Vintage Revival Montlhéry is a bi-annual event for pre-1940 cars, motorcycle, and bicycles at the famous banked concrete track about 20 minutes south of Paris.  It’s the only original 1920s banked race track still in use, as all the wooden tracks are long gone, and the rest are destroyed or no longer in use, like the Sitges motordrome on Spain, and the rotting banked oval at Monza.  The Autodrome de Linas Montlhéry opened in 1924, as the brainchild of industrialist André Lamblin, who purchased the forested acreage and hired engineer Raymond Jamin to design the track.

The banking is big! It dwarfs both cars and motorcycles, and if you’re not doing the ‘ton’, you’re not going up the banking. [Paul d’Orléans]
Unlike Brooklands, which used an earthen banking when built in 1906, Montlhéry is an engineered track, with a steel understructure supporting the concrete paving: one can walk beneath the track while the racers are going at it. It took six months to build the Autodrome, and two thousand workers were employed: steelworkers, concrete teams, carpenters and truckdrivers, who used 1100 tons of steel and 10,500cubic yards of concrete.  Most of the steel grid was prefabricated – a very advanced building technique for the day.

A lovely Triumph TR3 contrasts with the steel understructure holding up the banking. [Paul d’Orléans]
The main oval has two steeply banked curves with fairly short 180-meter straights between them, as well as a longer, flat ‘road’ course which bypasses one banked curve.  The banking has a concave profile, which was calculated using a spiral logarithmic curve, which means it’s fairly flat at the bottom and very steep at the top, where a vehicle needs to travel at over 90mph or so.  The banking is calculated so a car of 1000kg can safely travel at 220km/h (132mph) at the top.

A 1900 DeDion Bouton was the oldest machine on the track this year. [Paul d’Orléans]
I’ve only traveled at about 100mph on a motorcycle (Velocette Mk8 KTT) at the top of the banking, and it’s pretty bumpy over the expansion joints.  I’ve also hitched a ride in the ‘pilot’ car that clears the track between race sessions (with a professional rally driver at the wheel) at about 110mph, and can’t imagine what an extra 20mph feels like, because the ride was very exciting – in a not necessarily pleasant way! It’s also a disorienting to ride the ‘top line’ on the banking, as you pass over the heads of slower riders below, who are nearly vertical while you are nearly horizontal.

Alfa Romeo was a featured marque this year, and fantastic examples of 1920s and ’30s machines were a treat for the eye and ear. [Paul d’Orléans]
The facilities at the track are primitive, and the only ‘official’ spots to watch the racing – a set of concrete bleachers on one side, and the balcony over the starting grid – are the least interesting points on the circuit: the short straightaways.  Otherwise, watching the action on the banking or the chicanes means tromping over grass and peering through a cyclone fence.  There’s no access at all to the ‘road’ circuit used by the cars, which is too bad, because they’re an exciting place to ride and drive.

This rare 1920 Rudge ‘Multwin’ has a belt drive with variable ratios and a 1000cc V-twin IoE motor. [Paul d’Orléans]
Perhaps its spare facilities keep the crowds at bay, because unlike other such events (Goodwood comes to mind), there is no crowd to contend with at the VRM: everyone seems to be a rider, driver, support person, family, or vendor, plus a few spectators to fill in the gaps.  Like the old Brooklands quote, VRM has managed ‘the right crowd, and no crowding,’ in spite of being a unique place to mingle with hundreds of amazing racing cars and motorcycles, many of them in single family ownership for decades, and sometimes since new.

Sebastian Chirpaz has expanded his A Piece of Chic scarf business into making period-correct clothing. [Paul d’Orléans]
Organizer Vincent Chamon took on the task of organizing VRM while in his mid-20s, in 2011, and this year is the 5th running of this bi-annual event. From the program: “For a whole weekend we will go back in time to the golden age of motoring at the heart of the last banked ring, born in 1924 and still in use in Europe.  There are over 500 sports and racing vehicles, cars and bikes all pre-dating 1940, which will take the track in the tire traces of our competition forebears.”

The Yesterday’s stand was bursting with fascinating machines. [Paul d’Orléans]
VRM is the world’s largest pre-War motoring event, and with over 500 machines circulating on and off the track at all times, it’s a glorious kind of chaos to walk the grounds.  Machines are being worked on, tires changed, engines revved, and vehicles driven on and off the track, back to their tents or pits, and there are no velvet ropes between visitors and competitors.  It’s an incredibly democratic, all-access event, a kind of paradise for an arch enthusiast who loves the sound of a rare and highly tuned Vintage motor in use, and loves the sight of a fast machine taken up the banking on such a historic track.

The fantastic Zenith-JAP racer from the Brooklands Museum, parked beside the banking. [Paul d’Orléans]
I’ve caught every edition of VRM, because the combination of the venue and the vehicles is magical.  I was one of only two Americans present this year (the other was Somer Hooker, on his first visit), and it’s amazing to me that for the price of three overpriced nights at a Monterey motel during Pebble Beach Week, one could fly to Paris, and experience the most interesting Vintage event on the planet.

Keeping the magneto dry during one of the many rain showers on Saturday. [Paul d’Orléans]
A lovely 1930s Terrot OHV single, resplendent in chrome and sky blue, an Art Deco masterpiece that could only be French! One of dozens of Terrots participating under the banner of the Terrot Club. [Paul d’Orléans]
Tazio Nuvolari lives! Or at least, in the visage of Graeme Hardy. [Paul d’Orléans]
A picnic on a fine day among the vintage cars, beside the banking – very nice indeed. [Paul d’Orléans]
No rain, no rainbow. While some are looking to the sky, our thoughts are in the gutter! [Paul d’Orléans]
The New Motorcycle! Designer Georges Roy’s first machine, with a unique bent-steel monocoque chassis, and Chaise OHC motor. This machine is in original paint condition, is owned by Roy’s grandson, and is the only example with rear suspension [Paul d’Orléans]
George Roy’s masterpiece, the Majestic, with a car-like chassis, hub-center steering, and a ‘body’ bolted to the underslung channel-steel frame. We road-tested one – read about it here. [Paul d’Orléans]
Looking like bugs on parade, the beetle-back Morgan brigade presents an entertaining racing program. [Paul d’Orléans]
Like a ghost resurrected, an amazing Pavel Malanek re-creation of a lost Laurin et Klement four-cylinder motorcycle. [Paul d’Orléans]
Not just cars and motorcycles! There are daily parades of vintage bicycles and mopeds around the track, which is a healthy 2-mile pedal. [Paul d’Orléans]
Patina is the wardrobe of rugged glamour. This Frazer-Nash special is always a favorite, and is driven with great verve, slinging sideways in chicanes due to all-chain drive and no differential on the rear end. [Paul d’Orléans]
The Brooklands Museum crew starting up a star exhibit: an authentic Cotton-JAP racer with track history. [Paul d’Orléans]
Cyclecars are a thing. Whether original, restored, or freshly reproduced, they’re an entertaining mix of motorcycle engine and lightweight chassis. There’s even an event dedicated to them – the Festival of Slowth. [Paul d’Orléans]
The long line of competitors waiting for the off – some to go fast, some to merely circulate, all having a great time on a sunny day. That’s Cannonballer Andy Kaindl with his 1915 Henderson Four up front. [Paul d’Orléans]
Very early machines are frequently for sale at VRM, like this 1902 Clément…I have an identical machine! [Paul d’Orléans]
Talbots, tents, and tension before the race. The runway onto the track is the best place to see racing cars up close as they warm up for their track session. [Paul d’Orléans]
A lovely setup purely for your enjoyment: a humble garage made portable for VRM, with a fascinating early machine ready to go. [Paul d’Orléans]
Bugatti’s abound! If you’re a fan of pre-war racers, VRM is the place to be. Most of the cars are in original, or at least well-used condition, often in the same family ownership from new. [Paul d’Orléans]
Period attire not required, but certainly appreciated. [Paul d’Orléans]
Even hi-wheelers get into the act, and are often the oldest vehicles on the track. [Paul d’Orléans]
One of the Harry Hacker Harleys circulating in European vintage circles: this one built of a Harley-Davidson JD with four-valve cylinder heads, giving a reported 70hp at the rear wheel, and an almighty bellow on the track. [Paul d’Orléans]
A c.1912 400cc OHV Magnat-Debon single in lovely condition. [Paul d’Orléans]
Postwar machines are ridden in for maximum style points, including this lovely French Harley-Davidson FL Panhead Duo-Glide. [Paul d’Orléans]
Speaking of style…it’s all here, in spades. [Paul d’Orléans]
The Board Track session gave a rare opportunity to unleash these brakeless, clutchless, suspension-less beasts. [Paul d’Orléans]
A lovely Norton International from the Brooklands Museum team, perhaps the ultimate single-cylinder track contender of the 1930s. [Paul d’Orléans]
The balcony over the starting grid is one of only two ‘official’ viewing spots for the track, and is a popular spot. [Paul d’Orléans]
The name says it all. See you in 2 years! [Paul d’Orléans]
 

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