Ghost of lost 1907 Peking Paris 3 wheel Contal back to life
Mototri Contal jolted into life at Dutch test track ready for second P2P (2019) assault 112 years later.
The first Peking Paris in 1907 comprised five competitors, just one of them didn’t make it to Paris 112 years ago, a French trike. Now Belgian architect Anton Gonnissen has revived a 1906 Contal, determined to complete the event Auguste Pons failed to finish when his three wheeled motorcycle ran out of fuel in the Gobi desert. The original Contal is still there, somewhere.
After a long and sympathetic rebuild, involving one of the world’s leading experts on antique cycle cars, the legendary Contal Mototri three-wheeler, was finally taken from the workshop to the test track, for a thorough shakedown, in late February 2019. A full day had been given over for the trial at the EuroCircuit in Valkenswaard, the venue which has previously hosted Dakar machines and Rallycross events. Over the course of the session, the crew comprising Anton Gonnissen (58) from Sint-Martens-Latem and novice navigator Herman Gelan (46), an interior architect from Ghent, drove the machine hard. They tested across a selection of surfaces including rough and loose gravel, wet sand and sticky mud then smooth tarmac.
The idea was to recreate in one day, authentic representations of the sort of terrain likely to be encountered along the route of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. Be that the rugged wilderness of the Gobi Desert, the potholed Siberian lorry routes or a well surfaced European highway.
To add an extra dose of reality, the Contal was also fully loaded with the equipment which the crew would be carrying with them during their incredible journey to see how this extra weight affected the balance and cornering of the vehicle. As soon as the trike had been rolled from its trailer, it started first time and throughout the day, with Anton and Herman on board, it lapped the track relentlessly. Their task was to expose any weakness which could to be rectified while there was still a workshop at hand. There was some hard braking, plenty of sharp turns and some rapid acceleration. The overall fuel consumption was closely monitored and the engine fluid levels checked at regular intervals.
This is no racing machine however, so Anton was respectful of its capabilities. “There will be three of us on this rally, there’s Herman, there’s me and there’s the machine. And, it’s the machine that we have to take care of if we want it to take care of us – and deliver us safely”.
With a little input from the crew therefore, some tweaks to the steering were made during the lunch break and there was some debate about the best tyre pressures to use but, overall the maiden voyage was an ‘out of the box’ success. In truth it had to be however as a mere three days later the Contal was to be packed away into a shipping container for the long sea journey to Beijing. Sitting in the pits at the end of this long hard day, Anton, the driver and driving force behind the project declared himself “absolutely delighted” with his machine.
His softly sprung Harley Davidson saddle, the only form of suspension for the driver was pronounced a total success whilst his brave and unflappable – and first time navigator – Herman Gelan, noted that his position on the so called ‘suicide seat’, with a trip meter and GPS close to hand, was the ideal platform for him to keep them on the right course and “was nowhere near as bad as it looked”. After just one day of riding it though, does the thought of spending 36 days aboard the Contal worry either of them? “Not in the least” they retort in unison. “It’s proved to be comfortable, capable and having seen what it can do, we’re even more convinced that we’ve built something which will deliver us to Paris”.
Anton, a Peking to Paris veteran already, went further and offered that “it will mean the world to me to get to Paris. If I don’t, I will have failed in my mission to honour the memory of Auguste Pons and we will go down in history as the second team not have made it to the finish aboard a Contal. We most definitely want to be the first”.