Welcome to Part Four – the final part of our report on Vintage Revival Montlhéry, held on 7 and 8 May.
In Part One we looked at the voiturettes, in Part Two the cyclecars, and in Part Three the motorcycles. Now we’ll look at the Big Stuff: racing, sports and record-breaking cars from many eras…
The SEFAC was project to build the ultimate French Grand Prix car. The racing driver Raymond Sommer, the industrialist André Parant, Raymond Brault, and the designer Emile Petit (of Salmson twin-cam fame) formed the Société d’Étude et de Fabrication d’Automobile de Course: SEFAC. It was powered by a supercharged U-8 engine (two straight-fours geared together side by side). It first appeared at the French Grind Prix at Montlhéry on 1 July 1934, driven by Sommer, but with no success. Four years later, in 1938, the car appeared at the Reims Grand Prix where the complex engine blew up after just three laps. In 1939 it failed to complete the Pau Grand Prix . The car was laid up during the war and forgotten, but was rediscovered and has now been restored, the rebuild being completed in January 2022.
The complex U-8 engine of the SEFAC. The finned supercharger sits behind the engine.
1919 Bugatti-Diatto Avio 8C
Bugatti deigned a straight-eight aero engine during World War I and licensed it to Diatto. In 1919 development ceased, but an engine survived and has now been fitted to a chassis containing some Diatto pars. the result is somewhat of a ‘what-if?’ car but is a magnificent machine.
The Bugatti aero engine
1912 Motobloc Type OB
We are not certain of the engine capacity of this example, but it has all the characteristics of the Motobloc marque. The company was a descendant of the earlier Bordeaux-based Schaudel marque made from 1901 to 1902, which had a transverse twin-cylinder engine with the gearbox in the sump, similar in concept to the Issigonis Mini 60 years later. This integration of engine and gearbox in one unit gave rise to the name motobloc, but the cars were only named as such after Schaudel was bought out in 1902 by his brother-in-law Émile Dombret.
The Motobloc continued the integration of engine, clutch and gearbox in a single unit, but by now with a conventional longitudinal engine. It did, however, have the unusual feature of a flywheel between the two blocks of cylinders.
Another feature of the car, its emblem, created another name by which the cars are known by some owners. The emblem was inspired by the arms of the city of Bordeaux, which carry three interlinked crescent moons. The cars have always had a tendency to overheat, leading to the nickname of Les Croissants Chauds (The Hot Croissants).
The Motobloc engine. The crankcase shows the bulge that accommodates the flywheel between the two pairs of cylinders.
The distinctive Motobloc emblem, with the three croissants heating up nicely.
1904 Maudslay engine
With almost certainly the earliest overhead cam engine, a six-cylinder of 9.6 litres, this Maudslay is thought to be the only survivor with this enormous powerplant.
S-Type Low-chassis Invicta
The archetypal prewar sports car, the low-chassis Invicta was powered by a 4½-litre six-cylinder engine made by Henry Meadows. Launched at the 1930 Olympia Motor Show, the S-type featured an new under-slung chassis that achieved a much lower centre of gravity. Approximately 68 of the 75-or-so S-types built are known to survive.
The Meadows engine of the Invicta
1912 20 HP 4.5-litre Crossley
The side-valve Crossley had great success in competition before World War I and this is a fine example, brought to Montlhéry by its owner Tom Fryars, author of a recent book on these cars: The Rise of the Sidevalves.
Bugatti Type 50
Bugatti’s Type 50 was a large 5-litre luxury model that replaced the Type 46. In fact, it is more correct to say that it replaced the supercharged Type 46S – because the Type 50 was always supercharged and sold as a Grand Sport model. The finest bodies were seen on the Type 50 and this example is no exception. It was the first Bugatti to be fitted with a twin overhead camshaft engine, the design being strongly influenced by Miller’s twin-cam racing cars. The Type 50 retained the Type 46’s three-speed gearbox in unit with the rear axle.
The supercharged Type 50 engine, with twin overhead camshafts driven by a vertical shaft and bevel gears at the front of the block.
1911 Fiat S76 “The Beast of Turin”
Two examples of this car were built in 1910 or 1911 to beat the land speed record held at that time by the Blitzen Benz. Its four-cylinder engine of over 28 litres delivered 290bhp. American driver Arthur Duray made an attempt on the record in December 1913 at Ostende, Belgium, and achieved a one-way speed of 132.27 mph but was unable to complete a return run within the hour allotted.
The car has famously been restored in recent years by Duncan Pittaway from an Edwardian Fiat chassis and an original S76 engine. Three major parts of the car had to be recreated from scratch, including the double chain-drive gearbox, the body and the radiator, all these parts being recreated from original Fiat drawings or period photographs.
It is always one of the stars of any vintage event, not least because of the wonderful noise from its completely unsilenced engine and the consequent flames emitted from its exhaust ports.
The S76 engine
We hope that you have enjoyed the reports from Montlhéry. It is very well worth a visit, and the organisers have promised an even more remarkable event for 2024.