You might meet one day one of the three street Nero that George Brown made in the late fifties although these are extremely rare. Here is the story of one them, usually nicknamed the “French Nero” because owned by the Frenchman Marc Bellon. Marc was the owner of a Rapide that had a serious propensity to wobble at high speed. Thus, when one of these road rodeos ended in a crash, fortunately minor for him and the bike, Marc decided to pay a visit to George Brown, convinced that the Nero architecture will sort out his bike issues.
Marc likes to tell that Georges said he was completely crazy and also perhaps because he turned up with his Rapide at Brown’s shop, George accepted to build a Nero replica for him. About a year later, the bike was ready, and as you could expect, the result was close to Brown’s racer. The all-front end had been replaced with an AJS 7R telescopic fork and conical brake, both wheels being wired with 19in aluminum rims. On the back end, a tubular sub-frame supporting the Velocette-based swinging arm, and Woodhead Munroe shocks were replacing the Vincent RFM (1), while the UFM (2) was preserved in the operation. In this configuration, the bike was significantly lighter than a stock Rapide (3). Two more Nero Replicas were subsequently built on this model by George Brown: one for a Scottish physician and the other one for a merchant of Eastbourne, all 3 bikes having a stock engine. Although, demand was coming steadily, George never had the time to accept new orders, maybe because he was already moving into his new project: designing and building Super Nero.
Back in France, Marc covered 10,000 miles before he was called on duty in the Algerian events (4). His friend, Marc Souvrain, was entrusted to take care of it, but when Marc came back, he found his bike in a non-running poor state of repair in which it remained for about 20 years. From the mid-80s, started a long process of restoration, long because Mark also wanted to improve the functionalities and the look of his bike: his vision was a combination of unpainted surfaces made of polished aluminum and chrome-plated parts.
The engine was sent to Herve Mocard, who rebuilt it completely with Mahle pistons, MkII cams, Alton generator and ported heads to fit the 30 mm concentric carburetors. The main structural modification was the replacement of the Vincent UFM by a custom-made backbone consisting of a large diameter tube to which a solid billet steering head is bolted. Eventually, Francois Grosset had the mission to put all these parts together and not only make the bike functional, but also meet Marc’s objectives in terms of finishing and details. On that perspective, particularly mention goes to: the “Nero style” aluminum tank, the horse-shoe aluminum oil tank fitting the rear frame properly (5), and various interesting parts made of aluminum such this rear chain case or headlamp and footrest brackets. Completing the picture were a lightweight Yamaha clutch, a Grosset electric start, a Feridax seat and a 5” shadow clock along with a Smith rev counter were adapted to the bike by Francois.
The restoration process completed in 1998, more than 35 years after Marc found his bike broken in crates. Was he satisfied with the result? You bet he was! This French Nero is indeed incredible in quality of the execution and is also extremely well balanced in its proportions. The bike is even lighter at 160 kg (353 lbs) and handles extremely well with its new UFM. Marc has enjoyed riding his Nero until 2009, date it was sold to a customer it in the UK.
Philippe Guyony © 2014
A big thanks to the French section of the V.O.C. who helped me to assemble this documentation, particularly Serge Vollard (a.k.a Raspoutine), Jean Pirot, Francois Grosset and Dominique Malcor.
(1) The RFM is acronym for Rear Frame Member
(2) The UFM is acronym for Upper Frame Member, containing the engine oil
(3) Moto Revue #1496 tells about 50 kg (110 lbs), but this seems questionable
(4) These events lead to the independency of the Algeria, July 5, 1962.
(5) Originally Marc wanted to make the new UFM functional as the Vincent design. However down the road, he decided to add this Aluminum oil tank that fits perfectly the bike and thus converted the top tube as a drainable catch tank for the engine breather.
Sources: If you want more information about this bike you can try to find
– Classic Bike September 2002 (story Mike Duckworth)
– Classic Racer Winter 1990 (story Charlie Rous)
– Moto Revue #1496 06/19/1960 (story Marc Souvrain)
– Loup Garreau from VOC France #5 December 1998 (story Jean Pirot)