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We decided to take advantage of a cheap offer by the ferry company for a five-day visit to France and made the crossing in early January. Unfortunately, our crossing coincided with some of the worst gales in the channel for a number of years. The passage was quite the most uncomfortable that I have experienced. Winds Force 6-8 were blowing and these resulted in the ferry missing the tide at St.Malo, which meant that we had to spend an extra three hours waiting for the tide to rise sufficiently for the ship to dock. By the time that we had disembarked, stopped for lunch and bought a few provisions it was early evening when we finally reached our destination.
I couldn't resist opening the garage doors to see what I had purchased in my absence and, in the gloom, it seemed that the garage was full of rather rusty junk. Being very tired I closed the doors and went inside for a meal and to watch French TV.
Next morning I wheeled the Solexes outside into the yard and was pleasantly surprised. It seemed that I had done rather well for my outlay of FFr1000 (€152.45). There was a model 5000, which is apparently a runner and in very reasonable condition apart from rather tatty chrome on the rear wheel, a 1700 complete but in need of restoration, two 3300s, one of which had chromium plated mudguards, and some various odds and ends.
Decisions had to be made as to what to do with my purchases, and quickly, as I could not spend the whole of the short visit indulging in my hobby. As we only have a small car it would only be possible to bring one Solex back to England at a time.
A quick check on the 5000 showed that there was adequate compression and rotating the flywheel resulted in a good spark. Obviously this was the one to leave in France for future use, so some engine oil was poured through the sparking plug hole and the motor rotated to distribute the oil. This will be the project when we return at Easter for a month or so.
I hope to make a good 3300 from the two available, using the one with chromium plated mudguards as a basis. Again there was insufficient time to dismantle both to choose the best parts from each and so this, also, will have to wait until Easter.
The 1700 seemed the best prospect. It was all there apart from the toolbox (in fact there was not a single toolbox among the four machines. What happens to VéloSoleX toolboxes?) The paintwork was tatty and some chromium plating would be necessary but it was, as they say, ripe for restoration.
I dismantled the cycle parts and took the power unit to my new-found friend Jean-Pierre who runs a small workshop nearby specialising in Peugeots but sympathetic to Solexes. He checked the ignition components on his test rig and supplied me with a set of rings, gaskets and a pump diaphragm. Sadly he couldn't help with a toolbox.
Back in England (early Feb) the 1700 is now sitting on the bench in my workshop resplendent in its fresh paint-work and held together with various odd nuts and bolts while the originals are at the plater's. The engine has been rebuilt and is ready for installation. Progress has been slower than normal due to the cold weather, which limits the time that I can spend in my workshop but soon I shall be applying to Dave Casper for authentication in order to secure an age-related number and the 1700 can then take its place alongside my 2200 and 330.
One might be forgiven for thinking, "Why not spend the FFr1000 on a Solex in very good condition and ready to ride instead of playing around with lots of rusty metal?" Well, the excitement of searching for missing parts and seeing a transformation take place makes it all worthwhile as many other members will, no doubt, have experienced themselves. Our neighbours in France regard me with amused tolerance no doubt wondering why anyone should spend time and money playing with obsolete machinery rather than occupying their time with more worthwhile pursuits!
First published - April 1998
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