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In Search of the Solex

by Bryan Hollinshead

There is nothing remarkable about my VéloSoleX.  It is a hybrid with a 1954 motor fitted into a 1950 frame.  I bought it from a fellow member in a state that could only be described as terrible.  Both wheels and saddle were beyond repair and it lacked a rear brake, toolbox, stand and several other items.  As if this were not bad enough, the whole machine, with the exception of those parts made from aluminium alloy, was covered in thick rust.  However, after much burning of midnight oil and not inconsiderable expense Le Clochard (the tramp) is now in running order.  True, the rear wheel is not original as I have fitted one from a forties bicycle and it incorporates a hub brake.  The purists won't like that but I understand that the prototype Solex was so fitted, even though production models were not.  I thought that in time I would be able to find all that was required.

My wife and I visit France at least once every year and, as we had planned to spend December and January in Brittany, I was confident that I would find all that I needed without difficulty.  How wrong I was proven to be! Being previously concerned with motor cycle restoration I had not taken much interest in the VéloSoleX, although I had seen them in previous visits to France.  I also found that I had not done sufficient homework before embarking on my search.

On our first day in France, we were visiting one of our favourite little fishing ports when a young man parked his 1956 Mobylette near where we were sitting.  We chatted for a while and he told us that he was a collector and that he had a number of mopeds in his collection.  He was also familiar, through reading Moto Légende and Mob Chop, with most of the British cyclemotors.  Although he visited most of the sales and auto-jumbles within the area, he told us that parts for early Solex models were rarely on display and that prices were likely to be high.

A week later and five hundred or so miles further south, I was introduced by a friend to M Marcel Juillaguet in his shop in a side street in Millau.  M Juillaguet, who was in his seventies, had been a VéloSoleX dealer since the early fifties but was now an agent for MBK.  He kindly gave me a toolbox, some gaskets and some good advice but, unfortunately, could not help with the other items.  However, what was of great interest was that one side of his rather cramped shop was devoted entirely to a dozen or more models of VSX, all totally original, in running order and definitely not for sale!  I was allowed to take a number of photographs and M Juillaguet's logo now adorns Le Clochard.

On then to Toulouse.  As a university city with large numbers of students there must be Solexes by the score.  Wrong again!  Although there were scooters and mopeds visible everywhere, I saw only three battered S3800 models in the course of two days.

Back to Brittany via Limoges, Poitiers, Nantes and Rennes.  No time to look for Solex agents as we had to be back in time to stock up for Christmas from the supermarket.  Heavy snow, which brought things to a virtual standstill for a week, hindered the search for parts.

Enquiries among motor cycle and scooter agencies around Lannion proved negative.  "You'll be very luck to find anything relating to Solexes" was the stock reply.  Very discouraged, I was almost on the point of giving up the search when I had a stroke of luck.

From a chance conversation with a retired carpenter who lived nearby I learned that he had recently bought a Solex for getting around the village.  What was of greater interest was to learn that there was a mechanic who would undertake various repairs to VéloSoleXes in a small town about fifteen kilometres away.  Next day I sought him out.  He worked for a Peugeot dealer and invited me into the workshop for a chat.  At the back was a rather tatty but complete very early Solex that looked very much neglected.  In spite of my entreaties he would not sell it to me but did supply me with a set of engine gaskets and a luggage rack complete with tool box, both of which were in better condition than mine and all at very reasonable prices.  Sadly no stand or rear brake.  However, he mentioned another possible source of supply a further eight kilometres along the coast.

Gérard Ollier sold cycles, mopeds, electrical goods and agricultural machinery and again I received a welcome when I visited his shop.  This time I came away with a correct rear hub, a pair of Solex pedals in good condition and a good handlebar complete with levers and good chrome, all for thirty francs.  Again no stand or brake.

A telephone call to an ex-pat friend who lives near Cahors was a final thought.  I was asked "Is your Solex one with a single-tubed frame and the bottom bracket supported by two strips of metal?  I know where there is one.  Which parts do you need?" "Brake and stand" I replied. "Fine, I'll get them, pack them up and send them to you." True to his word, he did and they are on the desk beside me as I write this script.  I can hardly believe my luck!

Was it all worth it?  The Solexes that once swarmed along the roads of France are now almost an endangered species.  Yes, of course it was worth it.  I met a number of interesting people, improved my French and learned a great deal about the VéloSoleX.  Also, I know that there is an incomplete 45cc model waiting for me to collect when we visit France in September.  Perhaps I can find a Derny.  I always wanted one but apparently they are very rare birds indeed.  Still one can hope.

First published - June 1997

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