By Francois-Marie Dumas (translated/expanded by Paul d’Orléans)


Café Racer magazine (France) hosts its annual Café Racer Festival at the Montlhéry autodrome on the third weekend of June, and it remains the sole motorcycle-only event held at that historic track.  Other events like Vintage Revival Monthléry are mixed car and bike, so the CRF is something special [but watch our film on Montlhéry here!]. This year the event was made extra-special by the efforts of French moto-journalist and historian Francois-Marie Dumas (a Vintagent Contributor), who organized an exhibition of simply remarkable machines with racing and record-breaking history at or near the track.  Francois-Marie kindly provided us with photos from the Café Racer event, plus historic photos of these motorcycles racing and taking records at Montlhéry and nearby Arpajon in their day.  Let’s hope such exhibits become a new tradition at the Festival! Below is the story of some of the amazing bikes exhibited.

The display of Montlhérry and Arpajon record breakers during the Cafe Racer Festival [Francois-Marie Dumas]

1924 McEvoy-Anzani with 8-Valve 1000cc Anzani engine

Collection: Motor Sport Museum Hockenheimring (Germany)

The 1000cc 8-Valve McEvoy Anzani as restored today [Francois-Marie Dumas]
The British Anzani 1000cc 8-Valve engine was developed in 1924 by Michael A. McEvoy, who was then only 20 years old, but was an experienced competitor.   British Anzani (an outgrowth of Alessandro Anzani’s engine design business in France) had already built a very complex DOHC V-twin that took the absolute World Speed record the year before (108.4mph), in the hands of Claude Temple.  McEvoy opted for something far simpler: a pushrod OHV motor with four-valve cylinder heads controlled by exposed rods and rockers.  The twin exhausts on each cylinder on this machine, made of flexible pipe, are consistent with the original.

Michael McEvoy with a special Anzani-engined McEvoy racer in 1925 [Yves Campion Archive]
As McEvoy was employed by Rolls Royce in 1924, he entered his 8-valve racer at Brooklands in 1924, under the pseudonym L. F. Ellis.  His McEvoy-Anzani boasted 45hp @4000 rpm, and was timed at over 180kmh (108mph) in the hands of the Belgian pilot A. Breslau, who beat a kilometer record in his home country.  Fed by a single-float Binks carburetor, the McEvoy used a three-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox and Druid forks with two side springs.  What’s unique about the McEvoy is not its engine (by 1924 both Indian and Harley-Davidson had built 8-valve racers), but the frame designed by Michael McEvoy: a rigid triple-cradle design at a time when all of its competitors, Brough Superior included, were satisfied with an open-cradle ‘keystone’ frame, with or without a bolted-on subframe.

1924 New Imperial with 350cc JAP DOHC.                                       

Collection: Motor Sport Museum Hockenheimring (Germany)

Bert LeVack on the Arpajon straight at 93mph on the DOHC JAP-engined New Imperial [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
J.A.P. (Joseph A. Prestwich)  was the most famous British engine manufacturer, supplying at least 22 different manufacturers with engines by 1923. The brand first challenged the French motorcycle industry in 1904, with a sidevalve engine for the International Cup races in Dourdan, part of the series of French races that inspired the creation of the Isle of Man TT (because of rampant cheating!). In 1922, in pursuit of new records, JAP abandoned its classic single-cylinder OHV design, and created this exceptional 350cc motor with a special DOHC top end with complex apparatus operating its transverse rockers. The bike ran on a mixture of gas and alcohol (Bert Le Vack, the pilot, admitted shamelessly that he got it from a distillery in London!).

The very special, one of six 350cc DOHC JAP racer of 1924 [Francois-Marie Dumas]
LeVack accumulated records at Brooklands in 1922 and ’23 with, among others, a flying kilometer record averaging 150.9kmh (90mph). On September 9, 1923, he brought his 250 and 350cc DOHC racers to France to take records in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris (impossible in Paris  today!) where they were respectively timed at 133.83kmh (78mph) and 155.3kmh (93mph) on the flying kilometer. LeVack returned to France on October 11 and 12th, 1924, to win the 250 and 350cc inaugural races on the brand new Montlhéry Autodrome, and returned for more records in 1925 in 250 and 350cc classes. In total Bert Le Vack and this 2-valve 350 DOHC with two valves gained 16 world records from 1 to 300 kilometers.

1926-30 Zenith-Temple with Supercharged 1000cc JAP             

Collection: Motor Sport Museum Hockenheimring (Germany)

The 1930 configuration of the Zenith-Temple-JAP world record holder [Francois-Marie Dumas]
The careers of successful speed record bikes in the 1920s/30s were often long and tumultuous, as there simply wasn’t much ultra-fast machinery available, or budgets to build new ones. Zenith motorcycles was the most zealous supporter of speed records and track work in their heyday of 1918-1930, when they took more Gold Stars at Brooklands (for 100mph laps in a race) and more World Speed Records than any other make, barring BMW.  This Zenith started out as a 1926 Championship model, with JAP KTOR motor, and saw plenty of track teim at Brooklands with veteran speed tuner and racer Claude Temple (who added the Harley-Davidson forks for extra stability) and rider Joe Wright, who established a record lap of 182.45kmh (113.5mph) at Brooklands when the bike was new.  The Zenith was totally overhauled in 1929, with reinforced Druid ES (enclosed spring) forks and the new long-stroke JAP JTOR engine fed by twin AMAC carburetors.

The supercharged Zenith-Temple-JAP at Cork, Ireland in 1930, about to take the World Speed Record [Hockenheim Museum Archive]
The magic barrier of 200kmh (120mph) was first crossed by O.M. Baldwin on this Zenith-Jap on the Arpajon straightaway (just outside the Montlhery Autodrom) on August 28, 1928. In 1929, Joe Wright used this bike for his own series of records at Arpajon, with a 5-kilometer record at 193.19kmh (115.9mph). In 1930, the Zenith found its final form as seen here, with an added supercharger and minimal aerodynamic cladding on the forks and around the engine cases.  In this configuration, the Zenith was at the center of one of the greatest scandals in the history of World Record competition [read the full story here]: in 1930 in Cork, Ireland, Joe Wright took the absolute world speed record at 242.5kmh (145.5mph) hitherto held by Ernst Henne on BMW WR750 compressor with 221.4kmh (132.84mph). The Zenith was a reserve machine, as the team planned to use an OEC-Temple, equipped with the same JAP JTOR engine, to take the record.  The OEC broke a transmission pinion, and the Zenith took the record, but the sponsorship money was provided by OEC (as Zenith was bankrupt). The OEC was therefore presented as the world record holder, and the deception, once discovered, made a huge splash in the British tabloids. [Read the full scandal here]

1925-30 Zenith ‘Super Kim’ with Supercharged JAP 1700cc        

Collection: Motor Sport Museum Hockenheimring (Germany)

Pure badass. The 1700cc supercharged Zenith-JAP built by Roberto Sigrand in Argentina: ‘Super Kim’ [Francois-Marie Dumas]
The story of this amazing Zenith is long and complicated [and you can read more here].  It’s believed this was the actual 1925 Olympia Motorcycle Show machine, a Championship model built in extremely limited numbers (perhaps only 6) by Zenith under their Managing Director Freddie Barnes.  The story of this machine picks up in Paris in 1928, when the bike was raced by Roberto Sigrand, and the Zenith was re-badged as a ‘D-S’. Roberto was the son of Camilo Sigrand, co-owner of Dibladis-Sigrand (‘D-S’, founded in 1922) motorcycles of Paris, who were notable after WW1 for building racing specials assembled from various parts, some from ex-military salvage, and competing in the very first Bol d’Or.

Roberto Sigrand in Paris in 1928 aboard the Zenith, re-badged as a ‘D-S’ (Dibladis-Sigrand), with the Harley-Davidson fork added [Sigrand Family Archive]
In 1928, the Sigrand family moved to Argentina, as Camilo sensed the conditions were ripe for yet another huge war in Europe.  The Sigrands intended to manufacture motorcycles in Argentina, but there was insufficient infrastructure to support this idea, so the family initially had a repair garage. Roberto Sigrand was the top dirt track racer in Argentina, and among the best in the world, regularly trouncing superstars like Sprouts Elder and Frank Varey at the Huracan track in Bueno Aires on his flat-twin Douglas.  Roberto also indulged in record-breaking with the Zenith, using a Harley-Davidson fork, taking both solo and sidecar South American speed records on Oct 19 1930 at 189.47kmh (113.7mph) solo and at 160.71km h (96.5mph) with sidecar.

Roberto Sigrand on the Zenith, about to take a South American sidecar record on a dirt road in Argentina [Sigrand Family Archive]
Roberto Sigrand founded the ‘Aros Kim’ piston ring factory in 1930 with fellow Frenchman Jacques Warnier, and further developed the Zenith to showcase the factory’s potential.  The bike was renamed ‘Super Kim’ and the displacement was boosted to 1696cc (94.9 x 120 mm), and used a Roots-type compressor from an Amilcar C6, plus twin-spark ignition using two magnetos!  Super Kim took a new South American speed record at  250kmh (130mph), an honest claim, as Joe Wright took his Zenith with a very similar configuration to 242.5kmh (145.5mph), and Eric Fernihough reached 273.44kmh (164mph) in 1937 using essentially the same engine in a Brough Superior chassis. Most remarkably, Super Kim’s record was taken on a dirt road!  Suitably long, straight roads, paved roads were hard enough to find in Europe in 1930, and impossible to find in South America.

Inside the Aros Kim factory, with Super Kim on display [Sigrand Family Archive]
The technical specification of Super Kim is fascinating: there are two primary chains, driving the transmission and the compressor, using lengthened engine mainshaft that’s  supported by an outrigger bearing held in a pierced steel basket.  The clutch uses a similar steel basket for an outrigger bearing for the gearbox. The rear brake is huge at 254mm (10″) and extremely light with many pierced holes, but its outer rim is finned for strength; the front brake is Harley-Davidson. The equally spectacular intake manifold is Y-shaped underneath the compressor to accommodate two twin-float AMAC racing carbs on each side of the lower frame rails,  just in front of the rearset footrests. The Sturmey-Archer gearbox is a ‘Special Heavyweight’ (SHW) version made originally for a Brough Superior SS100 (one of which was fatally crashed by a wealthy Argentine racer), and the rider changes gear with his knee!

Super Kim, showing the complicated primary drive for gearbox and supercharger, and the shifter mechanism mounted sideways for the rider’s knee! [Francois-Marie Dumas]
The long saga of ‘Super Kim’ deserves a full telling: the story was lost to history, and the motorcycle was discovered in Argentina by Paul d’Orléans, who began the search for its background when he purchased the machine in 1999.  The full story was uncovered almost ten years later, and involves passion, intrigue, sex, international relations, cross-Atlantic romantic pursuit, Olympic athletes, dictators, political pressures, adultery, and suicide.  It is perhaps one of the best-documented and most interesting sagas around an individual motorcycle ever recorded, thanks to the efforts of Roberto Sigrand’s great nephew Ignacio Acebedo, and will be told in full via soon.

1928 Gillet-Herstal 600R.                                                                           

Collection: Yves Campion (Belgium)

It’s impossible to imagine an exhibition on Montlhéry’s motorcycle records without a Belgian representative, because FN, Saroléa and Gillet, three brands established with Herstal-Lez-Liège, took plenty of records at the Autodrome.

The 1928 team with the victorious Gillet 600R [Yves Campion Archive]
After shining in road trials, Leon Gillet, owner os Gillet-Herstal, decided to tackle a few world records by hijacking Marcel Van Oirbeek from the FN design staff.  Gillet wanted a four-stroke unit-construction engine of 500cc, which Van Oirbeek delivered for 1926, including two Competition models: one with a shaft-driven OHC, the other with sidevalves. The sidevalve racer shared its crankcase with the production version, of the series, but the OHC engine is a unique design. Both 500cc racers shined on the racetracks, and a larger version of 598cc (the piston stroke grew from 90mm to 108mm) won overall and in its 600cc class with a sidecar at the Bol d’Or in 1928 and ’29.  When fitted with a huge tank of gasoline, the 600R took a harvest of 83 records for Gillet, with riders  Milhoux, Debay and Sbaiz at the end of 1928 at Montlhéry.

1930 OEC-Temple with Supercharged JAP 1000cc engine             

Collection: Motor Sport Museum Hockenheimring (Germany)

The impressive OEC-Temple-JAP with supercharged JAP JTOR 1000cc motor [Francois-Marie Dumas]
A British-German battle for the absolute World Speed Record was in full swing in 1930, with the principal fighters being Ernst Henne for BMW, and Joe Wright defending English colors on Zeniths and this OEC-Temple-JAP.  Both used supercharged motors housed in minimally-streamlined chassis: Henne with his WR750 Kompressor launched the duel in France at Arpajon by reaching 216.48kmh (129.9mph) on the flying kilometer in Sept 1929.  Claude Temple and his OEC-JAP team decamped to Arpajon the following August, in 1930, to take the record back with this machine, and rider Joe Wright set a new World Record at 220.99kph (137.23mph).  Henne and the BMW team immediately returned to the fray, topping the OEC’s speed by only .5mph at Ingolstadt that year, but it was still a World Record at 221.67kph (137.74mph) in September 1930.  Claude Temple, Joe Wright, and their team then traveled to Cork (Ireland) where they set an incredible record with his Zenith-JAP at 242.59kmh (145.55mph), that stood for two years.

Joe Wright aboard the OEC-Temple-JAP on the Arpajon straight outside Montlhéry in 1930 [Francois-Marie Dumas /]
Claude Temple was a race tuner and record holder using British Anzani engines in his own chassis, and later on OEC (Osborn Engineering Company) machines using JAP motors in the 1920s. Temple was the first rider to cover more than 100 miles in one hour at Montlhéry in 1925, and the first to exceed 120mph (193kmh), at Arpajon in 1926.  With sponsorship by both OEC and JAP, Temple built two machines for Joe Wright to race in 1930. Their JAP JTOR 996cc V-Twin OHV engines were mated to Powerplus compressors, giving about 85hp @ 6,000rpm, regardless of their frail rear tire of only 3.50″ x 21″.

Joe Wright at Montlhéry on the OEC-Temple-JAP in 1930, during testing [Francois-Marie Dumas /]
This OEC-Temple-JAP was restored according to its original construction, and is equipped with the very low double-cradle chassis that offered uncommon rigidity, paired with the curious ‘Duplex’ fork patented by OEC.   The Duplex system was very difficult to move from a straight line at speed, which made it slightly unpopular in regular use, but it was perfect for a speed record chassis.  And while the 1930 World Speed Record the OEC was intended to take at Cork was actually taken by a Zenith [read the story here], the OEC was timed at well over 150mph unoffically.  It spent its later years housing a supercharged, four-cylinder watercooled Austin 4 motor for record breaking, then was used with its original JAP engine by Bob Berry in his streamliner at Pendine Sands.

1934 Peugeot 500cc P 515 “World Record”                                          

Collection: Adventure Peugeot (France)

The 1934 Peugeot P515 ‘World Record’ special [Francois-Marie Dumas]
Peugeot had not manufactured motorcycles of 500cc or more in the 1920s, but in earlier days competed with monstrous engines of 2Liters, and exotic DOHC 8-valve parallel twins from 1914.  Ten days before the opening of the 1933 Paris Salon, Peugeot presented their premium 500cc P 515 model, and year later, a special version of the P 515 was used to set nine new world speed records.

The Peugeot P515 taking its records at Montlhéry in 1934 [Francois-Marie Dumas /]
Peugeot designed a new and very complicated unit-construction engine block for the P 515, using a pair of fragile helical gears to run the longitudinal camshaft and the magneto, while a chain drove the dynamo, a pair of gears the oil pump, a second chain for the kickstarter, a third chain for the primary transmission, etc. In sum the engine was externally elegant, but internally complicated, monumental, and heavy. On October 5, 1934, the brothers Pahin, Camille Narcy and Pedro Verchère took to Montlhéry with a lightened P 515 (2nd and 3rd gear and the kickstarter were removed), tuned with 22 hp @5000rpm, giving 135kg (297lbs) and 150km/h (90mph) using a special 22L fuel tank.  The attempt was plagued with lightning and continuous icy rain, but the reliable engine took nine world records, including the 24 hours (118.74mh/71.24mph) and 3000km (118.16kmh/71mph) records. [Read more Peugeot race history here]

1934/38 Jonghi 350 DOHC                                                                         

Collection: Stable Nougier (France)

The 1934 Johghi with DOHC 350cc motor [Francois-Marie Dumas]
The successes of the Jonghi DOHC racers are breathtaking. Built on the basis of the Jonghi 350 TJ4, one of the most beautiful French production machines that Giuseppe Remondini débuted in 1931, the first DOHC version appeared in 1933 in a 350cc version, and was soon paired with a 250cc version. Like the 350 and 500cc Nougier, the Benelli Bialbero, and other famous racers, the Jonghi is distinguished by its overhead cams driven by a cascade of gears down the right side of a particularly compact engine block. It tastes its first successes with this 250cc version at  Montlhéry in 1934, where Louis Jeannin, the Jonghi factory rider, took four world records, including the one hour at a 156.24kmh (94mph) average. He then took the French 250cc Championship in 1935. In October 1936, a new 350cc version, developed by Louis Jeannin before he left the company, broke world speed records with Georges Monneret in the saddle for 50miles, 10 km , 100miles, while lapping at 172.94 kmh (104mph).

Louis Jeannin at the helm, and Giuseppe Remondini, the manufacturer, taking records in 1934 with the Jonghi 250 DOHC. [Francois-Marie Dumas /]
On October 25, 1938, Georges Monneret won a colossal prize offered by the “Race Fund”, 150,000Francs for the fastest 20 laps of a 125 kilometer road circuit: the Jonhi averaged 113.788kmh (69mph) on a 50% gasoline-benzol blend, despite a fall at the Faye hairpin. The prize money was unfortunately never paid.


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