Tuesday, February 02, 2010

PEUGEOT RACERS: THE BOL D'OR

By Bernard Salvat (avec Paul d'Orléans):

Post-WW2, the Peugeot factory focused, like so many other war-ravaged manufacturers, on motorcycles for the masses in a world hungry for basic transport - the days of extravagant engineering and stylish Art Deco Grand Tourisme were over. There was simply no market for luxury machines and exotic racers in France at the time, yet the old fire still burned in the hearts of many factory men for competition and racing success. The factory was primarily concerned with rebuilding its automotive capacity, while maintaining a range of lightweight motorcycles to fill the immediate needs of the population, which were, as always, well-designed, reliable, and chic. Of course, with such a grand history of brilliant motorcycle engineering, competition success, and drop-dead-gorgeous styling, Peugeot retained a legion of fans who Remembered.

One such was a stalwart private entrant in 'production' racing, Georges Lacour (below), who had finished 5th in the 1950 Bol d'Or on his mildly tuned Model 176 T4, 175cc roadster (see catalog photo, above). Three important men at the Peugeot factory took note of his success, shared his passion, and dreamed of seeing Peugeot wear, once again, the victory laurels: Antoine Peugeot, always passionate about speed, Mr. Rheinhardt, the business director, who knew that racing success would boost sales, and Louis Mialon, a factory engineer who had designed a special 4-speed engine for a Peugeot 175cc, and wanted to test his creation against its natural rivals.

The three agreed to go racing, with Mialon building a motor based on their Model 176 TC4. This engine was to have no serial numbers, for the Peugeot factory could not be suspected of being behind this special racer... it was against the rules of the Bol d'Or, and the individuals involved stood a good chance of an upbraiding, or sudden loss of job, should their project become known.
The engine was unique, with a cylinder created from a mass of copper, a downdraught inlet manifold, and specially cast crankcases with cooling fins on the front of the engine. It was placed in a TC4 chassis, also without a serial number.

Mr. Rheinhardt then placed an order for a new 'TC4' for himself through the Swiss Peugeot importer, Mr. Périat, and of course it was this Racer which was packed up and trucked to Switzerland. Périat was unknown in the world of the lightweight motorcycle racing in France, and thus a good 'cover' for this Works machine; he sponsored the racing team for the 1951 Bol d'Or. History books record that a '175cc Peugeot' was ridden by George Lacour to seventh place in his class... even though this machine was not officially created at the Peugeot factory, and did not exist in the factory records! The origins of this mystery machine did not become known until decades later, when George Lacour himself told the tale to Bernard Salvat, in 1998.

Journalists present in 1951 at Saint-Germain en Laye (site of the Bol d'Or that year) noted that Georges Lacour's Peugeot showed various modifications (see drawings above) from the catalog: engine side covers with an air scoop to cool the clutch, cylinder fins with 'soldered' (sic) copper fins, and that inclined intake tract. During the race, the bike was very fast, 130 kph, which allowed him to remain at the front, covering up to 88 km in an hour. At the 18th hour, Lacour was headed only by a DS-Malterre [Dibladis-Sigrand-Malterre; there is a connection here with my old supercharged Zenith!].

Alas, Périat, the Swiss importer/race boss, who knew nothing of the harsh realities of an endurance race, had prepared a healthy and nourishing dinner to sustain Lacour during his grueling 24 hours or racing - solo! Georges Monneret, ever the professional racer, had warned Périat that a strong coffee followed by a glass of champagne (!), without getting off the motorcycle, would be much better than a meal. But it was too late; at the 21st hour Lacour pulled in with nausea, and never left the pits. And yet, Lacour finished seventh in the 175cc Class, without having ridden for the last three hours! This performance did not go unnoticed, and reports by the press about Lacour were glowing, which ultimately paved the way for Peugeot's victory in the Bol d'Or the following year.

Inspired by the success of Lacour in the 1951, and by the excellent results obtained early in the '52 season by rider André Bouin (on Lacour's machine), the executives at Cycles Peugeot gave the green light to formal participation of five motorcycles at the 1952 Bol d'Or. All were to receive specially tuned Peugeot 175 engines, prepared by André Mialon. This time with some financial means, the head of the Research Department cast special cylinders whose bore was hard chromed (above, compared to the standard cylinder) machined new 'full disc' crankshafts to better fill the volume inside the crankcases (which increases the precompression on a two-stroke engine), and lightened the gearbox cogs. However Mialon regretted not being able to cast new crankcases for larger bearings on the new, stronger crank mainshafts. As these new engines delivered power at 7,000 rpm, he was concerned that the crankcases and gearbox weren't strengthened further. Originally designed for the 7.5 hp '175' series, the engine suddenly needed to cope with more than double the power; plus, they would be running their newfound 16 horsepower for 24 hours!

On June 14, 1952, at the Circuit de Linas-Montlhéry, five Peugeots were on the starting line (see pic above), with Antoine Peugeot in the director's chair. The #43 (orange) falls to Clermont Valeyre Jean, 18; the #44, (painted dark blue), Georges Lacour, 27 years; the #45, (yellow) is assigned to Michael Goll, 19 years and #46, (white and blue) is that of André Bouin 30 years and finally #47 (red) will be conducted by Andre Verchere (see photo below, and the header ), 21 years. It is interesting to note that the bikes aren't in 'team' colors, but reflect the color options available on the Road models - truly, a mobile showroom on the track!

While fast at 130 kph, the Peugeots were far from winning the race: they faced three Puch Works dual-ignition engines, a CMA prepared by the factory for DS-Malterre, Automoto Guiller, and the Ydral Semi-Works models; all formidable opponents. Indeed, in mid-race, the Kellenberger Puch was in the lead, with a lap ahead of the DS-Malterre (Camus), and two laps ahead of the Bouin's Peugeot. But the head gasket of the Puch gave trouble, the bike lost power, and Bouin headed Camus with a commanding lead for the final 6 hours. At the end of the race, Bouin led with a race average of 89.559km/h; Camus on the DS-Malterre was second. The Peugeot team finished with Kellenberger 4th, Goll 8th, Lacour 12th (he had trouble with his points), and Verchere finished 15th, after his tire burst. He fell so hard he had to replace the forks, which cost around two hours. Valeyre Jean dropped out of the race after his crankshaft gave problems. Three hours later he left the pits again, but before long his magneto failed, "machined" by a loose crankshaft nut.

Peugeot was back in the limelight after a long absence, and capitalized on their victory by producing a true 'Cafe Racer' in 1953. The 'GS 176', a detuned replica of the endurance racer, retained the special cylinder barrel created by André Mialon. For road use, the carburetor size was reduced to 22 mm (the racer had used 27mm), the wheels were of conventional dimensions (2.75 and 3.00 x 19, instead of the narrow 2.00 and 2.50 x 21 on the racers). The horsepower was boosted from the 'standard' model by 50%, giving 10 hp @ 6000rpm and a genuine 110 km/h, which was very fast for a 175cc roadster in 1953. Also sporting was the overall presentation; red enamel and abundant chrome with a megaphone exhaust, elegant dropped handlebars, chromed petrol tank sides, black two-seater saddle with red piping, alloy wheel rims, and full-width 170 mm brakes. All arguments in its favor!

The GS 176 was priced at a very realistic FF190,000: 16% more than 176 TC4, but also 12% less than the rival DS-175 Malterre AMC Motor Sport, a little slower perhaps but more comfortable. At this price, the sale of the 176 GS rose sharply to sell 3500 units, but dropped just as quickly, for Peugeot did not participate in the 1953 Bol d'Or.

Many thanks to:
Bernard Salvat (above, in the middle!) for his words which I have translated/adapted, and photos from his amazing book 'Motos Peugeot, 1898-1998'.
Yves J Hayat for being my eyes&ears&camera in Paris (and providing the pix of Salvat, Lacour and Verchére).
George Lacour (right) for the photo of the 1952 Peugeot Team, and for the great story!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think your last blog was a little pro French; this don't look like years ahead to me lol dave

Grandpa Jimbo said...

P.d'O: What a beautiful machine! I have had great respect for French engineering and now even more thanks to your wonderful articles. May I have some more please sir?

Jim A.

vintagent said...

@Dave;
The French were at the forefront of motorcycle technology only in the first 30 years, from the 1890s to 1920s. After that, they seemed to lose steam, although they were certainly capable of brilliance (see the Louis Lepoix post).

It seems every country producing motorcycles had its 'moment'when they produced machines which were technically the equal or better than anywhwere else:
The US was 'cutting edge' only between 1900 - 1925ish, then stopped competing internationally, and no longer pursued high tech.

Britain was at the forefront of tech between 1900-1950ish, and I would suggest the AJS 'Porcupine' was the last of their Grand Experiments, unless you count the Norton Rotaries!

Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, and other countries (New Zealand!) all had their 'moments' when things seemed to coalesce, then dissipate. It seems to me that Italy since the 1920s and Japan since the 50s are the only countries still 'on top' in the development stakes. This may be a controversial opinion, and of course individual factories or designers don't fit into this 'shotgun' sample, but as a general rule, it helps me organize my thoughts into broad categories.

And of course, this thesis is not a blog post, but a dissertation!

vintagent said...

@Jim:
This article took many hours to prepare - working from a Google translation of Salvat's notes for the Retromobile exhibition, re-interpreting the bizarre 'English' which resulted, then re-writing the thing to have it make some kind of historical sense, even though Salvat's text was completely out of context to it's original supporting role to the exhibit.
I love doing it, I'm dedicated to broadcasting what I find fascinating about Motorcycling, and a Man's Gotta Eat, so until I sort out how to make a living from writing (I do get paid for catalog copy, public appearances, and consulting - but these are sporadic), such posts about subjects which are NOT FOUND IN ENGLISH ANYWHERE ELSE, will sadly be rare.
I'm considering a 'donation' button for the site, and I encourage people who find motorcycles through my site ($750k worth of Vincent Black Lightnings have sold via my reportage) to make a small contribution to keep The Vintagent publishing.

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul,
It"s simply perfect ! Probably, you don't know how happy I am ! I believe that this is the very first time that people in USA may learn something serious about Peugeot motorcycles great history. I am very proud that you bring so much help to this. Thank you so much.
Faithfully yours, Bernard Salvat

Kaptain Kipper said...

Hi Paul, I was at Retromobile in Paris last week and saw the wondeful Peugeot motorcycle disply. I think the UK (where I'm from) and the US always see the world from an English speaking perspective. This means that as far as we are concerned industrial innovation came out of Britain and technological advancement out of the USA. We then acknowledge German efficiency and Italy for style. Somehow we always miss out France. This country and culture have been such incredible innovators in industry, science, philosophy and technology yet seldom get the full credit from us anglophones. Try to visit Retromobile next January. It's really worth the journay. Thank you to Yves J. Hyat for the photographs.

Kaptain Kipper said...

Hi Paul, I was at Retromobile in Paris last week and saw the wondeful Peugeot motorcycle disply. I think the UK (where I'm from) and the US always see the world from an English speaking perspective. This means that as far as we are concerned industrial innovation came out of Britain and technological advancement out of the USA. We then acknowledge German efficiency and Italy for style. Somehow we always miss out France. This country and culture have been such incredible innovators in industry, science, philosophy and technology yet seldom get the full credit from us anglophones. Try to visit Retromobile next January. It's really worth the journay. Thank you to Yves J. Hyat for the photographs.