Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Interestingly, while we pored over the very last Velocette (the '71 LE - see previous post) at our recent Velo rally, news also surfaced of one of the very FIRST Velos, which lives currently in New Zealand. While not the actual first Veloce, it is among the oldest known 'proper' machines.
Early Veloce history is a bit murky, as the first motorcycles to wear a 'Veloce' transfer in 1905 used an engine designed by Paul Kelecom (of Belgium - shortly to enter history by drawing up the FN four-cylinder machines), after they purchased the Ormonde-Kelecom works, for whom Veloce had previously been making rolling chassis.
It took until 1910 for Veloce Ltd to produce an engine entirely their own (patent #24499 of Oct. 21, 1910, in the name of Percy Goodman), of a typically unique design (and from this point forward Velos were indeed 'typically unique' in their design features). A close look at the color photo of the engine reveals that the belt pulley is off-axis from the external flywheel, which is the only clue that within the crankcase lies a simple two-speed gear mechanism (giving ratios of 8:1 - low - and 5:1 - high), and a metal-on-metal cone clutch. The valve mechanism is inlet-over-exhaust, with a capacity of 275cc, and the gearbox and magneto are gear driven.
In typical Veloce fashion, the engine contained an oil pump, made of mechanically driven vanes, and the wet sump contained enough oil for around 200 miles of riding. To soothe the minds of riders used to hand-pumping their oil every few miles, a simple rod-indicator on the tank top rises with oil pump pressure (a feature still found on 60's Triumphs!) The engine unit weighs all of 56lbs, and the bike was capable of 50mph, which was pretty fast for such a small capacity machine. There was no pedaling gear or kickstarter, so the bike needed a push start, a ritual made easier using the clutch, rather than a decompressor as most bikes did at the time. The two-speed gear was shifted by a rocking pedal - backwards for low.
Comments from The Motorcycle from May 23, 1912 included: "As far as power was concerned the low gear need never have been used, but we found it a great blessing in the thick traffic and on the greasy roads. A slight sing in the gears was noticeable but not unpleasant, whilst the exhaust and valve timing gear are beautifully quiet....We noticed two points in particular, one was that the outside flywheel permitted the engine to run very slowly, and although it revolves in a contrary direction to the road wheels [due to the geared primary drive] the effect is not noticeable; in fact, the machine es very steady in grease. Secondly, that throughout the heavy rain there was no suspicion of belt slip, which may be accounted for by the large geared-down engine pulley...
On returning to the works Mr. Taylor [possibly Johannes Gutgemann/Taylor/Goodman - founder of Veloce?] showed us round, and we were delighted with the jigs and tools in use and the careful way in which the parts are turned out...Before leaving the works in Clissold Place we were introduced to Mr Nat Woods, of Christchurch, New Zealand, who had just placed a considerable order for motor cycles with Veloce Ltd."
Which is where the machine in question must have originated - through the good offices of Mr Woods, as it has always lived in New Zealand, bearing engine #189. Three more of this type exist in England, with #154 being the oldest known, which is complete and original (and I'd love a photo), plus two basket case engines.
Neville Mickelson takes up the story: "The motor was recovered by Frank Panes from a museum in Blenheim in the South Island of NZ, where it was attached to a homemade rotary hoe. Frank emigrated to NZ from the UK, where he worked for the Goodmans as a works mechanic in the racing department, and was very enthusiastic about everything Velocette. He built up a cutaway of an early cammy engine (made from broken parts) as a swap for the Veloce engine..." When Frank died, he left the engine to Pete Butterworth, who intends to rebuild it as near as possible to original, although the motor is currently housed in a Humber chassis.