Velocette motorcycles were made by Veloce Ltd, in Hall Green, Birmingham from 1905 until 1971 . The factory was founded by Johannes Gütgemann, who later changed his name to John Goodman, and the Goodman family ran the firm throughout it's life.
Motorcycles were initially produced under the Veloce name, but in 1913 gave the name Velocette to there first two-stroke design and this was used for all subsequent models.
Famous for the quality of its products, technical innovation, and their fishtail silencers, the company was always successful in racing, culminating in 350cc World Championship titles in 1949 with Freddie Frith and 1950 with Bob Foster. In 1961 Velocette proved the reliability of it motorcycles by its still-unbeaten record feat of an average of over 100mph for 24 hours by a 500cc Venom at the Montlhery track in France .
The company was a great technical innovator and many of its patented designs are commonplace on motorcycles today, including the positive-stop foot shift and swinging arm suspension with hydraulic dampers.
Up until 1925, Veloce concentrated on two stroke motorcycles of around 250 cc. The single-cylinder machines had many advanced features, such as a throttle-controlled oil pump, long before the Japanese two strokes of the 1960's. The factory gradually developed this machine from the "A" series, then the "H" series, followed by the model U, culminating in the model GTP in 1930, which was produced until 1946. The GTP was a reliable lightweight motorcycle with good steering and power delivery and filled the role of an everyday commuter during its production.
Velocette 'K' series
In the early 1920s, the company realised that it had to move away from two strokes, which were becoming thought of as cheap ride to work bikes. In 1925 it introduced an advanced overhead camshaft (OHC) 350 cc engine, the 'K' series, and began entering it into racing events such as the Isle of Man TT and Brooklands races. The reliability of the new engine led to a long string of racing successes, and the introduction in 1928 of an over the counter racing model, the KTT, which finally ended production in 1949. The 1929 KTT was the first production motorcycle to feature positive-stop, foot-actuated gear change, now universally used on motorcycles.The road models developed from the K included the KN (normal), KSS (super sports), KTS (touring sports),and KTP (twin exhaust ports). A modernisation of the engine and a new frame in 1935 heralded the Mk 2, now with a fully enclosed aluminium cylinder head. The OHC bikes ended production in 1948, by that time the girder front ends had been replaced by Dowty air-sprung telescopic forks.
Velocette 'M' series
The OHC engines were expensive to produce and complex to assemble, so the company wanted to develop a simpler to build and more affordable motorcycle . A side valve engine was initially designed, but this was felt not to be sufficiently powerful. From the experience of this the overhead valve (OHV) MOV was developed, going on sale in 1933. It had a lively 250 cc engine, capable of 65mph and was an immediate sales success. By lengthening the stroke of the crankshaft, the 350 cc MAC was introduced in 1934. It proved even more popular than the MOV. In 1935 a further OHV machine was introduced, the 500cc MSS. This shared the new frame of the KSS with a beefed up large capacity OHV engine which allowed it to be used to haul a sidecar if required.
During the war Velocette produced a small number of motorcycles for military use,including the the MDD and MAF, both based on the MAC, but mainly carried out other engineering work for the war effort.
the MSS was reintroduced when civilian production recommenced in 1946 later being fitted with Dowty air-sprung telescopic forks. Production of the MSS ended in 1948.
The 'Little Engine'.
During the war, Eugene Goodman felt that , come peace, the world would be looking for cheap, clean personal transport for the masses and, with designer Charles Udall, started work on the LE model (for "Little Engine").This was a radical departure from previous models, with a 149 cc side valve, water-cooled flat-twin engine, hand start, shaft drive, pressed steel frame, telescopic forks and swinging arm. Production was geared up to assemble thousands of the new bikes, but it was too slow, expensive and complex to catch on, and it's 'filing cabinet ' look put a lot of buyers off.
Only because the LE was adoption by British police forces for urban patrol did sales come up to a break even level. Police Officers on patrol were expected to salute senior officers. which would have meant them taking their hand off the handle bars, and so the rider was to allowed to show his respect by a smart nod, thus giving them the nickname of "Noddy Bikes".
Other more mainstream models, such as the Valiant were developed from the LE engine, but not in great numbers.
Although it became the company's best selling model, it was nowhere near the numbers originally envisaged and the high tooling costs for this all-new machine were barely recouped, and it set back the finances of the firm greatly.
Postwar OHV models
Eugene Goodman had expected that the whole production of the factory would be turned over to the production of the LE, so production of the old OHC and OHV machines was run down.
The MAC continued in production, with Dowty Oleomatic forks replacing Webb girders in 1948. These were superseded with Velocette's own telescopic forks in 1951, with the engine also receiving a new alloy top barrel and head.
With the failure of the LE to take off, the company started to modernise the OHV range and in 1953 there was a leap forward, with a swinging arm frame, with adjustable suspension, The saddle changed radically to a stepped dual-seat. The clutch, gearbox and gearing were overhauled, the main and prop stands improved, and the silencer changed (only for a short period) from a traditional fishtail to a tubular slash-cut pipe.
In 1954 the MSS reappeared, using the new frame design and a a new 500cc engine. This is followed in 1956 by the sports model Venom (500cc) and Viper (350cc). These use the updated MSS engine, and follow the lines of the MAC, but have full width alloy hubs with larger brakes, and a nacelle headlamp. A 1958 review in The Motor Cycle called the Viper "a remarkably fine motorcycle, all round performance well above the average" and declared it capable of speeds over 90 mph (144.84 km/h). In 1961 a Venom became the first motorcycle to cover over 2,400 miles (3,900 km) in a 24-hour period, averaging 100.05 mph (161.01 km/h).
As a result of successes in production racing at the Thruxton circuit by dealer Geoff Dodkin's bikes, the factory introduced the Venom Thruxton in 1965. This had uprated engine, Amal GP carb, racing tank, rearsets, clip ons and has become one of the most desirable postwar Velocette's. Although available in traditional black and gold, it could also be ordered with a blue frame and silver tank.
The late 1960s were the last years of production for Velocette motorcycles. The engine design, based on the 1933 MOV, was old fashioned, and in the face of Japanese 4 cylinder superbikes and screaming two strokes the Velocette had become a victim of progress. Production for the Viper ending in 1968 and MSS Venom and Thruxton in 1970. Veloce Ltd. closed in February 1971.
Luckily many people continue to appreciate the big singles from Hall Green. Over 100 years since the factory produced it's first machine, their charm , style and quality still make Velocettes the prized possession of many owners and the Velocette Owners Club is there to help ensure the bikes continue to be used and appreciated in the future.