Velocette - A Racing Heritage


From the beginning of the 20th Century until the Factory closed in 1971, Velocette remained under the control of one family, the Goodmans. Even more remarkable is that the family responsible for what many would consider to be the most English of motorcycles was of German origin.

In 1876 at the age of 19, Johannes Gutgemann came to England. After marrying Elizabeth Ore they had two sons, Percy and Eugene, and settled in Birmingham. Johannes adopted the English name John Taylor, but when granted British citizenship in 1911 he took the surname Goodman and the rest of the family followed in 1917.

The two sons pursued engineering careers and founded New Veloce Motors, intending to manufacture cars. Although a prototype was made no orders came. Percy then designed a motorcycle of quite advanced design. Again it was not well received and a more basic machine was made which sold well at 40 guineas (£42). This machine was known as the VMC (Veloce Motor Company) and it was the name "Veloce" that the Goodmans gave to their motorcycles until 'Velocette' was adopted for the first lightweight in 1913. For the next few years Veloce concentrated on high quality but rather staid motorcycles which met with considerable success in long distance trials and the like, but road racing results were disappointing.

By 1924 the company had noted the success of rival manufacturers using machines powered by overhead valve engines and Percy Goodman drew up a design for a new overhead camshaft engine. The new engine had to be as narrow as possible to fit into the existing frames, which had two-stroke engines. The result was an extremely narrow and very strong crankshaft capable of high revolutions without flexing. The design also gave all single cylinder Velocettes that unique feature where the clutch is inboard of the final drive sprocket. The bore and stroke of the new engine was 74 x 81 mm which remained the same for all 350cc OHC Velocettes. The new model was first exhibited at the 1924 Olympia Show. Once the usual teething troubles had been addressed, it became apparent that the machine had an outstanding performance. Two machines were entered in the 1925 IOM TT and, though neither finished, the Factory was happy with the overall performance. Shortly afterwards Alec Bennett the outstanding TT rider visited the Factory and it was announced that he would lead a team of three riders in the 1926 Junior, the other two team members being Gus Kuhn and Fred Povey. Bennett won by over 10 minutes and Kuhn and Povey were in the first ten ensuring Veloce also won the manufacturers' team prize. This was a remarkable success for such a tiny firm; at that time Veloce was still at the Six Ways Factory in Aston and had only forty-two employees with no racing department. The TT bikes had been built by Percy and Eugene Goodman after the Factory had closed for the day.

Success in the TT came again in 1928 when Alec Bennett won the Junior and at the Olympia Show the Company was confident enough to offer for sale a batch of racing machines described as 'exact replicas' of Bennett's winning machine. These would have specially tuned engines giving a top speed of 85 mph and are easily identified by the unpolished 'as cast' crankcases with three strengthening ribs. An extra oil pump on the cambox returned oil directly to the tank and internally the engine had steel flywheels, a forged steel con-rod and various pistons giving compression ratios to meet the buyer's needs. Strutted Webb forks were fitted and a 3 speed close ratio gearbox with the Willis designed positive stop foot-change.

Thus began the production of a competitive racing motorcycle offered for sale for 25 years up to 1953. A total of 868 KTTs were built and on our stand this weekend you will see an example of each type of KTT. All of these are owned by our Club Members except for the Mark VI, kindly loaned to us by the National Motorcycle Museum.
We also have here what may be described as Velocette's swansong; the 500cc Venom Thruxton production racer introduced at the 1964 Earls Court Show and made until the Factory closed.
(on display at the 35th Carole Nash International Classic Motor Cycle Show 2015)

MARK I KTT (1928-32) Engine number KTT317
The Factory records show that KTT214 was invoiced to Petty's of Leicester. Little is known about the subsequent history of this machine. It is owned by the National Motorcycle Museum and was rebuilt by Ivan Rhodes after the fire in 2003 (see Mark VI below). Later models were modified up to the introduction of the Mark IV and were subsequently designated Mark II & III for ease of reference but can really only be distinguished by careful examination of largely internal modifications. As with all racing bikes KTTs, were constantly being updated by owners in the quest for 'Winter Urge' as Harold Willis, head of the Veloce Racing Department put it.

MARK IV KTT (1932-34)
Engine number KTT443, Frame number KTL4290, Gearbox number 111

This KTT was invoiced to Frank Parrish & Sons of Preston on 13 December 1932 and sold to Jack Gorst, 15 Aldrens Lane, also in Preston. The present owner has had no success in tracing the history of the machine, except that Jack Gorst did ride a Velo in the 1934 Junior but retired. The bike was bought from Ken Gardner in November 2000 in a run-down but complete state. Ken told him it had been raced in the 1970s but after a major blow-up the engine was rebuilt by Taylor-Dow, the Gold Star specialist in Banbury, and probably never started up again. The internal condition of the engine supports this, but new valves, guides and springs were fitted when the bike was refurbished in 2008. Even the gearbox number is correct from the Factory records but this is in poor condition internally and a new slightly later gear box is being built up to use.

The Factory Dispatch Book where KTT443 is listed makes interesting reading. It was the first to be sold in Britain on this page, fourth from the top; the previous three KTTs went to Katowice, Milan and Dunedin and the next two were bound for Vienna and Melbourne. For such a small firm, Veloce had a truly international customer base. Other overseas customers buying KTTs on the same page were in Gleiwitz, Brussels, Warsaw, Bielefeld, New York, Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Hannover and Everett, Massachusetts. So keep your eyes open on your holidays. Have a good poke around, you might find an old racing Velo in the most unlikely place.
One final point is that the present owner was offered a KTT in 1973 by 'a gentleman in Lancashire' for £275 but as usual he was suffering from a bout of financial cramp. He thinks it might have been KTT443.

MARK V KTT (1935-36)
1935 Engine number KTT575, Frame number 33

KTT575 was allocated for New Zealander Arthur Bradley to ride in the 1935 Junior TT and was shipped from the Factory to the Island in May of that year. This was arranged via the Velo agent in Auckland who sponsored Bradley. Frank's research has determined that he did not ride in the race because he crashed in practice. He returned to NZ but what happened to the bike afterwards is not known. The likely scenario is that it went back to Veloce for repair because they probably still owned it and it was then sold on. There is no record to support this theory.

The next recorded sighting of KTT575 is in Scunthorpe in the mid 1940s when it was owned by John Cansfield who rode it in local and national events. When he acquired it is not known and where it had been for the previous ten years is also a mystery.
In 1947 it went to *McCandless in Belfast for the swinging arm conversion and Bob Dexter bought it in 1972. Bob was a Scunthorpe motorcycle dealer and well-known sponsor in road racing, scrambles and trials. Bob said he only bought it because it was being slowly dismantled and robbed of parts and he didn't want to see it end up as scrap. It was never used as it did not have footrests, gear change
or foot brake until it was rebuilt it in 2006. Thankfully all the major components were still there. Since then it has been used many times in this country and Europe and is a delight to ride.

*McCandless Brothers
Rex McCandless (1915-92) was a self-taught engineer from Hillsborough, Co. Down in Northern Ireland who worked with his brother Crommie offering swinging arm conversions for rigid bikes in the 1940s. In 1949, the brothers designed the famous Featherbed frame which was used by Nortons up to 1970.

MARK VI KTT (1936)
1936 Engine number (see below), Frame number 6TT6

Velocette never officially listed the Mark VI KTT as an over the counter racer and only a handful were sold (KTT621-625). A modified alloy Mark II KSS cylinder head was fitted on to a Mark V crankcase so the Mark VI is a transitional model before the all alloy Mark VII was offered. The machine on display was rebuilt by our Club President Ivan Rhodes from the remains of a bike almost completely destroyed in the fire at the National Motorcycle Museum on 16 September 2003. Spondon Engineering near Derby straightened the frame and Terry Hall repaired the tanks. Parts had to be made from patterns supplied by Ivan and his many contacts. Many other famous racing Velocettes were badly damaged in the fire, including the 24Hour Record Breaker, and the machines you now see at the Museum would not exist without Ivan's ability and determination.

MARK VII KTT (March to October 1938)
Engine number KTT712, Frame number 7TT10, Gearbox number 7TT5399
The Mark VII was the first KTT to have the beautiful all alloy engine with the massive fins on the cylinder head. The first Mark VII (KTT700) was supplied on 23 March 1938 to Veloce's shipping agent Schofield Goodman, Birmingham for onward dispatch to Sydney and the last one (KTT739) was sent by them on 4 October 1938 to Christchurch NZ. So over a period of approximately six months no more than forty were made before the first Mark VIII (KTT801) was supplied on 10 May 1939. The Mark VIII, of course, had modern swinging arm rear suspension so it is not surprising that the engines from its immediate predecessor were in great demand but not so much the frames.

The rebuild started with precious little else, other than a frame from which the forged lugs on the rear of the frame for the wheel spindle had been removed. These were manufactured by a friend and the frame brought back to original. The 'cause' was given a big boost when a friend stumbled across a complete engine and gearbox at a Beaulieu Autojumble. It was promptly bought for a sum which emptied the coffers. Gradually things came together by calling in favours and enlisting the help of many contacts until the rebuild was finished.

Nowadays, the Mark VII is probably the rarest of all the surviving KTTs and the owner is to be congratulated on his perseverance in resurrecting the superb machine you see here today.

MARK VIII KTT (1939-50)
1948 Engine number KTT 1000, Frame number SF139

This was delivered to Waycotts of Bristol in August 1948 and bought by a Mr Brown, according to the information obtained from Factory Records. However, Mr Brown is not listed as the first owner in the old buff log book, which shows it registered as LHW 503 in November 1948 to A Dobbs in Bristol, then to E Gillard of Bath (date not known) before being bought by John Banks of Merseyside via Kings of Oxford in April 1954 for the sum of £240.

Following a mention in one of the classic bike magazines by Jim Reynolds, John Banks contacted the present owner and supplied a lot of details about his ownership which included road races in Ireland such as Cookstown 100, Killinchy 150 and a few mainland short circuits. He also rode it in the 1955 Junior MGP finishing in 67th place from a field of 103 starters at a speed of 69.67 mph (some way behind the time of the winner G B Tanner on a Norton at 88.46 mph). There is a photograph of him on the start which clearly shows a dent in the petrol tank which his father repaired when he obtained the bike in 1959. The present owner managed to dent it again in the same place when he dropped it at Cadwell Park. John Banks kept KTT1000 until the end of 1956 when he was offered sponsorship by Reg Dearden for the 1957 season. The present owner's father worked for Tom Somerton (camshafts and Vincents) at that time when the Mk VIM was taken in part-exchange. Somerton then offered the bike to his dad taking his bike in exchange, possibly a KSS. Whilst the KTT was a runner, it was in rather a state and required a lot of work before he was able to ride it on the road - open mega and all. He fitted Velocette telescopic forks but fortunately retained the original girders and front wheel which allowed his son to put them back on and use it in VMCC events, which he still does on the circuits he enjoys, in particular Cadwell and Mallory Park.

1965 500cc Production Racer Engine number VMT105

The Thruxton (after the Hampshire racing circuit) appeared on the Velocette stand at the Earls Court Show in 1964 when a range of racing accessories were brought together on one bike. Early Thruxtons were blue and silver but soon they were offered in the traditional black and gold finish. The Thruxton also appealed to the 'clip-ons and rear sets' brigade and it is true to say that very few actually found their way anywhere near a race circuit. Over nearly six years 1108 Thruxtons left the Hall Green Factory. To make them more acceptable the engines became softer and as the supplies of racing carburetters and magnetos dried up the performance suffered. However, VMT105 is different.

This Thruxton was bought on 11 June 1965 from Premier Motors in Birmingham with the specific intention of going racing. It was the fourth Thruxton sold, the first being retained by the Factory. After a problem with the Lucas magneto, which was replaced, the new bike was used as everyday transport. Careful running-in was completed by a camping trip to the Lakes, two-up with a load of camping gear. The owner remembers taking in the Barbon Hill Climb on the way home and then cruising down the M6 at a steady 90 mph back to Birmingham and how the engine stayed completely oil tight.

After joining the appropriate clubs he began to use the bike on many short circuits including Mallory Park, Oulton Park, Snetterton but mostly Darley Moor

His very first competitive event was actually the Ragley Hall Hill Climb in September 1965 when he won the 500cc Class. As well as entering the Production Racing classes, which were very popular in the 60s, he would also ride in the open classes to make the trip worthwhile. Not having any four wheeled transport, he rode to the meetings sometimes two up. His first big international event was the 1966 500 mile race at Brands Hatch where he finished in 6th Place in the 500cc class with Jim Stephenson as his co-rider. Very sadly Jim was to lose his life at an early 1967 Oulton Park meeting. He also entered the 1967 500 mile race at Brands Hatch with Clive Wilson as co-rider. Other VOC Members Arthur Lavington and Tony Hailes shared another Thruxton. Unfortunately both bikes had mechanical trouble and failed to finish. For the 1968 500 mile race he was entered by the VOC and again broke down before the end of the race. However, the highlight was finding out from the result sheets that at 3 pm they were one lap in front of the Ducati ridden by Derek Minter and Reg Everett.

By the end of 1968 racing was getting too expensive, so he decided to sell the Thruxton and buy himself a Triumph sports car. In those days Velocettes were considered to be very old fashioned and difficult to sell. A friendly local dealer in Erdington called 'Richards' offered to put his Thruxton in the window and eventually an offer £189 was accepted. The bike all but disappeared until 2005 but that first owner kept it in his sights and managed to buy his old bike back in 2011.