Norton Motorcycles 1950s

Today in Motorcycle History

Brasier 12 Litre V8

This motor car is a 1908 Brasier Voiture de Course

An impressive recreation of one of the three 1904 and 1905 Gordon Bennett Trophy cars.

Built around the chassis and substantial remains of a 1908 50hp Brasier.

Powered by a freshly rebuilt thundering Hispano Suiza 220 hp V8 Aero engine.

Currently geared for around 105mph, with a set of longer cogs purporting to propel you to 140mph.

Charles-Henri Brasier was an ambitious, ingenious and cultivated man. A brilliant scholar, he graduated second in his year at the elite École des Arts et Metiers, at Chalons. His first brief employment was with Pannard et Levassor and then the Paris-Orleans Railway before securing permanent employment as a designer for the Mors Company in 1886.

Already successful in the developing electrical industry, Mors was seeking to exploit other new technologies and commissioned Brasier to design a small steam tricycle.

Encouraged by the attention this drew at the 1889 Universal Exhibition in Paris the Mors brothers commissioned Brasier to go on and design a V4 engine with contact breaker ignition and a 'vis-à-vis' bodied car. These beginnings led to the decision by Mors to use their cars in competition. Brasier had finally found his real vocation as Mors rapidly became one of the leading sporting names of the early years of La Belle Époque.

Even with victories in the 1901 Gordon Bennett Trophy and prestigious 1105km Paris-Berlin, the treasury and board of the Mors Company took a dim view of the huge costs of preparing their racing cars and decided to part with Brasier's services.

Brasier was promptly snapped up by the Société Georges Richard and in 1902 he designed for them a range of 8, 12, and 16hp cars with larger models being added the following year. A team of four 2.2-litre cars were entered into the 1903 Paris-Madrid race.

They scored a 2nd, 4th and 16th in their class while the final car driven by George Richard himself hit a tree while trying to avoid a spectator near Angouléme badly injuring his leg.

His prolonged recovery effectively left control of the company in the hands of Brasier.

Brasier seized this opportunity to create a team for the next Gordon Bennett race. In 1904 Léon Théry drove one of the new Richard-Brasier racing cars to victory in the French Gordon Bennett eliminating trial. Powered by a 9.8-litre four cylinder engine running through a chain drive Théry went on to convincingly win the event itself held in Germany.

The impact of this significant French victory in a huge international event meant that Léon Théry and Henri Brasier were treated to a magnificent reception by the president of France and were feted on the streets of Paris. Great friction had built up between Brasier and George Richard causing the latter to leave the company, later to set up the Unic company. Brasier wasted no time preparing for the 1905 Gordon Bennett race that was to be held at the challenging course in the Puy de Dôme region to the west of Clermont-Ferrand. He entered a team of three cars. Superficially the same as the year before but with the engines enlarged to 11 ¼-litres producing 90hp at 1200rpm. They took 1st and 2nd in the eliminator race and Théry went on to beat the Fiats to victory in the main event, which turned out to be the last running of the Gordon Bennett Trophy meaning France retained the title for good.

Brasier continued to run factory race entries through to 1910, in 1906 they finished 4th in the first ever Grand Prix held at Le Mans but due to increasingly harder times for the firm they never recovered the brilliance of their Gordon Bennett heydays.

The racers were eventually sold into private hands with one being acquired by an Englishman, Clement Hobson, who with Bablot at the wheel took the car to Brooklands on the 31st of October 1908 set the 60hp class record for 10 laps at 101.78 mph, a record that was to stand until 1913. Brasier engines were sold for boats and planes taking the world water speed record of 73kph in 1910 Prince of Monaco Cup.

At the outbreak of the Great War the factory was turned over to war work making light trucks, small lorries and proving their engineering skills by making the complex and costly Hispano Suiza V8 Aero engine that powered the fighters planes such as the SE5.

This car is a recreation of one of the three Gordon Bennett team cars. In 2003 the substantial, though incomplete, remains of a 1908 50hp Brasier were found in Australia.

These customer cars were very similar to the works 1904 racing cars, but with a smaller six cylinder motor. The parts included chassis, front axle, steering box, steering wheel, gear and brake levers, cross shafts, and pedals and other minor parts. In Switzerland a suitable chain-drive gearbox/transaxle was sourced, in France an original radiator, complete with its original enamel badge, and a suitable rear beam axle, manufactured by the Le Moine foundry, as supplied to Automobiles Brasier. All that was missing was an engine.

The original 90 hp engine was 11 ¼-litres with four cylinders. None of those seem to have survived, though they were also used in boats, racing on the river Seine. As Brasier was one of the companies contracted to manufacture the Hispano Suiza 220 hp V8 Aero engines during the First World War. Remarkably one was found in the USA where it had been used in competition in a speedboat in the 1920s and 30s. Also of 12-litres, this seemed the perfect engine for the car.

Mike Holt was the inspiration for the car, which was originally constructed by Oliver Way and more recently Mike New has re-engineered many items including the fitting of Ross pistons.

I bought it because it will be an ideal car for the school runs, trips to Tesco and maybe some more prestigious motoring events. I am driving it down to Classic Le Mans in July.

I still like and ride Norton motorcycles!

* N.B. Several images of the Brasier were missing from the archive.