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?

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS -

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...

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