Historic Motorcycle Brands
Velocette motorcycles were made by a small, family-owned firm that sold almost as many hand-built motorcycles during its lifetime as the mass-produced machines of the giant BSA and Norton concerns. Renowned for innovation and the quality of its products, the company was prominent in international motorcycle racing from the mid-1920s until the 1950s.
The company that later became Veloce Limited was founded in 1896 by John Goodman and William Gue, who developed tri-car in 1904 and their first motorcycle, the Veloce, in 1905. However, the business produced only bicycles until Taylor and his sons produced the first VL motorcycle in 1910.
1913 Velocette – Vintagent
The first 1910 VL motorcycle had a 276cc, F-head (inlet-over-exhaust) valve arrangement, with the inlet valve being mechanically, not suction, operated. It had pump-fed oil lubrication and an outside flywheel.
The two-speed transmission was integral with the engine – an early example of unit construction, patented by John’s son, Percy Goodman, under UK Patent 24499, in 1910.
However, sales of the then-complex machine were slow, so the company developed a simpler model, with a 500cc, side-valve engine, direct belt-drive and the option of an Armstrong three-speed hub gear. In 1912 VL exhibited both motorcycles at the Olympia Show.
A lightweight version of the F-head machine, with its bore enlarged from 70mm to 76mm, was entered in the 1913 TT, with Cyril Pullin as rider, but an oil leak caused belt drive slippage.
In the meantime, VL had been working on a two-stroke design that was launched, beside the four-strokes, in 1913, on the Wilton Cycle and Motor Co stand at Olympia.
As innovative in two-stroke terms as the F-head model had been, Veloce’s ultra-light, 206cc machine featured a deflector piston, for more efficient combustion chamber scavenging. It also had pressurised, metered oiling, fed from a wet sump, under pressure from the engine’s exhaust. It was offered in direct belt drive form as the Velocette (small-Veloce) Model A , with two-speed, chain-drive option.
The Veloce models continued alongside the new Velocette two-stroke. A larger-bore version of the F-head model was available as a ‘ladies’ or ‘gents’ model, with the ladies’ model having a dropped frame and extra engine covers. The larger 500cc Veloce continued unchanged.
During World War I, VL produced munitions and planned its post-War lineup. The two four-stroke models were phased out and Velocette two-stroke was the staple, although 1919 variations were added: DL1, ladies model; D2 with gear lever; DL2, ladies model with two-speed gearbox and D3, three-speed model.
In 1920, three D2s win gold medals at the six-day ACU Trial and a much-need hub clutch is added to the D range in 1922.
Engine capacity went up to 249cc in 1923, for the racing model and for production bikes that were renamed ‘G’ models. Electric lighting was added and a ‘GC’ Colonial model was added.
In 1924 came the economy ‘B’ model with three-speed chain drive and the ‘A’, with two-speed belt drive.
1929 Velocette KTT MkI 350cc OHC Racer – Lars-Goran Lindgren
The big year for VL was 1925, when the two-stroke range was upgraded from ‘G’ to ‘H’ , dropping the belt-drive option in the process.
At the same time, a brand-new, overhead-camshaft, four-stroke ‘K’ model was released. VL had been looking at what its competitors were doing and decided to add a high-performance four-stroke to the Veloce lineup.
Percy came up with a vertical-shaft, bevel-gear-drive, OHC, 348cc single, with a recirculating oil system that pressure-fed lubricant to the camshaft as well as to the crankshaft.
1933 Velocette KTT 350cc OHC – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
VL released the ‘K’ as a ‘Veloce’, because it was a bigger brother to the Velocette two-strokes that continued in production and development until 1946. However, dealers and the public insisted on calling the ‘K’ a ‘Velocette’, so the factory acquiesced and all subsequent VL bikes were Velocettes.
Performance was initially disappointing, until timing analysis dictated a new camshaft. Engine output then matched the already excellent handling produced by the double down-tube frame. Incidentally, the timing was perfected by a ground-breaking use of stroboscopic lights.
The Model K was soon racing and winning virtually everything it entered. Factory-tweaked examples exceeded 100mph and won the Isle of Man Junior TT for three years straight – 1927-29.
Velocette KSS 350cc OHC – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
These winning machines weren’t special-builds: anyone could tune a K for high performance with an open pipe, a hot cam and a high-compression piston that were available from the factory as spare parts.
A production racing model, the KTT, was built between 1928 and 1949. The KTT was the first production motorcycle to feature positive-stop, foot-actuated gear-change.
The Velocette OHC motor was remarkably smooth, with a narrow, stiff crankshaft and crankcase, in which failures were almost unknown. The narrow motor dictated a shallow clutch, with the final-drive sprocket outboard to clear the rear wheel, but it proved unburstable, even on supercharged and alcohol-fuelled engines.
1938 Velocette KSS
The roadster models developed from this initial model K were the Velocette KSS (super sports), KTS (touring sports), KTP (twin exhaust ports) and KN (normal) – all with ongoing variations.
A notable change in engine design was introduced in 1935, when the KSS Mk2 sported a fully enclosed aluminium cylinder head.
The OHC engine series continued for roadsters until 1948, when the final KSS Mk2 versions were produced, with rigid frames and Dowty air-sprung telescopic forks.
Brilliant as it was, the K series was expensive to produce, requiring careful hand assembly of the shaft-and-bevel camshaft drive, so, in mid-Great Depression 1933, the company decided to introduce a new line of overhead valve (OHV) machines, to cut production costs and make a more affordable motorcycle.
1936 Velocette MAC Sport 350cc – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
The first of these new machines was the MOV, using a 250cc engine of ‘square’ dimensions (68 mm bore and 68 mm stroke). It was an immediate sales success, having lively performance for the time, with a top speed of 78mph and it proved to be a reliable machine, with excellent road manners.
A ‘stroked’ version, the Velocette MAC 350cc, was introduced in 1934. It proved even more popular than the MOV and became a real money spinner for the company.
In 1935, the 500cc Velocette MSS was introduced. Although based on the two previous OHV models, the MSS had a new, heavier frame that allowed it to double as a sidecar hauler. This new frame was developed from the MkV KTT racing machine and was shared with the KSS MKII of 1936–1948.
1947 Velocette MOV – National Motorcycle Museum
The MSS also proved very popular and profitable for Veloce and a 350cc version of the MOV was the basis for the company’s World War II military motorcycles.
After the Second World War, the company produced an innovative and radical design that it thought would appeal to a market for cheap and reliable transport.
The Velocette LE combined a 149cc, flat-twin, side-valve engine with gearbox, drive shaft and bevel box in a single unit, mounted in a pressed-steel frame and with revolutionary swing-arm rear suspension.
Velocette Swing-arm Frame – 1936 ‘The-Motor Cycle’
However, VCM just couldn’t do a ‘cheapie’ and this well engineered and well made machine proved expensive to produce.
1959 Velocette Valiant – GrahamTiller
Although it became Velocette’s best selling model ever and was a favourite of British police forces, the high tooling costs for the LE and the Valiant derivative were barely recouped.
The market for sporting machines was strong post-War and Velocette continued to produce the 348cc KTT for racing. At the 1947 Isle of Man TT the company took the first four places in the Junior race. In 1949, Velocette was the first FIM 350cc World Champion and did it again in 1950.
1940s Velocette 350cc Racer
The 1954 499cc Velocette MSS proved successful in the American desert racing scene, prompting the development of scrambler and enduro versions of the bike – 349cc Viper and 499cc Venom – being introduced in 1956.
In 1961, a Velocette Venom became the first motorcycle to cover more than 2400 miles in a 24-hour period, at the Montlhery circuit in France, averaging 100.05mph. This record for up to 500cc capacity, single-cylinder machines still stands.
1961 Velocette Venom – Thruxton
In 1960, Velocette introduced the Viceroy, 250cc, opposed-twin, two-stroke scooter, but it was not a sales success.
The business had struggled since 1956 and wasn’t helped by changes to the UK’s hire purchase legislation and fuel rationing during the Suez Crisis. Major losses had been racked up on the Viceroy scooter development and even more on the Velocette Vogue – updated LE – with an Avon full-fibreglass touring body.
Velocette Viceroy – Ell Brown
The business would have failed in the late 1960s, but profits from spare-parts sales, after the acquisition of the Royal Enfield spares operation in 1967, boosted income.
1965 Velocette Thruxton 500cc – Yesterdays Antique Motorcycles
The late 1960s were the last years of production for Velocette motorcycles. In 1965 came the Thruxton, tuned-up Venom, but production of the Velocette Viper and Vogue ended in 1968; followed by the Scrambler and Endurance in 1969 and MSS Venom and Velocette Thruxton in 1970.
The last Velocette factory motorsport glory came in 1967, when Neil Kelly won the first Isle of Man Production TT in the 500cc class on a Velocette Thruxton, followed by another Thruxton in second place.
“Kelley was a local and knew the roads well,” said IoM local Tony Davies.
“His bike used a special motor prepared by the factory with a ‘squish’ combustion chamber, forged piston and needle roller cams that gave an extra 4.5bhp.”
However, there was no escaping the inevitable and Velocette closed in February 1971.
The rights to use the Velocette name and manufacture parts were then sold to the Holder family.
‘Velos’ live on: Stuart Hooper’s record-breaking Velocette