Monday, January 18, 2010


Among the many lots of Automobilia offered at the Bonhams auction at Retromobile in Paris (Jan 27th), are these two limited-edition, very rare photographs of early motorcycling competitors. Each of these photographs has been reprinted from an original glass negative onto high quality, archival stock, and is strictly limited to an edition of 7 per photograph. (Sold for 115Euros)

Most unusual is the 1902 photo of 'Madame Jolivet' (above), competing in Deauville that year on a 2 1/2hp G.Pecourt motorcycle (which used a Zedel aiv motor in a modified racing bicycle frame). Her race average over the flying kilo was 62 km/h! She and her husband were on the Pecourt racing team; they appeared in 1902 also at the Gaillon and Chateau-Thierry hillclimbs, and the Dourdan speed trials. Photographs of women competitors at road trials such as Deauville are exceedingly rare, and this image represents one of the very first photographs of a woman motorcycle racer.
A good look at her outfit tells a tale; women with an inclination towards sports were creating a new category of clothing, necessary to break out of the high collars, corseted waists, and heavy skirting which was the fashion of the day. Ms. Jolivet is wearing a combination of a worker's smock and balloon trousers (overgrown knickers with a 'skirtish' profile to fool the eye), with stockings and what look like an early example of white trainers! She certainly looks comfortable with her machine - but look at that saddle height!

The second print depicts a Mr. Wilfred aboard a Léon Bollée tricar, at an unknown event in France, sporting his race number '21' and wearing a competitor's armband. Tricars at this early point in the century were competing with two-wheelers at events and sales floors around the world, as they vied for primacy as the 'best' solution to a powered lightweight vehicle on the road. The configuration of both the Pecourt and Bollée formed branches on an evolutionary tree of motorcycles which have since died off, their brief flowering having whithered away by the late 'teens. The Pecourt has an engine hanging below and outside the front downtube of the bicycle frame, a vulnerable position certainly but one which kept the weight low and forward - which would keep skids ('the dreaded side-slip') and top-heaviness as bay. The arrangement of the Bolée has perhaps a longer lineage, or at least more cousins, with rear-drive three-wheelers still available from the likes of Triking, although they and earlier Morgan, B.S.A., etc, all leaned more towards automotive appearance, with shapely steel bodies and car-type seats. (sold for 345 Euros)

The Bonhams Retromobile Auction site is worth a gander; the sale includes a myriad of drool-worthy cars, and one 1925 Bugatti Type 22, recently recovered from the bottom of Lago Maggiore in Italy, where it lay since 1929! Ready for restoration, I would say... but what a fantastic photograph!! (sold for 260,500 Euros!)


drsprocket said...

Paul, I was on the Maine road run last year and we stopped in to visit the Owls Head Transportation Museum. To my surprise they had a Leon Bollee Tricar and took it out for a spin much to our joy and amusement. Rich

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul;

I'm Trent Reker, editor and general madman at BikernetMetric. I tried searching your site for what I am about to ask but it seems your Google search widget isn't working (or I'm a spaz) so I decided to write.

I recently discovered that what I think of when someone mentions hill climbing is vastly different from what an Englishman will think when the same is mentioned. It seems that Americans ride straight up a steep mound of dirt and Brits ride circuitously around a paved track. Both sports are termed as "hill climbing."

I've tried researching vintage British hill climber history but have had no luck other than finding their National Hill Climbing Association website, which I found lacking. A few nice pics, but not much else.

From what I can tell, a lot of vintage motorcycle marquees raced these routes, but I can find no history about these races, the bikes, nor their riders. Thought you may know something and put it up on your blog for everyone to learn.

Thank you and best;


vintagent said...

Hi Trent,
sounds like the makings of two posts! There are many famous British hill climbs, but it's cars which as usual steal the show. I can access quite a bit of stuff on them, but it's all hidden in other places. So, thanks for a good idea. The more obscure rubbish I write about, the more top google search results come up as MINE... bwaaahaaaahaaaaaaaaa. Cue mighty Wurlitzer organ doing the 'Phantom' theme.

Anonymous said...

T - If not already found you may wish to Google 'Red Marley Hill Climb', this would be more in keeping with the 'colonial' version and is for classic bikes.
I can't recall if it was the 'site' or the actual programme but I do recall that it covered the history of the event with first hand accounts.

All the best

Anonymous said...

Dear Vintagent,

Great follow-up to your fascinating post on the Bugatti submerged for nearly three quarters of a century in Switzerland's Lake Maggiore:

It was raised from its watery grave by the local SCUBA club in order to generate funds for a member of theirs, a young college student by the name of Damiano Tamagni who was recently murdered by 3 youths one night in an apparent random attack.

The club had Bonhams sell the relic at Retromobile in Paris where it brought an astounding $362,000 (euros 260,500)! The funds will go to the Damiano Tamagni Foundation and the car will go to the Peter Mullin Collection of California where it will remain on display in unrestored original condition (read "fantastic time capsule").

To view more images of the car at Bonhams or being raised from the lake, just Google "bonhams lake maggiore bugatti".

Thanks Vintagent. Great history, great car, great story, great purpose, great post!