1951 Tandem-a-Moteur Narcisse
98cc Fichtel & Sachs Engine
I owned this rather over-the-top ‘tandemoto’ between 2007 and 2011. The Narcisse is one of the quirkiest postwar French motorcycles. It was among a few cyclemotors I supplied for a magazine fashion shoot, and I took my own photos while I was there.
24 rue Alphonse Helbronner, St Ouen, Paris
The Narcisse company manufactured tandems with Sachs and Aubier engines in 1951. Solo machines with the same engine set-up were made between 1951 and 1954, and during the same period they also made a 48cc cyclemotor with an SER engine.
This particular restoration hasn’t been as hard as some, but it certainly wasn’t easy. The engine is a common one so that helped a lot. I bought another one and we built a good one from the two.
However, the best way to describe this machine is ‘over-engineered.’ It is no wonder that motorized tandems became extinct so soon after they were introduced; they are definitely a challenge to work on. It’s actually quite similar to working on the earliest pioneer motorcycles insmuch as these tandems never developed beyond the initial design attempts, which were quite flawed.
The trickiest aspect is the rear chain: the clearance between the pedals, the stand, the exhaust and the chain is just a matter of millimeters.
I don’t know the technical term for it, but the gear lever on the engine is on a fork, and lifting the clutch to engage the gears can be tricky when you are in motion as it can rattle the chain; with the clearance issue this can easily cause problems. So we’ve adapted the gear selector from 1st and 2nd to 1st gear and neutral only. That seems a practical solution for the time being.
The other seemingly insurmountable problem is the machine’s best-looking feature – the integral petrol tank. Despite standing the bike upright and flushing it through with paraffin, it has not been possible to clean it properly. The usual solution is to change the in-line petrol filter with monotonous regularity until at last you get the gunge out of the tank. However, with this enormously long tank – easily the longest petrol tank of any motorcycle I’ve ever seen – it seems unlikely that you’d ever reach that stage. So in the meantime we’ve disconnected the tank and are using a small clip-on tank instead.
Usually with vintage motorcycles we innovate to improve their performance beyond the manufacturers’ original designs. With this one, we’ve left its design flaws in place as they definitely seem to be the essence of its character.