Velocette is the name given to motorcycles that were made by Veloce Ltd, in Hall Green, Birmingham, England.
One of several motorcycle manufacturers in Birmingham, Velocette was a small, family-owned firm, selling far fewer hand-built motorcycles than the giant BSA, Norton, or Triumph concerns. Renowned for the quality of their products, the company was ‘always in the picture’ in international motorcycle racing, from the mid-1920s through the 1950s, culminating in two world championship titles (1949-1950 350 cc) and their legendary and still-unbeaten 24 hours at 100 mph (161 km/h) record. Veloce, while small, was a great technical innovator and many of their patented designs are commonplace on motorcycles today, including the positive-stop foot shift and swingarm rear fork with hydraulic shocks.
The company was founded by John Taylor (born Johannes Gütgemann and later known as John Goodman), and William Gue as “Taylor, Gue Ltd.” in 1905. Their first motorcycle was the Veloce. Later that year, John Taylor set up Veloce Limited, to produce cycles and related products and services. Veloce Ltd initially produced four-stroke motorcycles. The first two-stroke, built in 1913, was called a Velocette. This name was used for all of their subsequent models.
Between 1913 and 1925, Veloce only produced expensive, high-quality two-stroke motorcycles of (nominally) 250 cc, which gained an excellent reputation, and which they entered in competitions, such as the Isle of Man TT, with some success. The single-cylinder machines had many advanced features, such as a throttle-controlled oil pump, which set them apart from other manufacturers’ products. The factory gradually developed this machine from the ‘A’ series and variants (A, AC2 – coil ignition, two-speed gearbox, AC3 – three speed gearbox, etc.), then the ‘H’ series, the model U and variants, culminating in the model GTP in 1930, which was produced until 1946. The GTP was an elegant, reliable lightweight motorcycle with charming steering and reasonable power delivery.
Velocette ‘K’ series
In the early 1920s, Veloce realized that in order to grow as a company, they needed a new machine of advanced specification. They made a bold move to produce an overhead camshaft (OHC) 350 cc engine, which became known as the ‘K’ series, introduced in 1925. After a year of teething troubles with this new design, Veloce entered their model K into racing events such as the Isle of Man TT and Brooklands races, and the reliability and sweet running qualities of their new engine led to a long string of racing successes. The roadster models developed from this initial model K were the KSS (super sports), KTS (touring sports), KTP (twin exhaust ports), KN (normal), and a few more obscure variations. The OHC engine series continued for roadsters until 1948, when the final KSS versions were produced, with rigid frames and Dowty air sprung telescopic forks. Their skills with setting accurate valve timing was due to their pioneering work with stroboscopic lamps. The ‘K’ series showed an excellent turn of speed and reliability, and soon the factory developed specialized racing models to introduce their new OHC machine to the world.
Velocette ‘M’ series
In 1933, the company decided to introduce a new line of overhead valve (OHV) machines, in order to cut production costs and make a more affordable motorcycle. The K series was expensive to produce, requiring selective hand assembly of the shaft-and-bevel camshaft drive; it was determined that a simpler OHV design would be quicker to build and require less skilled labour to assemble. The first of these new machines was the MOV, using a 250 cc engine of ‘square’ dimensions (68 mm bore x 68 mm stroke). It was an immediate sales success, having lively performance for the time (78 mph), and proved a reliable machine with excellent road manners. From this machine, by lengthening the stroke of the crankshaft, the MAC 350 cc was introduced in 1934. It proved even more popular than the MOV, and became a real money spinner for the company, bringing much needed capital into the firm. In 1935 an entirely new machine was introduced, based on the two previous OHV models, the MSS of 500 cc. A new, heavier frame was utilized with the intention that the machine could serve as a sidecar hauler. This new frame was developed from the mkV KTT racing machine, and was shared with the KSS MKII of 1936-48. The MSS also proved very popular and profitable for Veloce.
After the Second World War, the company sought to capture what it saw as a developing need for personal transport, and they created (with the help of Phil Irving of Vincent fame) the model LE. This was a 192 cc watercooled flat twin with side-valves, a pressed steel frame, and telescopic forks and swingarm. It was sophisticated and expensive, a consistent trait with all Velocettes. Unfortunately it proved less successful than the firm had anticipated, although it became Veloce’s best selling model ever, the massive tooling costs for this all-new machine were barely recouped. It did see widespread adoption by British police forces for urban patrol. At the time Metropolitan Police Officers on foot patrol were required to salute Sergeants and Inspectors. With the introduction of the Velocette LE, this became dangerous, requiring the officer to take his hand from the handle bars, and so the rider was to allowed to show his respect with a smart inclination of his head, or to put it another way, give a smart nod. The riders became known as Noddy’s, and the bikes became known as ‘the Noddy Bike’. Another soubriquet was “Whispering Willie”, referring to the LE’s quietness allowing a “Bobby” to sneak up on miscreants.
In 1950 Velocette were the World 350 cc champions. The L.E. Mk II of 200 cc appears. The MAC uses a Velocette designed telescopic front fork. Over 1952-1953 The MAC gets a redesigned engine, a swinging arm rear suspension and a dual seat. In 1954 The 500 cc MSS reappears, like the MAC but with a new engine. Scrambler and US variants of the MSS started production in 1955. Two sports models – the 500 cc Venom and 350 cc Viper and a 200 cc air cooled flat-twin sports model Valiant were announced in 1956. The L.E. Mk III appears with four-speed foot change and kickstarter. Over 1958/59 Fairings appear for all models.
In 1960 Velocette introduced the Viceroy, a very unusual 250 cc opposed twin two-stroke scooter. Unique to the Viceroy was the front mounted twin cylinder engine, and the gas tank mounted under the front legshield. The engine itself was extremely compact, and connected to the rear-mounted clutch and transmission via a drive shaft from the engine-mounted flywheel. With electric start, 12 volt electrics, a very low centre of gravity, power over 15 hp and a reported comfortable cruising speed of 65 MPH (105 km/h), performance, handling, and features of the Viceroy were first class. Unfortunately the scooter came as market forces and rider preferences were changing, and the Viceroy was not a sales success.
1961 Velocette Viceroy
The late 1960s were the last years of production for Velocette motorcycles, production for Viper and Vogue ending in 1968, “Special”, Scrambler and Endurance in 1969, and MSS Venom and Thruxton in 1970. Veloce Ltd. closed in February 1971.