Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Clément V4 and Gabriel Holley

Gabriel Holley

A little while ago I published an article on the remarkable Clément V4 motorcycle. Within the comments section I received a factual correction (which is always welcome here) to identify the rider of a Clément in a particular picture not as Maurice Fournier as I had thought but as Gabriel Holley, another prominent motor sportsman of the era. What was special about the correction was that it came from the great great grandson of Holley.

The rider carrying the number 51 is Gabriel Holley
and the chap to the left with the full beard is Adolphe

Holley was a true pioneer of motor transport and was resident in Paris, a city I believe is fair to call the cradle of motoring. The path that characters such as Holley followed is one that is hard for us in the modern world to comprehend. Imagine a time when until just a handful of years prior the fastest personal transport known was a horse and the effects of high speed on the human body was unknown. These chaps raced point to point cross country at high speed on dirt roads through villages that until then had not even seen motorised transport. To race a 1.5 litre beast of a motorcycle with no suspension and little in the way of braking on rough roads at speeds up to 60mph would have demanded considerable mettle.

Poster for Gabriel Holley's garage business. Probably
the driver of the car is Holley.

As with many of the pioneer motorists Holley rode / drove both two, three and four wheelers as well as being a practical mechanic. Holley ran a repair and manufacturing shop in Paris that opened in 1889, he took on contract work for Clément, De Dion and Hurtu. Holley would have been 28 when the shop was opened. He was born in Poitier where his father, Thomas, owned a small hardware shop. No doubt the environment of a hardware shop would have contributed to Holley's passion for mechanics.

Holley's business card.

Holley was obviously well connected within the fledgling motor industry. In 1902 Holley had a gig riding the Clément factory machines. The Clément V4 is credited with being the first motorcycle to reach 100 km/h with Holley as the pilot. So far confirmation of this has not been found though certainly Holley and the Clément were at times in the high nineties in speed events. Interestingly during this period of racing the Clément's main rival was the Buchet parallel twin tricycle. Tricycles competed in the same class as motorcycles. Tuning techniques were in their infancy and the easiest way to more power was a bigger engine, thus a tricycle could carry a heavier weight (bigger engine) than a motorcycle and made for a very formidable racing machine. The Buchet was a 1885cc twin with a reputed 32hp on tap.

The Buchet tricycle.

The workings of the Buchet monster. The crank drove
direct to the axle so engine rpm translated directly to
wheel rpm.

From 1903 the Buchet twin was further developed
and fitted to a two wheeler chassis.

Apparently the Clément V4 was a very difficult machine to ride due to the weight of the very hefty engine in a long and spindly unsprung chassis. Adolphe Clément's son Albert had several falls trying to master the beast. Holley developed a new technique of braking hard before a corner and then accelerating through it, a technique that is now taught in race schools the world over as the fastest way around a bend.

In 1902 Holley competed in the Paris-Vienna race with a Holley-Clément tricycle powered by a De Dion Bouton engine. The following year he became a factory driver for De Dion and competed in the Paris-Bordeaux race in which he was the first De Dion Bouton voiturette finisher.

The attrition rate was high amongst the early motor sport pioneers but Holley went on to live to the age of 89 and died in 1951 in Levallois-Perret near Paris, where he was apparently still riding a bike up until the very end.

Many thanks to Jean-Christophe Gandubert for providing much of the information and several of the images used in this article.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Charlie Lucas Motorcycles

The inspiration for this article - my Charlie Lucas
Royal Enfield.

Not many enthusiasts will recognise the name of Charlie Lucas and be aware of the motorcycles he produced through the fifties. There is virtually nothing in print about his work and equally little on the internet, his bikes may be only a side note in post war British motorcycling history but are certainly worthy of remembering.

Charlie Lucas was an aircraft engine inspector from Watford and his passion was building motorcycles, more specifically individually designed motorcycle frames. How many frames were produced over the years is unknown but he appears to have been quite prodigious for a part-time builder.

From his home workshop immediately after World War Two Charlie Lucas began making grass track frames. At some point in the early fifties his interest switched to making road racing bikes.

The best known and perhaps most successful machine that Lucas was involved with was the MELEM special which was built in 1953 and was powered by a 250cc DOHC Manx Norton engine in a featherbed style frame fitted with Earles forks, Albion gearbox, Manx Norton front brake and EMC rear. The MELEM special achieved a thirteenth position in the 1954 Lightweight TT.

The MELEM Special

Lucas also made a series of Velocette engined race bikes (apparently all fitted with 'cut down' 250cc MkVIII engines).

Although not verified it is quite possible that Charlie Lucas built frames for the series of Velocette racers produced by Doug Beasley in the early fifties. These machines were raced by Beasely himself as well as Eric Pantlin, Percy Tait and Cecil Sandford.

One of the Beasely Velocettes. Possibly a Charlie
Lucas frame. The design is certainly very similar.

A feature of many of the Lucas bikes was Earles forks and variations of this design. Charlie also experimented with low profile framed bikes.

Apologies for the terrible quality of this image.
It is a 350cc Lucas Velo from 1952. There was also
a 250cc built at the same time which was possibly
fitted with a modified Rudge engine and had the
rear suspension units mounted beneath the engine
a la Moto Guzzi of the period.

Another Lucas Velocette, this one a 250cc. This machine
embodies several of Lucas' themes - note the leading
link forks fitted with an unusual tension spring unit
behind the wheel. Also note the low profile of the machine.

Sorry, another bad quality image! This is the above
bike in build stage, the image comes from a copy
of Motor Cycling magazine from 1955.

After the series of road racing machines Charlie Lucas turned his attentions back to grass track racing and resumed production of frames for that discipline. It is not known when exactly this was but some time around 1960 is a good estimate. An article at the time gave Lucas' reason for moving back to grass track as there being less work in a grass track machine, a greater and more readily available choice of engines for the discipline yet the sport was popular enough to provide a ready market for frames. Another reason given was that competition in road racing had become ever more serious. The early and mid fifties indeed was a heyday for the small scale amateur constructor in road racing, particularly in the 250 class, one that was largely forgotten by the bigger manufacturers.

Below are images of several of the surviving Lucas machines:

Again my Charlie Lucas Royal Enfield 500 twin.

And the Charlie Lucas Royal Enfield as first built.
Sadly no more is known of its history as of yet. The
engine cases are devoid of numbers and the gearbox
is an ultra rare close ratio racing one. Both of which
suggest if not actual Royal Enfield factory involvement
then perhaps someone who had close contact with or
worked at Royal Enfield.

This sweet little Lucas framed bike is in regular use
and currently sports a Ducati Monza Junior motor
which suits it nicely. Early history is unknown but
in its time it once had a BSA Sunbeam 250cc twin
scooter engine fitted.

Easy to mistake this as just another Triton but it is
in fact Charlie Lucas frame number 24. At one
time it had an NSU 250cc engine fitted. It sports
an NSU front wheel and an EMC rear.

Images used in this article are from myself, cribbed from the internet and from personal contacts. Most have appeared elsewhere but if I have unwittingly used an image without permission or consent please let me know and I will take down or acknowledge.