Thursday, July 8, 2010


One doesn't think the heart of a big city like Paris is a place you'll find a stash crammed with old bikes, but they do exist.  I've seen one!  While I can't disclose the names or location, suffice it to say the owner of these machines is a proud man of modest means, a laborer, who happens in conjunction with his job to have the space, the time, and the inclination to restore a canny selection of old motorcycles.

I've included only one of his cavés, as I prefer never to show Everything in an enthusiast's collection - heaven forbid I should be responsible for an unexpected rash of envy or worse among my readers.  A well-surveilled elevator descends to the concrete bunker deep under a charming Parisian café, and a circuitous subterranean pathway (no I wasn't blindfolded - didn't need to be - totally lost!) led to a small workshop, one of several, which housed some very interesting Vintage machinery.

The red-and-black metal toolbox atop a flat tanker with dropped bars meant only one thing - Terrot!  And a sporting one at that; clambering over a 1960s BMW revealed an ohv Sports JAP engine, which meant an NSS model, top of the line at 500cc, super rare in this country of high taxes on larger machines, and basically the most desireable French roadster of the 20s.  What a find!

We pulled the 1927 Terrot out to gain access to the other machines, and photograph the NSS properly...well, terribly, as the light was poor, but at least it was there to photograph.  JAP supplied quite a few manufacturers in Europe with road and racing engines throughout the 'Teens and Twenties, and this 'dog ear' Sports 500cc engine with total-loss lubrication was one of the fastest engines one could purchase, short of a full-race motor.  Still slower than a Model 18 Norton or Sunbeam Model 9, but fast enough for a thrilling ride nonetheless, the Terrot likely topped out at 78-82mph, and the Druid front forks mean a firm ride with only 1.5" of travel and stiff springs.

The owner says his 1926 Rudge Special is more comfortable, and a bit faster with four valves (and four gears!). Still, the overall appeal of the Terrot is undeniable; stylish, rakish, looking fast while parked, it cuts quite a figure even today.

Removal of the French machine exposed this 1920 Sunbeam with JAP 996cc '8hp' v-twin engine.  While we associate the classic black and gold single-cylinder machine with 'Beams, they made several big v-twins in the 'Teens and early 20s, for the military during WW1, and civilians afterwards.  The big Sunbeam dwarfs the Terrot, and has a wheelbase longer than a 70s Ducati twin, longer than a Brough even.  It's a perfect sidecar machine, and of course, it came with a Sunbeam chair, which sits in the rafters, ready for the next Vintage event.

The owner says it functions extremely well with the chair attached, not surprising given the sheer size of the 'Beam, the long handlebars, and the deep torquey power of the JAP sv engine.  While the brakes are almost nonexistent, making Paris traffic impossible, the owner finds the whole outfit charming to ride and says it's a favorite.

I've never seen a 'Sunbeam' branded Jaeger 8-day clock before, nor a Cowie speedo with an odometer on the side - really nice, original, and rare instruments.

As mentioned, a '26 Rudge Special sits with a BMW R60/2,  next to a René Gillet v-twin of mid-30s make, also a big sidevalve, also meant to haul a big sidecar, in this case a rare Bernardin art deco chair, which has had its roof cut off, unfortunately.  For practical reasons I'm sure, like headroom for passengers! 

More Art Deco splendor on the tank and instruments (Jaeger again)

The owner is keen to take his machines out, so on my return to Paris, we'll take the Terrot, find a comparable British machine (Model 18?), and make a side-by-side road test - the second Vintage Motorcycle Shootout!  And, it would be nice to take the 'Beam out solo, to see what it will do, compared to the two singles which have graced my own garage.