Velocette

Velocette is a brand of British motorcycle originally made by Veloce Ltd at Hall Green in Birmingham.

One of several motorcycle brands that have roots in Birmingham. Veloce was well placed in the second tier of British motorcycle makers before the Second World War. Under the ownership and management of the Goodman family, the company was known for both its high quality and racing pedigree.

From the mid 1920’s Velocette bikes had always been ‘in the running’ on the track, producing their share of innovation and performance, if not quite all the success the Goodman’s would have liked in the 500cc classes. While more commonalty found among the place getters than on the top podium post-war, Velocette went on to pick up three world championship titles (1949, 1950, 1958) in the 350cc class, not to mention their famous and still unbroken record of 24 hours at 100mph. Still it was in producing machines for the road that Veloce made its greatest mark, and many of their patents and pioneering ideas have become common place toady; from positive stop foot-shifts, swing arm rear forks with hydraulic shocks, overhead cam-shafts and liquid cooling in motorcycles.

History

Foundation

Velocette was founded by bicycle maker John Taylor (born Johannes Gütgemann and later known as John Goodman), and William Gue. Trading as "Taylor, Gue Ltd" from a base in Birmingham, in 1905 they bought out the Belgian firm of Kelekom Motors and produced a 2hp motorcycle they called the Veloce. Before the end of 1905 Taylor struck out on his own in cycles and related products as Veloce Ltd. Initially offering a 4- stroke under the Veloce name, but the firms first motorbike started development in 1908, and the 2/1/2hp 276cc bike hit the market in 1909. The 276cc Veloce was packed full of innovative features, like automatic pressure fed lubrication and not just a gearbox, but a ‘unitary’ combined engine and gearbox in the same casting, something that would not become commonplace for another 40 years, oh and it had a self clutching foot shift too. The market reacted as might be expected, applauding furiously while buying something else, so the next year a simpler 499cc side valve joined the range. In 1913 the company introduced a kick-starter and produced its first two stroke calling it the Velocette. The Veloce was a casualty of war and in 1918 only the Velocette remained.

Velocette two-strokes

From 1913 to 1925 Veloce concentrated on 250cc 2-strokes for the discerning customer, and continued offering a 2-stroke model to 1947. Evolving through a series of models from the ‘A’ to ‘U,’ each with its own range of variants, the final ‘GTP’ being a very hansom lightweight even under austerity grey paint, with fine handling good reliability and a reasonable amount of poke. Into the late 30’s Velocette was one of, if not the, best 2-strokes available, and they were not cheap. Advanced features for the day like automatic self-adjusting lubrication, multiple speed gearboxes and coil ignition, combined with high production values, justified the steep price tag.

'K' series

Once the world had regained some order in the early 20’s and the Velocette was selling well enough, Veloce moved back into the 4-stroke business, leaping in with both feet by moving straight to an overhead camshaft design, at a time when even overhead valves were new technology and the majority of motorcycles still used side valves. By 1925 the world had forgotten about the Veloce, so it was as a Velocette that the 350cc K hit the streets to rapturous reviews and the same old scepticism. Soon joined by a 500cc model, over the next fifteen years the K Series grew a great number of variants; from the KN (Normal) though the KTS (Touring Sports) to the KSS (Super Sports), throwing out things like the KTP (twin exhaust) along the way.

In 1926 Alec Bennet won the Junior TT on the Isle of Man by 10 minutes and the sporting world was really starting to take a keen interest, the next year Veloce were guaranteeing 80mph for certain production models. Much of Veloce’s success was due to the founders two sons, Percy and Eugne, both men were keen riders and engineers, and moreover possessed inquiring minds. The performance of Veloce’s engines for example was not only a product of their overhead camshaft but cam profiles developed with one of the first practical applications of stroboscopic lighting.
By the late 30’s racing K’s were sporting telescopic front ends, sprung rear ends and had chalked up a string of first class 350cc victories to cap three 350cc TT titles.

Velocette 'M' series

By 1933 the company had grown to an awkward stage, no longer a niche manufacturer, but not quite one of the big boys either. In an effort to expand their market share and capitalise on the reputation of the K’s, they launched the new overhead valve M series. A cheaper machine to both make and buy, the M was Velocette reaching towards the mass market and this time the market reached back – into its hip pocket. The first of the M’s was the 250cc MOV, the MOV handled like 250cc K, looked like a K and it went almost as hard (78mph by some reviews), all for about 2/3rds of the price. The 350cc MAC came out a year later and repeated the pattern, selling very well indeed. Not surprisingly 1935 saw a 500cc join the stable and receive the same warm reception. The MSS was more of a new design than its smaller siblings, it had a heavier frame in the expectation people might like to fit a side car and a new engine.

Roarer

With Veloce making money hand over fist, the late 30’s bought some unpleasant changes on the world scene, a rule change made supercharging engines legal for international motor sport, certain fascist countries started to heavily subsidise their motor sport teams and then WWII came along. By this time Velocette had developed an enviable record in the 350cc classes, winning a number of Junior TT’s, but had set their cap at glory in the 500cc Senior class, and the big worry there was the BMW’s. These German bikes were light and fast, but handled poorly despite the great advantage of shaft drive which kept the rear tyre free of oil. Velocette’s racing factory team thought (rightly) that this problem was due to the way BMW’s flat twin vibrated.

In response Velocette came out with a remarkable machine. The Roarer, as it would be called, used what were in effect two single cylinder engines geared together and set in line with the frame. The supercharger was driven off the front crankshaft along with the drive up to the over head camshaft; while the rear crankshaft carried the clutch, which drove though a 5 speed gearbox to the rear wheel via a shaft run up the inside of the left hand rear fork. All in all the Roarer combined innovation and common sense into what might well have been a world beater – if they had done in it 1938 not 1939.

War Time

Velocette’s production capacity was taken up in the rapid mobilisation of British Industry, the company, as befitted its reputation for quality workmanship was engaged with sub-contracts for the aircraft sector principally for Bristol engines. A few motorcycles were made during this period, some for export orders for neutral countries and a small contract for the War Office for dispatch riders was partially completed before the Coupe.

For Veloce the rest of the war followed a pattern familiar to so much of British light industry, a factory reluctantly kept open for a workforce equally disinclined to work. For the Goodman family and much of their factory staff, engineering became almost a hobby as their attentions increasingly focused on the Potato-Game. This interest in horticulture, lead to the development of the Goodman Auto-cultivator, and its subsequent manufacture by Veloce from 1944 to 1962.

The family aspect at Veloce also took on a new depth, under threat from German labour demands a number of more distant members of the Goodman family came to work at Hall Green, bringing a new flavour of youth to the firm.

Post war

After the Second World War, Veloce saw the urgent need for personal transport though their own unique perspective. While the Auto-cultivator was Hall Green’s primary product from 1947 to 1949, motorcycles were never far from the company’s mind. The Goodman’s followed another typical British practice in the immediate post war years too, that of skimming materials from their Government allocated production to keep their wider commercial aspirations alive. As their competition tricked what was to become a flood for small cheap 2-stroke bikes onto the market, Velocette’s sole contribution was a modest output of the old GTP model stripped back to a rather more austere specification. Reduced as they were, these TGP’s were still aimed squarely at the upper end of the market, in traditional Velocette style and gave no hint of firm’s deeper laid plans.

The LE

In the Britain of 1948 a car was simply out of the question for the vast majority of the population, and two wheels was the hight of realistic ambition. If those two wheels were to be powered by anything more than pedals, Government decree limited new motorcycles to a maximum capacity of 200cc and a price of £100. For the new year of 1949 this price limit was eased to £125 and that was the news Velocette had been waiting for to unleash their latest creation. It took a year to tool up so it was into the dull new world of 1950 the LE was launched.
The idea behind the Velocette LE was to build what amounted to a car on 2 wheels, for all those to whom a motorcycle just didn’t appeal.

Eugene Goodman had originally intended the LE to be a motorcycle for the everyman, but as ever unwilling to compromise on quality the result was a motorcycle for the gentleman, and gentle lady too. It’s specification was unstinting, full enclosure of the drive train, the weather shielding for the rider, the best possible handling and lowest centre of gravity for safety and ease of use, silence, reliability and lack of ‘dirty fingers’ maintenance, fuel economy along with a high tolerance for poor fuels, and the general elimination of any extraordinary effort on the part of the rider. Veloce wanted to present their customers with a vehicle that was no more trouble to use than a motorcar, and in effect aimed to produce the finest possible piece of practical personal transport on two wheels.

In a better economy the LE might well have floundered, as it was not to the tastes of the traditional motorcyclist, but with no real competition as individual transport for the middle class, Veloce nailed the market and the factory struggled to meet its orders.

Expansion

On the back of this success and looking to gain more floor space, Veloce took up a Reconstruction Authority offer on redeveloping a portion of the former RSAF Sparkbrook, which had been heavily damaged by bombing. Clearing the site and preparing it for the new works ran into 1952, but assembly of the Goodman Autocultivator was transferred over before Christmas and by mid year the frame, sheet-metal and paint shops were all in their new premises. This left Hall Green to concentrate on making motorcycles and they turned their hands to a ‘proper’ bike.

Post War M Series

The new M series were exercise in taking two steps backwards to make one leap forward. Prior to the LE, Veloce had always used the traditional steel tube and cast lug frame on their production machines. But time had moved on and the new frame shop at Sparkbrook had been set up with heath brazing in mind, that is bronze rod welding. The new frame was drawn up on the back of their pre-war racing development with twin down loops, and a triangulated spine for stiffness. However the rest of the bike reflected the 1920’s more than 1951; girder forks and brakes from the LE, a side valve 250cc engine and magdyno were hardly in keeping with Velocette’s normal specification.

Called the MOA, the ‘A’ was soon taken to stand for ‘Austerity,’ but the type sold well on both the Velocette name and its own merits. The fine handling was particularly appreciated even though the engine was unimpressive. The MOA was followed by the 350cc MAA, which retained the same frame and general specification.

The MAA only lasted 6 months in its original form, while early reviews were positive, the general public found the brakes thoroughly inadequate given the increased power, MAA came to stand for ‘Most Austere Anchors’ and other less complimentary inventions. Re-launched the next year, as the MAB, the new twin-leading shoe brakes fitted to both 250 and 350 models stunned reviewers with their power and had to have their leverage reduced to prevent dangerous wheel locking. Which was no great surprise as they had been designed for the new 500cc KAS, and MAB was taken to mean ‘Murderous Anchors not Brakes.’

For 1953 the MOA and MAB were updated with telescopic front forks and a separate Miller dynamo. But the real news from Vellocette at that year’s Motorcycle Show was the 500cc MAS on a new frame with a sprung rear wheel. The MAS was still a side valve engine, but like the other M series motor the bottom end had been designed with other ideas in mind. Both engines could be converted to OHV quite easily with the right parts, less than an hour’s work for a good mechanic, and the castings would serve for an OHC engine too.


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