking about!!!

So long for now,

All the best from Patrick.