Gnome & Rhône ca1940 “AX2” 800 cc side valve flat twin frame # 30590 engine # 65544
The G&R factory produced airplanes in the First World War. In 1919 a new line of products was found when the company started to build the Bradshaw designed flat twin ABC motorcycles under licence. From 1923 on the Paris-based factory built machines of their own design. Both side valve and overhead valve engines were used. In the late twenties BMW like models with transverse mounted twins in pressed steel frames were introduced. After the Second World War the factory concentrated on small two strokes. Production ended in 1959.
For the 1931 model year a sensational new model was introduced, a transverse 495cc side valve twin with shaft drive and pressed steel frame and forks, designated “V2”. In 1935 G-R presented the XA, a 750cc OHV version of this machine to the army and by the end of 1936 this machine was further developed to the XA2 with Bernadet sidecar. The original XA’s OHV engine had proved to be too delicate for military use so it was decided to use an enlarged version of the 500cc side valve twin to provide enough bottom power to pull a fully loaded sidecar through heavy terrain. Soon after a version with driven sidecar wheel was available and this was designated the AX2.
A black and chrome solo version of the AX2 was presented at the 1936 Paris Salon for civilian use, but the machine proved to be too expensive to become a commercial success. These solo versions did find use with government bodies such as the Gendarmerie.
The AX2 proved its stamina in December 1938 when four sidecar combinations successfully covered the 5300 km from Paris to Dakar. The 18 HP-output AX2 has bore x stroke dimensions of 80 x 80 mm, a four speed gearbox and shaft drive. The front forks are sprung by rubber bands and the wheel bearings are placed outside the wheel hubs, an unusual design feature. In 1939 the army received only 200 AX2 outfits because civil production took up most of the factory’s capacity. The political situation in early 1940 prompted the government to heavily reduce civil production and a further 1800 AX2 outfits were produced. This still wasn’t enough so the Terrot factory in Dijon was ordered to switch their production to AX2 machines too; hence the Terrot badge on the headstock of our machine. We understand the Dijon-manufactured machines have frame numbers starting with a 3. Until May 1940 a few thousand combinations were delivered to the French army. Many were captured by the Germans and were subsequently used by the Wehrmacht. Production was carried on under German supervision for some more years.
The machine we present here was purchased in April 2017 at the Stafford Motorcycle Show in England and subsequently restored. With the machine comes an extensive information file that contains parts list and maintenance instructions in French, a service manual with notes and drawings by the restorer, various photos and invoices for restoration parts and services that amount up to about £9,000 (more than €10,000). This sturdy and technically interesting machine is fitted with electronic ignition and comes with pillion seat, fire extinguisher, rear view mirrors and tyre pump.