Monday, July 13, 2015

The Clément V4, Maurice Fournier and the Parc des Princes

Maurice Fournier on the Clément v4 at 108 kph.
The immediate beginning of the twentieth century saw some of the most exciting racing motorcycles ever built. It was an age of experimentation, daring riders and huge leaps forward. Within the space of 10 years machines had gone from a top speed little more than walking pace up to more than 100 kph. The attrition rate amongst riders was gruesome with races being held on unmade roads and wooden velodromes. For a handful of glorious years France was at the forefront of this revolution and one of the twinkling stars of the halcyon days was the Clément v4.

The Clément is credited with having the first v4 engine made, it was a product of the era of 'freak' engines when it looked like the only way of going faster was to go bigger. Some truly impressive beasts emerged from these times both on four as well as two wheels but even at the time it was evident that the gains were marginal as the large machines were often beaten or matched by their smaller and simpler contemporaries in all but straight line performance.

The 1500cc Clément v4 appeared in 1902 and was quite a technical tour de force. As well as being the first v4 engine and the first four cylinder race bike it also had overhead valves and chain drive. The v4 is also credited with being the first motorcycle to top 100 kph.

The pictures of the Clément v4 on this page are seemingly the only ones in circulation and the details given from captions confusing and it seems more than likely inaccurate. For this post I've done a spot of research, given some background history as well as meandered down a couple of side avenues of interest. The post is (whilst far from exhaustive) probably the most you will find on the Clément v4 on the good old interweb, in the English language at least. If you can add to the story or have corrections, do get in touch....

Clément cycles art-nouveau style ad.

Clément motorcycles, the early years

Clément was already a well established bicycle manufacturer, first in Lyon before moving to Paris, prior to entering the motorcycle market in 1901 (or 1902 depending where you get your information from). Gustave Adolphe Clément was also a major investor in the Gladiator bicycle company, Gladiator was bought in 1896 by a British investment syndicate - The British Automobile Commercial Syndicate Ltd (BACS). Gladiator was merged into the Clément brand to become Clément Gladiator. BACS collapsed and withdrew just one year later in 1897 but Clément stayed as a director.

The Clément 1 1/4hp (142cc) 'autocyclette' had an automatic inlet valve and overhead exhaust, it was marketed in Britain as the Clément-Garrard. As an aside James Lansdowne Norton began in business producing licensed copies of Clément cycle frames and the first Norton motorcycle, the 1902 'Energette' was built around the 1 1/4hp Clément engine.

Clément Gladiator 1905. image credit

The Clément automobiles story in short

To further confuse the proliferation of Clément brand names there is the story of Clément cars which is worth a brief diversion. From 1898 the Clément Gladiator company was producing cars, by 1902 more than 1000 a year were rolling out from the factory. These cars were marketed under both the Clément brand and the Gladiator brand as well as Clément Gladiator. Confusing, no? It does however get yet more convoluted...

The Clément Gladiator automobile company was divided in 1902 between Clément and Charles Chetwynd-Talbot who had been one of the original BACS investors and retained his share of the company. Chetwynd-Talbot took with him the newly formed British arm of the company whose cars became known as Clément Talbots when produced from their London Factory. Within a year the British cars were known simply as Talbots. Despite the changes the Clément and Gladiator brand names remained in production in France alongside Clément Bayard.

On the split between Talbot and Clément, Adolphe Clément chose the new brand name of Clément Bayard after a chevalier who saved the town of Mézières (where the Clément Bayard factory was located) in 1521. At this point Clément changed his name to Adolphe Clément-Bayard.

Just a couple more quick asides on the Clément automobiles story.....

From early 1906 a certain Herbert Austin managed to find finance to built Clément Gladiator motorcars in Longbridge, England under the brand name of Austin.

Adolphe Clément was also a director of Panhard Levassor and when in 1898 their supply struggled to meet demand, Clément built licensed copies of the voiture légère at his Levallois-Perret factory under the name of Clément Panhard.

Wonderful Clément advert from just before WW1.

Clément the man

Gustave Adolphe Clément was a true pioneer of the motor industry. 22 July 1894 he was a passenger in the winning car in the world's first motor race, the Paris Rouen. From 1904 Clément Bayard began to produce racing cars of which he was a regular driver though outshone by his eldest child Albert Clément who went on to lose his life in an accident during the practice for the 1907 French Grand Prix at Dieppe.

In 1878 Clément began the production of Clément pneumatic bicycle tyres. In 1889 he acquired the rights to produce the British Dunlop pneumatic tyres in France. This made him a millionaire and the Dunlop brand soon eclipsed his earlier Clément brand.

Clément later became involved in aeroplane and airship manufacture, he was a vociferous critic of German militarism in the run up to the First World War and a prominent anti-Dreyfusard post-war.

Further reading on Adolphe Clément on wikipedia.

Gustave Adolphe Clément taken c1907.

Maurice Fournier

Maurice Fournier (full name Maurice René Alphonse Marie Fournier) was one of three brothers born to an engineering family, each of whom undertook an apprenticeship in their father's workshop. Each brother went on to become a noted figure in the very earliest days of motor racing and each began on tricycles and motorcycles and went on to race motorcars. Maurice was a prolific racer and in 1903 became 'Champion du Monde de Motocyclettes', this was presumably the World Champion of France title, though to be fair France was at the epicentre of early motor sport. Maurice was also noted for developing and riding the 'Fournier Buchet' 3 litre parallel twin monster race bike.

In 1911 Maurice was racing in the French Grand Prix at Le Mans (his town of birth) where he had an accident that led to both his death and the death of his mechanic, Georges Louvel. Maurice was 30 years old.

Maurice Fournier (driving) and Georges Louvel shortly before
their fatal crash at the French Grand Prix 1911.

Parc des Princes

As the name suggests the Parc des Princes was an area of countryside on the fringes of Paris used by royalty for hunting and relaxation during the 18th century. As time went on the bourgeoisie took up these pursuits and with the growth in population of the city and popularity of leisure pursuits eventually a road was built through the Parc. 1897 is when the history of the Parc becomes relevant to this article for that is when a velodrome was built. By this time the Parc had become a multi-purpose sporting venue with athletics tracks, football and rugby pitches. The velodrome had a capacity of 3,200 seats and was exactly two thirds of a kilometer in length. Henri Desgrange, a co-owner of the velodrome, set up the Tour de France in 1903 and the finish line for le Tour was at the Velodrome through to 1967.

Equally of interest to this story is that there was a trail around the Parc that was used for motorcycle racing. Over the years as the popularity of the velodrome grew the capacity was increased up to 40,000 spectators. The velodrome was demolished in 1967 to make way for the Péripherique ring road and the rubble from stadium was used to build the foundations of the Parc des Princes football stadium, home to Paris Saint-Germain.

A stayer (bicycle pacer) race at the Parc des Princes.

Images of the Clément v4

The below image is captioned as being taken just after victory in the Ostende Road Race of 1903. The machine however looks like a cycle pacer with its lack of brakes, extra frame at the rear and far set back seat with long handlebars. In the early days stayers (as cycle pacers are also known) took their powerplants from sporting machines in order to match the speeds of the cyclists. In later years as engines became more powerful so the stayers were fitted with large lazy, low tuned engines. The chap on the Clément is leaning forward in a racing crouch for the photo rather than the upright stance of a stayer. Possibly stayer machines also saw service on the road in the early days it does seem more likely that this image is mis-captioned.

Clément v4 bicycle stayer. Rider certainly unknown, location
very much in doubt but usually given as Ostende.

The machine below looks very much more like a conventional racing machine. The rider seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to Fournier and far left, if I'm not mistaken, that is Adolphe Clément himself. Compare the machine against the bicycle stayer above and there is one surprise difference. The drive is on the opposite side. Both machines appear to have a countershaft for gearing and to reduce length of chain run but the drive on the racer is on the right side of the bike and on the stayer the left. The flywheels are also on opposite sides. Incidentally it is very unusual for a stayer to have chain drive, invariably a belt was preferred for its smooth running.

A Clément v4 racer with Fournier as rider and Adolphe
Clément on the left.

Below another image of the Clément v4 stayer. This image is reproduced with the caption, 'Fournier at the Parc des Princes in July 1903 just before the race in which he beat Rigal (Griffon).' Asides from the issue that the machine is a stayer rather than a regular race bike the rider bears no resemblance to Fournier. The background of the image looks to be the area under the grandstand or banking of a velodrome. There was motorcycle racing at Parc des Princes but it was said to be on tracks around the Parc. Whilst it is not impossible that stayers were raced against each other on occasion as a sideshow to the main event at the velodromes this does seem slightly unlikely. The most likely conclusion is that the caption is completely wrong or mixed up with that of another image.

Clément v4 bicycle pacer by a velodrome workshop.

Image as below is another Clément race bike. Definitely mis-captioned as 2000cc. The v4 motor was 1500cc. Purely speculatively the background to this image could well be Parc des Princes. I'm struggling to say whether or not the rider could be Fournier, he bears a passing resemblance.

Clément v4 racer. Definitely 1500cc and not 2000cc. Possibly
Fournier riding.
The following image is c/o the The Motor magazine from 1903. It shows Albert Champion with the Clément in 1903. 

Albert Champion with a Clément v4 visiting England for
demonstration runs. The machine ran a mile in just under
one minute.
Finally another image of a Clément racer. The postcard caption gives the rider as Marius Thé.

Marius Thé with Clément v4.


  1. Take me back,take me back to those days.

  2. RE Velodrome Workshop. Definitely the 'Cabins' at the 'Parc'

    1. Thanks Peter. Yep, definitely the same place. The BNF online archive is fantastic isn't it! Cheers, Richard

  3. At Ostend, 17.7.03, a Monsieur Sauveniere, of whom I know little, on a 4 cyl Clement (-Gladiator?), ran a flying kilometre time of 32.5s, which is 68.9mph or 110.9kph and an unofficial World's record. If your picture can be traced to Ostend in 1903 then it is almost certainly Sauveniere. I will email you with more.

    1. Hello Terry. The Clement 4 was indeed a remarkable machine and a fair bit ahead of its time. Near 70mph in 1903 is very impressive. I would certainly be interested in any other information you have. Another two weeks at sea, hopefully I'll make it over to Dorchester soon after. All the best, Richard