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VéloSoleX 50th Anniversary

by Paul Hornby

I had a free morning in Paris and, as it was Saturday 15th June, where better to go than Le Bric à Brac du Solex, which formed part of the VéloSoleX à 50 ans celebration at the Stade Municipal in Courbevoie, an industrial suburb to the north-west of Paris.  A bus ride and a fairly long walk brought me to the Solex jumble in one of the car parks next to the town hall.

There were probably a dozen stall holders selling VéloSoleX spares almost exclusively, and a quantity of complete machines.  Shop-soiled new 3800s were being sold by one dealer for 2500FFr (381.12€) and a shop-soiled new 5000 was 1600FFr (243.92€).  Engines were selling for 500 - 800FFr (76.22€ - 121.96€) and there was a number of 2200s in various states of repair.  A full range of literature and new and used spares were on sale but I wasn't buying, not (yet) being a VSX owner.  The Paris-based club 'Les Solexionneurs' had a stall recruiting members and selling copies of their bi-monthly magazine 'Galet' (Drive roller).  I was given a free fuel pump membrane when I bought a complete run of back numbers!  Also seen on dealers' stalls were a couple of Microns, one of which was not for sale; a Zanetti built in Bologna, Italy and, like the VSX, a front roller drive autocycle; and a Cotin, which was either a re-badged VSX or a close copy by another maker.

The VSX exhibition on the first floor of the town hall didn't open until 2:00pm, so I went over to the refreshment stall to get something to drink and to look at an old moped parked in that area.  It was a mid-50s Lapébie with a VAP engine, built by Mercier of Saint Etienne and named after a famous racing cyclist of the time.  It still carried its original grey finish with dark green lining and tank panels - a rare survivor from one of VSX's competitors.

While imbibing my plastic cupful of warm brown fluid, I noticed large numbers of people piling into the town hall.  "Perhaps they've opened the exhibition early" thought I, "Let's follow them", which I did, only to find that I had gate-crashed the official party given by the Ville de Courbevoie for ex-employees and notables of the VSX factory.  Waitresses proffered glasses of wine and plates of scoff as I went around the exhibition, while on the stage the municipal big-wigs made speeches to the whoops and cheers of the assembled throng.  Someone arrived with a pile of exhibition catalogues and posters and I managed to grab one of each in the rush.  The party culminated in the cutting of a 2m×1m strawberry and cream gateau decorated with a chocolate outline of a VSX and the words "50 ans Ville de Courbevoie".

The exhibition was divided into themed sections such as 'Design Office', with full size engineer's drawings of VSX components, photographs, etc; and 'Jacques Tati Square' in honour of the great comedian's VSX riding rôle in the film Mon Oncle.  Nearly forty restored machines were on display, together with various examples of industrial test equipment made by the Solex company.  The bikes came from the collections of Sylvain François of Paris, Eduardo Gonzalez of Aulnay-sous-Bois, Renan Bullier of Paris and Franck Meneret (known as L'Empereur du Solex because of the breadth and completeness of his VSX collection) from Brittany, amongst others.

Examples of most of the production VSXs were on display together with various derivatives and the following caught my attention: Alain Treboul's 1946 VSX No.1037, built on the third day of production and possibly the oldest surviving production model; a 'Surf Racer', a patented small wheel trike powered by a VSX engine driving the rear wheel and steered by moving a lever on each side of the rider's seat, one of 1500 built around 1969; a Micron Trois Roues of 1968, built either for children or very small adults; Gonzalez's stunning but hardly practical 2200 with every metal component bright chrome plated; a Solex F4, a natty child's bicycle built like a miniature VSX, with a battery operated device in the 'engine' to mimic the buzz; a Dutch-built V D Heem from 1955, finished in a nice BSA Bantam green and different in detail from a French VSX; a Veloto micro car from 1976, a very primitive four-wheeler with a VSX engine driving the rear r/h wheel; a Hungarian-built Roland Garros S3800, a special limited edition in dark green with gold transfers, for the seriously posey.

It was by now time to get back across Paris and, as I left the town hall, I saw that the local radio station OFM had its road-show caravan in the other car park to cover the day's events, live.  Walking to the railway station, wined, dined and listening to the friendly buzz of the VéloSoleXes being ridden to the afternoon's gymkhana events, I thought "All I need now is a nice 3800 to fit my fuel pump membrane to".

First published - October 1996

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