Formidable French motorcycles
This is the story of two French dual-named motorcycle marques developed and built at one factory in the town of Macon located in the east-central area of Saone-et-Loire. So what intrigue led up to the conjoining of the two competing companies?
While France, like Britain and the U.S., saw literally hundreds of different motorcycles come and go in the last 150 years, most are virtually unknown today, for example French companies named Dollar and Hasty. Some of those that still garner attention, albeit often faintly are Dresch, Gnome & Rhone, Motobecane, Nougier, Rene Gillet and Terrot. Still they lie somewhere beneath the usual vintage bike radar, although often they, like both Monet & Goyon and Koehler-Escoffier, left an indelible mark and with a decidedly French flair.
Background History: A Good Cause
If Monet & Goyon were still in business, they’d be about to pop the cork on some 100-year old French bubbly, having built their first motorcycle back in 1917, during the post-WWI recovery of Europe trying to get back on its two feet and two-wheels. The enterprise was formed during the war by engineer Adrien Goyon and Joseph Monet, their intent to build vehicles that could be operated by wounded French military veterans of which there were tens of thousands. This resulted in a variety of 3-wheelers/ tricycles (AutoMouche, Velauto, Velocimane and Cyclecarette)) produced in the early 1920s. That first M-G was powered by a plucky 117cc 4-stroke featuring an automatic intake valve; a design already considered obsolete in 1920. But things did improve.
Sales in general were less than brisk, so in an effort to keep afloat, M&G switched to two-stroke powerplants, and made the right choice by selecting a tried and true British made Villiers engine, the design powering a wide variety of machines of the day. The menu wasn’t upgraded to offering a 4-stroke option until 1926, again this time via Swiss designed M.A.G. motor (250cc-1000cc) already in use by the Frenchbuilt Motosacoche as well many others including Britain’s Brough Superior, Matchless, and Royal Enfield.
The French-Swiss relationship lasted until 1931 when M&G brought out its own in-house creation, the MG35 featuring a unit-construction powertrain. Unfortunately it was a bit of a flop, so the company returned to the M.A.G. for reliability, further upgrading its design over the following production years. Another weak link in the overall M&G design was the fragile gearbox, but a fix was readily available thanks to the venerable Sturmey-Archer transmission, basically tank-tough, and well-capable of handling the power of the M&G 350 and 500 production bikes. But when you say “Show me the Monet,” the big money, as with an original Monet painting, focus always reverts to racing machines and Monet & Goyon were no strangers to race track success. For example, at the Montlhéry Race Track, the marque took the World Standing Start and Flying Kilometre Class Records with Albert Sourdor riding, and also set the 175cc Class World Records for 500km at 51.2mph, 1,000km at 50.3mph, 1,500km at 50.75mph, and 2,000km at 52.06mph. They won the 175cc Class in the Swiss Grand Prix and The French National Championship for Class 6 (175cc) for four consecutive years, and the 175cc Class in the Bol d’Or race, covering 290 laps (940 miles) in the Forest of Fontainebleau, at a speed of 42mph.
1928 Super Sport 500cc Monet & Goyon
While it definitely has the “steampunk” look, the factory racer is the real deal, unrestored original, and now on display at the L.A. based Heroes Motorcycles, an emporium of the crème de la crème vintage bikes of all nationalities. Speaking with Heroes master restorer Serge Bueno, we learn that just last year he discovered the Super Sport 500cc Type H in the condition seen here. Says Serge, “I touched nothing. It was a survivor and it starts and runs. Of very limited production, the special engine was nicknamed the “cathedral” because of its high arching head design.”
Monet & Goyon kept pumping out bikes into the 1950s, but didn’t light any bonfires, barely a match. Their offerings included rather feeble 98cc and 125cc mopeds as well as girder front end/rigid framed 250 and 350 4-stroke street bikes that looked like they belonged back in the 1930s which was actually the origin of their designs. Production came to a standstill in 1939 as WWII loomed and did not resume until the war ended in the summer of 1945, then initially saw mostly small displacement bikes and the ubiquitous French moped. But as the economy improved, the honchos at M&G put on their thinking caps again; like, how do we start selling some bikes? Apparently someone suggested taking a good, hard look at the 200cc Villiers two-stroke, eventually it cradled in a new model named “Shooting Star,” a rather nice looking machine launched in 1951. It featured a 3-speed gearbox (by 1953 a 4-speed), more modern telescopic forks and a rear plunger-type suspension; a giant leap forward for M&G. The motor produced 7.5 HP, capable of bringing the 105kg light, lively and nimble machines to 59 mph. As was the company’s penchant for a chicken in every pot, a bike for every need, out came several variations including the “Tourisme Luxe” cruiser, a motocross variant and an econo 3-speed version. The Shooting Stars brought sporting honours to Monet & Goyon during the Paris-Nice Trials competitions, and when the factory entries earned a respectable fifth place finish in the 250 Class at the 1951 Bol d’Or.
Sibling Rivalry: Koehler-Escoffier
Koehler-Escoffier was actually founded some five years prior to Monet & Goyon when they commenced production in the city of Lyon. The exact date was November 1, 1912, when Jules Escoffier and Julius Koehler decided to emblazon their names on their vision of a motorcycle. Escoffier has already been wrenching on French motorcycle designs as early as 1901, joining his mechanic father at the Magnat & Debon factory. Ten years later he departed to start his own enterprise, then in 1912 his designs attracted a new customer, one Marcel Koehler who just so happened to have graduated top of his engineering class, as well as being a skilled and competitive motorcycle rider. It also turns out his father was buddies with Prince Albert of Monaco and helped jumpstart the famous Oceanographic Museum. His mother was related to the inventors of colour photography and cinematography, so the young Koehler, then just 20, enjoyed some genetic advantages which in this case were channelled toward motorcycles. Meanwhile Escoffier, then 31, apparently had already been building a 500cc V-twin called “La Mandolin” attributed to the engine’s shape reminiscent of the musical instrument shape. The bike, after winning the 1914 Argenteuil hill climb and a gold medal in the Paris-Nice rally, brought Koehler-Escoffier fame as French motorcycle par excellence. However, in that same year, on April 23, 1914, Escoffier suddenly died from illness. A few months later, WWI flared up across Europe, bike production was suspended, and Koehler, now 22, found himself inducted into the French army. Rather than be sent to the trenches, he found himself ordered to Russia where he was trained as a pilot, then became an instructor and test pilot of Renault engine airplanes. ‚
Koehler survived the war and returned to Lyon in 1919. La Mandolin went back into production with improvements including a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox, chain final drive and tuned exhaust. A Sport version churned out 25 ponies via a hemispherical (“hemi”) head, good enough to clock over 80 mph and to win the 1922 Marseille GP.
Perhaps intoxicated by the success, Koehler’s partners got in over their financial heads spending too much on racing, problems escalating in 1923 when both 500cc race bikes broke down during the Tours GP. The economic picture was gloomy, but then in 1926, thanks to partner Roger Guignet, a new advanced design 500cc single cylinder appeared. Featuring an overhead camshaft head and dual exhausts, it looked good enough to develop into a 1000ccc racing twin. It proved unbeatable by the summer of 1927. But despite having both a good 500 single and the 1000 twin, actual production remained minimal due to limited financial resources, the situation resulting in the use of worn out machine tools and fragile parts. By 1928 the end seemed near, but as the motorcycle fates and French nationalism would have it, things brightened considerably when rules for the France championship were changed, and in the nick of time for Koehler-Escoffier. At this point, only “pure” French machines could now compete in the championship event, foreign bikes no longer being eligible. Here Monet & Goyon entered the picture; as it were, a merger of French forces. While French machines, they however employed British and Swiss engines, and were thus disqualified. Solution? Koehler-Escoffier would acquire Monet & Goyon with their French powerplants and focus on building a 500cc racer to win the upcoming 1930 French Championship. To this goal, they established a special fully equipped race development centre near the Monet & Goyon factory in the town of Charnay-les-Macon. All went into high gear for the upcoming August 31, 1930 event, where the new Monet & Goyon purposebuilt 500cc racer took the chequered flag, averaging 60mph for the 150km race and claiming glory and the title of 500cc French Champion.
Au Revoir et La Fin
It is generally held that Monet & Goyon as well as Koehler-Escoffier ceased production sometime during 1957 and were completely gone by 1959. Today the marque is all-but forgotten, but there is one location where you can still get up close and personal with these milestone machines; Heroes Motorcycles, 1210 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, Callifornia USA.
Alive and kicking – an M&G Moto Ball bike
Moto Ball achieved considerable popularity in the ‘thirties, and some manufacturers even produced purpose-built models. This 1932 Koehler-Escoffier 250 “Moto Ball Special” was ridden in competition by the French motorcycle soccer team. The 250cc inclined single cylinder produced 9 hp @ 4500 rev was housed in a single “interrupted cradle” frame. The forks were a parallelogram girder design while both wheels were 19-inches. Tipping the scales at 90 kg (about 200 lbs.), top speed was 80 km/h (about 50 mph) maximum on the playing field. Note exposed valve springs. One of only 11 such examples known to exist, it helped Monet & Goyon and Koehler-Escoffier reign as champions of France from 1933 to 1938. Serge Bueno of Heroes Motorcycles invested a year in tracking down the ultra-rare missing parts and completing the superb restoration.
The Monet & Goyon Automouche featured a wicker saddle. The 3-wheeler remained in production until 1925.
The Super Sport 500cc Type H.
ABOVE Monet & Goyon 1930 Type NF with 350cc Swissmade MAG engine – Power rated at 8 HP. 3-speed tranny and magneto ignition. Max speed 80kmph or about 50mph. Electric lighting optional as well electric horn. This restored example appeared at a 2011 UK...