Rumors have swirled for years that the Centenary of the Montlhéry autodrome, organized by Vincent Chamon and his team at Vintage Revival Montlhéry (VRM), would be the last.  Those who know the magic of this august racing circuit, a bowl filled with the ghosts of racing past, quickly submitted eligible pre-1940 racing cars and motorcycles, with priority given to vehicles that had raced at the track in its heyday of racing and record-breaking.  And so they came: a bumper crop of incredibly rare and storied vehicles, many only read about in magazines and books.  Plenty of applicants were turned away to make space for the best of the best, whose owners had taken pains to bring over 500 of their machines not for show, but for go.

While Brough Superiors rarely raced at Montlhéry, they broke plenty of speed records just a few kilometers down the road at Arpajon, which has a nice straight highway into town. This is Howard Wilcox’s SS100 in its original paint, which he rode to the event from England. The autodrome’s banking and tunnel track entrance can be seen in the background. [Paul d’Orléans]
Everyone knows concrete race tracks of a certain age are bumpy, and get worse with time, as the expansion joints between poured or cast sections shift and widen.  Brooklands was the worst of the lot, according to those who rode/drove there, built when the technology for pouring banked racetracks with concrete was new.  Montlhéry was a close second in the bumpy stakes, regardless that the engineering of a giant concrete tracks had evolved from a humped earth mound like Brooklands to an engineered steel-and-concrete construction by 1924. While Brooklands is a ruin today, Montlhéry is still in regular use, although it’s doubtful any improvements / amendments / repairs have been made to its crumbling surface in many decades.  And still they come, for the romance of the place.

Fantastic Bugatti Type 35 with period Art Deco paint job. [Paul d’Orléans]
Montlhéry has notoriously little infrastructure for the public, which dates right back to its origins: the owner, architects, and builders had simply forgotten to include grandstands in the plans, so they were a literal afterthought. Thus there are no built-in concession stands, few toilets, and little comfort for the public.  Everything necessary must be hauled in for the weekend, and vendors secured, with the available food best described as ‘better to bring your own lunch’, although there was an oyster trailer hidden far down behind the car tents this year!  Whoo! And, there’s an exhibition hall in the center of the track (jokingly nicknamed ‘the Guggenheim’) that serves a very good hot lunch, which you wouldn’t have known about (I didn’t) unless you’d entered a vehicle and been given a meal ticket.  These were improvements.

Maja Weber with the 1914 Harley-Davidson J racer she rode at the event. Show and go! [Paul d’Orléans]
Gone are the days, though, when you could camp in the acres of forest in the heart of the circuit, and wander around at 6am (or 2am) to climb the banking and take photos on the actual track.  Those are treasured memories from the 1990s, racing at Coupe Moto Légende before it moved to the user-friendly race circuit at Dijon. A void was left for vintage racing at Montlhéry, which was filled 15 years ago by the youthful Vincent Chamon, and his team at VRM: it’s been a success since the very first event in 2011, which I was lucky to attend, vowing to return every two years to support the magic of vintage racing at this amazing venue.

Period correct aero-engine V-8 hot rod of the most delicious type. [Paul d’Orléans]
Given the lack of infrastructure and visitor comfort, one might expect a weekend event at Montlhéry to be uncomfortable and little supported – the opposite of glamorous Goodwood, with its swanky entrants, tremendous car park, quality vendors and food tents, and vibe of family fun in a noisy amusement park.  VRM is Goodwood’s oily-handed sibling, too busy adjusting its carburetors to visit the champagne tent … which is exactly why I think it’s the best vintage motorsport event on the planet.  It’s dirty, inconvenient, hard to access, you’re likely to get a spot of oil on your clothes, and must constantly be on guard to avoid being run over by a Bugatti or Koehler-Escoffier or a madman piloting an ancient cyclecar with no brakes.  But, that’s how close you are at all times to some of the most important pre-war racing cars and motorcycles in the world, being used as their makers intended, sometimes in the same family hands as when they were campaigned at the pinnacle of their racing careers.

The first meeting of the 1926 Rex-Acme Blackburne Club, with members from across Europe! [Paul d’Orléans]
This Centenary year saw a bumper crop of over 500 cars and motorcycles, more than ever before – by a long shot in the case of bikes.  There was support from museums and factories, who brought their treasure out to play, a gesture much appreciated by the crowd.  This year that included Audi Tradition, who brought a string of legends including the awesome V16 Auto Union Grand Prix, and The Originals Renault, who brought historic record-breaking cars from the 1920s, and an incredible racing plane!  The list of entrants is too long (you can see them all here), but to summarize, included were 37 Bugatti Grand Prix racers, 20 racing Morgan three-wheelers, plus numerous Alfa-Romeos and Amilcars to Peugeots, Tatras, and two Wanderers from Audi Tradition – a ’34 W22 coupé and ’38 W25K streamliner.  There were over 160 motorcycles on the track, plus plenty of display vehicles to ogle on two, three, and four wheels, plus wings.  And a well-supported autojumble for moments of contemplation, and temptation.

Got steering wheel? Well, the autojumble do. [Paul d’Orléans]
As an homage to upcoming Paris Olympics (and I’m so glad that’s NEXT month!), the deDion-Bouton Club held a re-run of the Paris-Toulouse-Paris motor race held during the second modern Olympic games of 1900.  Team Jarrott, named for the foundational racing driver Charles Jarrott, who raced a deDion in the world’s first official motor vehicle race held in 1897, brought 20 1890s trikes to Montlhéry for special circuits of the track, the likes of which you’re unlikely to see anywhere else.  These folks are deliriously nuts, and hold regular trike races in the UK…reaching heady speeds of 60km/h and leaning into corners like sidecarrists.

Two of the more than 20 DeDion trikes come for a different Centenary, of the Olympics. [Paul d’Orléans]
The highlight of my visit was an invitation from Dr. Robin Tuluie, whom I’ve known since the 1980s in our Roadholders MC days, to passenger in his remarkable home-built racing special, the 1929 Menasco Pirate.  The chassis is Riley, but the resemblance stops there, as Rob sourced one of Albert Menasco‘s racing Pirate aero engines from California – a 4-cylinder air-cooled 6 liter beast with 230hp – and clad it in a lightweight aluminum racing body, with an all up weight of just over 1500lbs.  I wrote up Rob’s back story, and some about the Pirate, in a previous article, but suffice to say he’s won Daytona four times on motorcycles of his own construction (including the notorious Tul-Aris), and taken four Formula 1 Grand Prix World Championships as the chassis designer for Renault and Mercedes-Benz teams.  Rob’s antics on the track had spectators cheering and corner workers giving thumbs-up, as he four-wheel drifted and slithered through the chicanes, and thundered past the Bugattis and Alfas on the banking and the straights.  Rob likes to win, even when there’s nothing to win.

With Dr Robin Tuluie and the Menasco Pirate, ready to hit the track. [Paul d’Orléans]
A borrowed helmet and gloves was good enough for tech – these are ‘demonstration’ laps after all – and I knew it would be a wild ride, even if Rob promised to ‘take it easy’.  As if he could!  The narrow cockpit required an arm around Rob’s shoulder on the track, but no squeezing in fear as the man had to haul the steering wheel, and it was my job to keep the hell out of the way as he flew around the track. Exhilarating is hardly the word; you haven’t lived until you’ve circulated a racetrack in fear of your safety, or your life!  I’ve ridden the banking myself on motorcycles fast (Velocette KTT Mk8) and slow (Ner-a-Car!), and passengered in insane cars (the late George Cohen’s no-brakes, chain-drive aero-engined Brazier, and in the rally car used as ‘sweep’ after each stage), but to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with an old friend in a demonstration of masterful, fast, prewar driving skills, was one of my life’s treasured moments.

Rob making a quick pre-run oiling session for the exposed OHV gear on the four-cylinder air-cooled Menasco engine. The keen-eyed noted a few interesting parts, like the 3D printed Menasco float bowl chamber caps, but couldn’t see the metal-sprayed linings for the home-made brake drums. [Paul d’Orléans]
Not many Americans (North or South) attend VRM, which is a shame, but understandable.  I traveled in full economy mode this year, re-discovering the joys of a 50 euro hotel room in Paris and microbox rental car, to splurge on the rich experience of the ancient racetrack, the 500 historic racers, and the fantastic friendly spirit of Vintage Revival.  Enjoy the photos!

A wonderful Windhoff oil-cooled Four at the Yesterdays display. See our Road Test here! [Paul d’Orléans]
The man of the hour, VRM founder Vincent Chamon. “I will not organize another VRM, but that does not mean there will not be another. I’m talking with a few event promotors…” Best of luck, and fingers crossed. [Paul d’Orléans]
Ridden not hidden…to the circuit. A lovely Velocette Endurance. [Paul d’Orléans]
Streamlining made simple, for bicycles. The unusual, and historic, Velo Torpille. [Paul d’Orléans]
Late in the day on Sunday, the clouds opened for a dramatic close to this Centenary event. [Paul d’Orléans]
Well dressed in period style! Suggested, not required. [Paul d’Orléans]
Motorcycles are dwarfed by the sheer scale of the concrete banking at Montlhéry. [Paul d’Orléans]
From the passenger seat: about to pass the lot of them on the banking. [Paul d’Orléans]
Several lucky kids drove around in micro-cars like the BMW 328, avoiding the perils of much bigger cars heading to the circuit. [Paul d’Orléans]
It’s better with three! After hours with the gang on their Terrot sidevalver. [Paul d’Orléans]
A pale blue Talbot racer awaits the inevitable rainstorm. [Paul d’Orléans]
Proper tail! The rear end of Kim II, the very special and historic G.N. racer once owned by Charles Sgonina. [Paul d’Orléans]
At the tent of The Automobile Magazine, a last bastion of good writing about historic vehicles (which I write for occasionally). At dinner with their entourage, someone asked what car I drove in Mexico. When I answered ‘a 2018 Subaru Outback with a 3″ lift kit’, this gent said ‘Oh, I designed that car.’ Meet Peter Stevens, who also designed the McLaren F1. [Paul d’Orléans]
The control tower for the autodrome, a charming Modernist design, with announcer Igor Biétry highest. [Paul d’Orléans]
Sebastien Chirpaz, founder of the superb clothing line A Piece of Chic, who is perhaps his own best model. [Paul d’Orléans]
Scott Barrett, who took over as Editor of The Automobile Magazine this year, as Jonathan Rishton took over as Publisher. Wishing them all success! [Paul d’Orléans]
The engine room of a lovely 1926 Rex-Acme Blackburne racer. [Paul d’Orléans]
It might bite! The engine room of the 1926 Renault 40CV record-breaker, in the factory display. [Paul d’Orléans]
Best in red! The 1907 Fiat F2 6 130HP Grand Prix car, and a matching spectator. [Paul d’Orléans]
Parallel twins before Triumph (1): the 1921 Peugeot M2 500cc OHC parallel twin Grand Prix racer. [Paul d’Orléans]
Parallel twins before Triumph (2): a 1920 Blériot 500cc twin with rear springing and hand controls. Made by the same company who built pioneering aircraft. [Paul d’Orléans]
Lots of Velocette KTTs hit the track, including this 1932 KTT Mk3 converted to Mk4 spec, ridden by Guy de Vleeschouwer. [Paul d’Orléans]
A very historic 1925 Norton Model 25 racer, that took many long-distance records at the track. It was the first Norton with an integral oil pump and recirculating oiling; note the square lump on the crankcase below the timing chaincase. Proper. [Paul d’Orléans]
One of a very few 1926 Indian A45 OHV racers sent to Europe. [Paul d’Orléans]
The Deutsched Motorrad Museum Neckarsulm brought this rare Husqvarna 500 Grand Prix racer, with its superb looks and crackling sound. [Paul d’Orléans]
Graeme Hardy makes everything more fun, with his impersonations of Tazio Nuvolari and other characters of the 1920s. [Paul d’Orléans]
Narrow conditions! The working room of a G.N. racer with V-twin engine. [Paul d’Orléans]
Funky Flames: even a Ford Model A is welcome! This machine was driven from England, towing a very special trailer built of period race car parts, and hauling several cool motorcycles. [Paul d’Orléans]
This DKW SS350 was repatriated from the Soviet Union, after being hauled away for study during WW2. [Paul d’Orléans]
The engine room of a supercharged Bugatti T35: all business. [Paul d’Orléans]
The Beast of Turin was a special guest star, as seen on Instagram videos everywhere. [Paul d’Orléans]
The Audi Tradition display was not popular due to these barriers – not the spirit of the event, and the only display to keep the curious at bay. [Paul d’Orléans]
Need a bike? Head to the autojumble, there were plenty, from Moto Guzzi Falcones to Norton Internationals. Did I ask? Yes… [Paul d’Orléans]



Paul d’Orléans is the founder of He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.




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