Motorcycle Classics

Retromobile 2017, Paris, France

Reader Contribution by Somer Hooker

The Koehler Escoffier, made in France, looked like it had an engine installed with a whip and chain.

Winter is hard on gearheads. Cabin fever kicks in and you find yourself having to be around like-minded enthusiasts – and look at or acquire something, hence the success of the winter motorcycle auctions in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the car sales in Scottsdale, Arizona. In Europe the tonic is Retromobile. While the primary focus has been on automobiles and “antiquities,” there is also plenty to entertain motorcycle enthusiasts in addition to three auctions at the event and around Paris, which include motorcycles.

At first glance you think you’re viewing a Velocette, but it is bevel drive Peugeot.

The venue for the show at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles has expanded considerably in the last few years and now fills three halls. There is a one enormous hall dedicated to clubs. Europeans are an enthusiastic lot. Each marque will typically have a club and then there are some “blanket” clubs that cover all makes, like our Antique Motorcycle Club of America in the U.S.

This year, one of the highlights was the display of French motorcycles from the Musee de l’Automobile Henri Malartre in Lyon, France. Motorcycles pre-date the automobile and were first invented in France. The first steam powered bike was the Louis Guillaume Perraux, much like the Roper in the U.S. These were both bicycles of sorts that had been converted with steam engines. (Debate rages over whether the first motorcycle should be considered gas powered or just an engine that develops heat.) Numerous marques were built in France over the years, and their zenith was probably during the Thirties prior to World War II. Many were unable to come back, faced with the postwar devastation of France’s infrastructure. Names like Peugeot are known by Americans for their cars, but their two-wheeled ventures were much earlier. Others like Gnome Rhone, Terrot, Koehler Escoffier, Dollar, Monet & Gayon and Simca once crowded the motorways.

A nice original Rene Gilet V-Twin. Note the interesting drive for the generator off of the transmission.

The Jonghi had a small run. Their double overhead was pretty innovative for the early thirties.

The first motorcycles were steam powered. This was a great example of the Michaux-Perreaux. It was built around 1870. In the U.S., the Roper steam bike was running around.

This collection of AJS 7Rs was on offer for 750,000 Euros!

Each auction house had motorcycles on offer. Bonhams had around 10 lots at their Grand Palais auction, including a fully race kitted Ducati Tri-Colore that was sold for about $11,000 U.S. Artcurial, the resident auction house of Paris and the Retromobile event, had an NSU racer, an MV, and a Zundapp military sidecar unit.

On the streets of Paris and throughout France, you see how essential motorcycles and scooters are to them. For many, it is their year-round mode of transportation. Vive La Moto!

  • Published on Mar 8, 2017
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