November is usually a pretty grim month. The clocks have gone back, it gets dark at 4.30pm, outdoors it is cold, wet and grey, a sombre time. In November 1988 – thirty years ago this month – the production lines at the VeloSoleX factory in Courbevoie just outside Paris finally stopped running and the last iconic black French “bicyclette qui roule toute seule” motorised bicycle was made.
Demand had fallen steeply since the Solex’s heyday from the early 1950s to mid-1960s, it was simply too old-fashioned and too slow to survive the onslaught of modern mopeds. Fewer and fewer were sold, mainly to older riders in la France profonde, who puttered around small rural towns and villages, berets on heads and Gauloises stuck to lower lips, happy still to go everywhere slowly.
A new generation wanted colour, style, speed and a modern image. There were plenty of manufacturers offering such things – even VeloSoleX tried with the ill-starred Solex Flash and 6000 – which, despite monocoque frames, a disc brake and shaft-drive, proved unreliable and a warranty & financial black-hole. A later attempt at selling a conventional moped, the Tenor, with Italian Franco Morini or Dutch Anker engines, also failed to attract customers, who went out and bought Mobylettes and Peugeots instead. The formerly highly successful VeloSolex business fell on hard times and was sold to Renault, then Dassault and finally MBK, the combine owning Motobecane and Yamaha in France. Production struggled on for a few more years – a lot of S3800 MBK Solexes survive to this day – but it all ended in November 1988, after over 7 million VeloSoleXes had been sold worldwide. Some were produced by local assembly operations in Europe and Asia, but the vast majority came from Courbevoie.
Another icon, Brigitte Bardot on a rather battered Solex 2200; typical damage resulting from it falling off its stand onto the metal fuel tank, which is why so many Solexes had tubular engine-protectors fitted! And possibly why later Solexes had plastic tanks…..