Veteran- Edwardian- Vintage

A Section Devoted to Old-Car Matters


FRANCE has woken rather late to an appreciation of motoring history but is rapidly making amends by running a number of events for old vehicles, and opening a number of museums. One of the most interesting of the latter is the Clères Musée de l’Automobile, opened recently by Jacques Pichon.

M. Pichon’s father runs the Hotel Cheval Noir at Clères. He has been collecting and restoring ancient motor cars for many years and with a view to obtaining sufficient finance to continue this hobby his sun has opened this fascinating small museum in this delightful French village.

Beside the road opposite the hotel an old building was demolished, the land bulldozed flat, and here was erected a most tasteful thatched-roof wooden hall in which to house the exhibits. One end of this hall is at ground level so that cars can he driven easily in and out of double doors while the other end is above ground level, visitors reaching it up a wooden staircase.

When we drove into the village last month we were immediately confronted by a 12 h.p. 4-cylinder Delage touring car outside the hotel. On the opposite side of the road two veterans stood adjacent to a board listing the exhibits which can be seen in the Museum. M. Pichon is able to drive the veterans through the village streets without the police being in any way concerned as to whether or not they are licensed, although passenger-liability insurance is taken out. This is a pleasant state of affairs, in great contrast to the strict legislation and compulsory testing which controls motoring of all kinds in England.

As you enter the Museum you are confronted with a Bugatti radiator and headlamps, and a large Bugatti badge, while at the head of the staircase is an alloy-spoke Bugatti wheel, one of the first of these famous wheels to be used by Le Patron, still shod with a beaded-edge Englebert tyre. This came from England, incidentally.

Naturally the most interesting exhibits so far as Motor Sport‘s readers are concerned are the racing cars. These include a 2.9-litre 1933/4 8CM Mascrati, with which Etancelin won the 1934 French G.P. against the P3 Alfa Romeos, its red finish a reminder that it later ran at Indianapolis, a Monoposto Amilcar Six with the well-known supercharged twin-cam engine offset to the near side, a very glossy 1929 Type 37 G.P. Bugatti in the correct shade of blue, and two most formidable and pleasing exhibits in the form of the Rosier/Grignard 1955/56 Le Mans Lago-Talbot and one of the 4.5-litre single-seater G.P. Lago-Talbots, this being the car driven by Grignard.

The star exhibit amongst the racing cars is a late type Maserati as driven by Fangio, which is billed outside the hotel.

To give some idea of the variety and comprehensiveness of the remaining exhibits I will briefly run through the majority of those to be found in this tastefully decorated and laid out hall. They include a 2-cylinder Renault 4-seater, a 1900 6 h.p. Renault with a vast hood and gilled tube radiators on each side of its coal-scuttle bonnet, a sports D.F.P. with a delightfully “period” rounded-tail sports body, a D.F.P. limousine, a 1907 9 h.p. de Dion Bouton, a 5 c.v. Citroën drophead coupe, a side-by-side 2-seater Peugeot Quad like that owned in this country by Ronald Barker, and another 2-cylinder Renault, this time with a 2-seater body.

Sports-car enthusiasts will be delighted to find one of the grand old Delahayes present and correct in French blue, and there are also two B.N.C.s flanking a sports Amilcar. One of these B.N.C.s has cable-operated f.w.b.s, and a Ruby engine, while the other has Perrot front-brake operation and a S.C.A.P. engine. All three of these small French sports are finished in blue. There is a very early racing Renault with side radiators and an Astra searchlight, an 1897 Clement with a de Dion engine at the back, a 1902 2-cylinder 5 h.p. Renault Vis-a-Vis, and, amongst an excellent collection of true veterans, a 1900 Georges-Richard chassis. Another chassis exhibit is a substantially built T-head 4-cylinder 1912 Panhard Levassor with a 1910 engine, while an 1898 Peugeot chassis is also exhibited.

Quite one of the most remarkable exhibits is a 1908 Unic coupé which at first appears to have no steering column and no controls of any kind. The solution is found when the front of the brougham body is opened, when it is evident that the driver is intended to step into this and control the car from the rear seat. This instance of real back-seat driving has been built into bodywork by Vinet-Boulogne. Two fascinating exhibits which stand side-by-side, painted with light blue mudguards, are a 1910 4-cylinder Ballot-engined Delage 2-seater with B.R.C. headlamps, and a 1906 Delage 2-seater with a very racy Kelsch 2-seater body and the 6 h.p. de Dion engine used by this manufacturer at that period. This car has Lucifer headlamps.

There is also another Renault 4-seater, and a vast Bugatti straight-eight rail-car engine very similar to that owned by John Goddard in England, its crankshaft and pistons being exhibited beside it. There are a great many motorcycle exhibits and a whole collection of racing bicycles with adjacent equipment and trophies, while the hall is set-off by large advertisements, drawings and makers’ plaques, not to mention a large number of early radiators. The plaques embrace those of Delage, Panhard-Levassor, Renault and Unic, and the radiators number over two dozen, commencing with a brass radiator from a model-T Ford.

Naturally a great many components such as lamps, carburetters and so on are displayed, not to mention model cars, including the classic clockwork P2 Alfa Romeo and 5 c.v. Citroën 2-seater. The motorcycle exhibits include a very early Peugeot, a 4-cylinder F.N., and a truly formidable Anzani machine built in 1914 with, believe it or not, a 2.3-litre vee-twin engine, used to pace the racing bicycle ridden by Vanderstuyft.

Outside the Museum I came upon a home-built and certainly vintage small sports car with a Chapuis-Dornier engine and a Bignan Sport, the latter having a “push-pull” o.h.v. engine and quarter-elliptic front suspension reminiscent of an early Salmson.

Unfortunately the owner of the Museum was out while we made this tour, so we could not discuss the exhibits with him, but after we had dined at his restaurant he arrived in a Renault 4L and took us out to see by torchlight some of the cars on which he will soon start restoration.

These include a large closed Hispano-Suiza, a big 26.9 h.p. Renault tourer of around 1926, a rough Edwardian Mors tourer, a 5 c.v. Citroën, a Zedele state car which M. Pichon wishes to dispose of, yet another Edwardian 2-cylinder Renault, a vintage F.N. like the one I once owned but rather larger, a Sima-Violet cyclecar chassis with that remarkable flat-twin two-stroke engine at the front of the chassis, where the plugs are vulnerable to rain water thrown up from the road, like the lone but complete example which Tony Gosnell drives in England, a single-cylinder Zebra, not to mention several early motorcycles hung from the roof and a horse-drawn steam fire-engine.

As if that wasn’t enough M. Pichon led us proudly into the hotel dining room to show us the ill-fated but technically interesting C.T.A. Arsenal G.P., this being the second of three such cars which were financed by a French Government grant. It was found at the Lago factory and unhappily will never run again, because someone unknown stole the crankshaft, but M. Pichon is making a fine job of restoring the bodywork and the Lory-designed two o.h.c. 2-stage supercharged 266 b.h.p. 1.5-litre V8 engine. I hope I have written enough to ensure that you pay a visit this year.

Clères is 38 kilometres from the coast On D6, just off the N27 Dieppe-Rouen road. Admission costs about 1s. 6d., and in the quiet village there are no parking problems. — W. B.