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VAP4 - Manufrance Hirondelle

1951 Manufrance Hirondelle VAP4 Gentleman’s Hunting Cycle. The Manufrance Hirondelle was the preferred mount for the VAP4 engine.


[img]This was the result of a tie-up between two of the most successful companies in different areas of specialization. ABG-VAP was the second biggest cyclemotor manufacturer after Velosolex, and Manufrance was a leading bicycle manufacturer. The two companies came together to challenge Velosolex and, actually, the result – The VAP4 mounted on a specially-constructed Hirondelle frame – was a much better machine than the Velosolex and also all the other cyclemotors on the market. It’s sales byline was ‘WHY PEDAL’ – because, while other engines would only act as an auxiliary when going uphill, the VAP4 did not require pedal-assistance.

[img]With its popularity at the time, many VAP4 units were manufactured, and they could be purchased to fit into the customer’s own bicycle; there are still quite a few in existence. However, sixty years down the line, there are very few survivors that are still fitted to the dedicated Manufrance cycle. You can see two frame options featured in the advert to the left; you might have noticed that the Hirondelle bicycle featured here is even rarer, being a special construction, with extra bracing to create a ‘truss-frame.’

[img]This particular outfit has been set up as a ‘hunting machine’ with rifle case and a Manufrance box on the rear carrier to transport the catch.

[img]This bicycle has many period accessories, all of which could be purchased from the annual Manufrance Catalogue.

[img]There are levers and controls everywhere on this bicycle – it would be easier with more than one pair of hands!


[img]Hirondelle machines were built in 1921-1954 (some sources give 1914) by Manufacture Francaise d’Armes et Cycles de Saint-Etienne (Manufrance) and often displayed an MF logo. Established in 1885, and from 1888 based in the manufacturing town of St.Etienne, Manufrance was France's first mail order company. They published annual catalogue, known as la Manu. It offered a wide range of products, the most famous being guns (Robust, Falcor, Ideal, Simplex), bicycles (Hirondelle) and household items (sewing machines, fishing rods, wall clocks and many others). After WW2, the company introduced cyclemotors and mopeds, with some success. Most of the products sold by Manufrance were made by third party manufacturers, then labeled and retailed by Manufrance. The company was bought by Tavitian Jacques in 1988.

VAP engines


„This was meant to be a simple article to write: The story of VAP engines from the first cyclemotor units through to the last moped engines. Although the full story hasn't been published in English before, there are plenty of references for the different parts of the story, so it would be just a matter of bring the parts together ... wouldn't it?

However, it turns out that the previously published versions don't agree, particularly on the history of the earlier cyclemotors. There are two main versions of the story: one suggests that the first two versions were made during World War 2, the other claims that the first version didn't reach production numbers until the War was over.

ABG factory records don't survive and original manuals and brochures aren't dated. Enough motors survive to enable reasonable estimates of production numbers to be made and, most importantly, these show that the very first version was made in quite large numbers, at least 2,500 of them.

The Décret du 5 Juin 1943 seems to be the cause of the confusion. Passed by the Vichy government, this decree defined three legal categories of motor cycle: motocyclette, which was over 125cc; vélomoteur, between 50cc and 125cc; and bicyclette à moteur de secours (later called cyclomoteur), under 50cc. The VAP was bigger than 50cc, but this doesn't mean the change to a smaller capacity took place in 1943; passing a decree and putting it into force aren't the same thing. In fact, bicycle engines up to 58cc were still being exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1946. Manufacturing and selling hundreds of cyclemotor units in occupied Paris seems rather unlikely, so this is the version of events we've plumped for:


The first VAP cyclemotor was produced in 1942. Designed by Pierre Verots, it was a 53cc motor that mounted alongside the rear wheel of a bicycle and was built by La Bougie BG. The name VAP stands for Verots-Androit propulseur (Pierre Androit was the head of La Bougie BG). La Bougie BG became ABG following a merger with Ariès. ABG was in the Paris region - occupied France - not an ideal situation for making large numbers of cyclemotor engines. Therefore, it was not until the end of World War 2 that the VAP was put into production. Although production figures are not known, at least 2,500 of the original VAP motors were made as surviving engines fit in the engine number range of 1001 to 3500.


The design rapidly evolved through two more models: the 51cc VAP 2 of 1946 and the 48cc VAP 3 of 1947. These engines are very similar, the capacity change being the significant difference between them. This change was made to keep abreast of French cyclomoteur legislation. Only a small number of VAP 2 engines was made - maybe as few as 500. Again, this figure is derived from surviving engine numbers, which suggest that VAP 2 started at number 5000 or 5001. From the VAP 2 through to the VAP 4, engine numbers 'ran through' in a continuous series so the VAP 3 starts around the 5500 mark and goes up to about 33000.


The VAP 4, introduced in 1948, saw some significant improvements. The final drive changed from a gear ring to chain drive, a flywheel magneto was introduced and it was equipped with a clutch. The VAP 4 cyclemotor remained in production until 1956 and is the most numerous of all the VAP cyclemotor engines. It is the most familiar version to us in the UK, not only because it was produced in many thousands, but also because it was imported and sold here.

While most VAP 4 engines were bought to motorise bicycles, there were some French manufacturers who offered complete VAP 4-powered machines. The most significant of these was Peugeot who produced the VAP 4-powered PHV 25 mixte cycle of 1949. Peugeot also made other VAP-engined machines like the Davy - a moped-style machine with a VAP 4 motor - and the Puma, which was sold in Belgium.”

[img]The photo to the left shows the ABG VAP factory in 1945.