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.

No comments:

Post a Comment