Wednesday, November 13, 2013

ORIGINAL-PAINT MGC N3

In remarkably original condition, the c.1929 MGC N3 coming up for sale at the Bonhams 'Grand Palais' auction Feb 6 2014
Most enthusiasts outside France had never heard of the MGC (Marcel Giuguet et Cie) before the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum back in 1998.  Those lucky enough to see the exhibit (or buy the catalog) were stunned by the streamlined alloy beauty of a racing N3BR model mid-way down the museum's spiral ramp.
A pair of unsilenced exhaust pipes might have been original, but MCG's did come with silencers too.
In the spirit of 1920s modernism, Marcel Guiguet had a vision for an entirely new type of motorcycle chassis, using light and extremely strong aluminum castings to replace the frame and fuel/oil tanks. His reasoning was sound; aluminum beams of the right specification, and hollow aluminum castings, can be made lighter and torsionally much stiffer than a lugged steel tube frame with bolt-on tanks.  The same principle has been used by numerous bike manufacturers (think Yamaha Deltabox) since the 1980s, but by then Guiguet's work was long forgotten.
Marcel Guiguet aboard an early N3 with dropped handlebars - Guiguet was a successful racer, and sought lightness and good handling in his designs
Like many technical pioneers, Guiguet's theory was excellent, but aluminum casting technology was not sophisticated enough in 1929 to give the strength and consistency required for a fool-proof chassis.  Almost all of the large fuel tank/top frame members leaked badly from casting porosity, and every one required sealing with a type of varnish to prevent leaks.  That same porosity plagued the aluminum structural members, which tended to crack from the abuse of a rigid frame over the unpaved roads of the '20s.  As a consequence, many MGCs were scrapped for their valuable aluminum, and few survive.
The post-1930 version of the MGC frame, slightly more streamlined and less egg-like in the fuel tank casting, as used in the MCG N3BR racer
The machined pictured is extremely rare, being one of around 56 MGC survivors, in completely original condition/original paint, and is a c.1929 'Touring' N3 model with a tank-top instrument panel in its 11 liter fuel tank, a 350cc JAP ohv Sports engine (with twin exhaust ports), Brampton forks, and Burman 3-speed gearbox. The oil tank hides within the lower frame casting, and holds 2.8L.  MGC's used Motosacoche, JAP, and Chaise motors, and a prototype 4-cylinder OHV engine was built by Guiguet in 1938, and installed in an MGC chassis (for more on this remarkable machine, the N34, click here).
The JAP 'Sports' engine was the one of the most powerful engines a small manufacturer could purchase
The MGC deserves close scrutiny, and reveals Guiget's ingenious solutions to a set of chassis problems not revisited for 50 years.  The MGC is coming up for sale at the Bonhams Grand Palais sale in Paris during Rétromobile week, Feb. 6 2014.

The English magazine Motor Cycling had its own take on the MGC (July 27, 1929): "A curious machine has just been put on the market...The frame, engine cradle, carrier and even the petrol tank on this machine are made in tough aluminum alloy known as Alpax [made by Lightalloys of London]... lighter than aluminum [yet is] enormously stronger, whether in tension or compression. There are two main members to the frame. The top member includes the petrol reservoir in one casting and the tank suggests a rather over-sized ostrich egg, which someone has plated and polished. On top of the tank is a particularly neat instrument-board, whilst the gear-change quadrant is mounted on the side of the casting. The bottom member of the frame, as may be seen from our photograph,constitutes a very robust cradle for the engine, the latter being either a 350cc or 500cc JAP [which also contains the oil tank]. 
While the rear wheel strut is painted, it, too, is made of machined aluminum

Upper and lower frame members are joined by two pairs of what appear to be steel drop forgings.  Actually, these struts are in cast aluminum, like the rest of the frame, but as they happen to be painted this gives the illusion, the rest of the frame being simply polished. A standard Burman 3-speed gearbox is fitted."
The stork, MGC's logo, was adopted from the elite French Air Force fighter squadron 'The Storks' (the Groupe de Combat 12 'Les Cigognes'), which included most of the French flying aces in WW1.  Marcel Guiguet's elder brother Joseph Henri Guiguet was a pilot with the Storks in Escadrille N3 (which answers another question...), and flew a SPAD S.XIII fighter, making 'Ace' on Oct  24, 1918. At the end of the war, Joseph Henri cut off the stork painted on his plane's fuselage, framed it, and hung it in the family home, where young Marcel no doubt was transfixed by his brother's tales.  It seems he named his entire motorcycle line from Escadrille N3, and adopted their mascot. Such is the humanity of a man revealed.
Joseph Henri Guiguet, Ace fighter pilot with 'Les Cigognes', squadron N3, during WW1, flying this SPAD S.XIII, built in the Blériot factory.
For more information on MGC history, visit the excellent MGC site assembled by Claude Lopez.

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7 comments:

Grandpa Jimbo said...

Paul:
I see the mascot of the flying stork. Is there any connection to the Hispano Suiza auto company which also used this image (although not exactly the same)?
Jim A.

The Vintagent said...

I've wondered the same, Jim; Hispano-Suiza used the logo much earlier than MGC, but I've seen other marques use storks/cranes as well... I think they've traditionally represented swift elegance. We have lots of Great Blue Herons in the San Francisco area, and they're dramatic in flight...

Patrick Delli said...

Hi Paul,

Marcel Guiguet brother did fight in a French airplane esquadrille in WW 1. He was about 10 years older than Marcel.

At the end of the war, he cut off the plane linen with the stork painted on it and had it framed. I visited his widow around 1983 and the display was still in her living room... It is now with a collector in France.

Marcel was helped by his brother when he set up MGC and the stork went on the catalogues and gas tanks...

Patrick

The Vintagent said...

Thanks Patrick! A little research revealed the much, and I've amended the text to include his brother, the WW1 fighter pilot and Ace!

Anonymous said...

SPAD S.XIII

(These days I deal with mil nomenclature on a regular basis, where accuracy and convention is required.)

-Mark

The Vintagent said...

Thanks for the clarification Mark!

Anonymous said...

Hello Paul, I believe Marcel is still alive and 111 years old. regards, Nick Poll ( Brough Club ).