BEFORE SAFRAN, THERE WAS GNOME & RHÔNE
Nowadays a major multinational aircraft engine and aerospace company, back in 1915 SAFRAN was a firm set up to rationalise the manufacture of engines for France’s fledgling aerospace sector. The company arose from the merger – at the request of France’s Minister for War – of two rival companies: Gnome, based in Gennevilliers and Le Rhône, which operated in Paris. At the end of the war, around 20,000 engines were designed by the maker. But Gnome & Rhône needed to diversify and so turned its attention to building motorcycles, absorbing the British company ABC which had recently set up in France.
The French company took over manufacture in France of the «ABC» or «Type A» motorcycle in 1919. Very much ahead of its time with its pushrod flat-twin engine and both front and rear suspension, Gnome & Rhône’s technicians worked hard on enhancing its reliability and around 3000 were produced between 1920 and 1923. It was eventually replaced by the Type B, this time actually designed by Gnome & Rhône. This machine had a side-valve single-cylinder engine, and was more conventional and significantly less expensive. It remained in production until the start of the 1930s and underwent a number of changes.
1930 heralded a major change in Gnome & Rhône’s motorcycle production, with a radically new design. The tube frame was replaced by an embossed metal frame, and the engine and box were separated by a flat single- or twin-cylinder engine block. This architecture was applied to other models and remained in production until 1944.
THE ERA OF CHANGE
Things changed dramatically in 1945 when de Gaulle nationalised Gnome & Rhône. Alongside Avions Voisin, the company was absorbed into the SNECMA group, which was made up of several major aerospace companies, including Bugatti and Messier. The motorcycle division started building popular small-cylinder two-stroke models. At the end of the 1950s, the motorcycle market collapsed, and so SNECMA discontinued production of them and refocused on its initial sector – motors and equipment for flight industries.