Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Dai spotted this circa 1962 Velocette Venom at the Kempton Park Autojumble last weekend; asking price £700. This is the 'Special' model, meaning cheaper! The Venom Special was sold between 1962-69, as a more economical version of the evergreen Venom; Veloce were canny about their expense-paring, and managed to make a bike which was significantly less expensive than the standard Venom. The crankcases, timing, and gearbox covers were unpolished, and the fiberglass covers over the power unit, made in conjunction with Mitchenall fiberglass (friends of the Goodman family), were cheaper than polishing up the raw aluminum castings. The hubs are cleverly disguised to appear as full-width alloy items, but have painted steel, ribbed covers over the single-sided, obsolete hubs, of which Veloce had many in stock. The petrol tank also is the 'old' 3.5 gal model (the larger 'breadloaf' 4.5g tank was introduced in '60), and ribbed aluminum strips were screwed to the sides as an alternative to chroming the whole tank. All this saved about £15 over the standard Venom (which sold for £285 in '62) - which might have been a few week's wages for the average yobbo.

The Specials were painted pale blue (see pic from the '62 Earl's Court Show, with a Viceroy scooter - the real nail in the coffin for Veloce, in back), which although very pretty, was like a blue flag indicating you'd bought the 'cheap' model. Performance (except for braking!) was identical to the more expensive model. As an indicator of how dire the economic situation had become for the British motorcycle industry after the drastic fall-off in sales post-1958 (the peak year for all Brit sales), Veloce sold only 20 Venom Specials in 1963, and 34 350cc Viper Specials.

The story of the Kempton bike is priceless though; it was recently discovered in a hedge! As evidenced by the foliage still attached to the bike, grass and bushes had overgrown and hidden the Velo for nearly 30 years. It's in surprisingly good shape for living outdoors for so long - it's possible that is was under a bit of overhead cover. The new owner has a lot of work ahead - best of luck!

Statistics taken from Dave Masters' 'Velocette: An Illustrated Profile of Models 1905-1971' (DMD, 2004), which is still available and a very useful book indeed.


Affer said...

As a very average yobbo in 1962, £285 represented the thick end of a year's wages for me! I think Velo had real genius at this time for totally losing the plot: Viceroy, Vogue...what were they all about? Velocettes look so bloody good now, but back then my chums and I all thought of them as Old Men's bikes - the Thruxton excepted - and they seemingly couldn't decide whether to make crawling LEs for the Old Bill, or big thumpers for the old boys....failing on all counts really. When my pal Johnny roared into work on a brand new Tiger 90, it cemented the Triumph brand (Tigers 90, 100 and 120) as our favoured wetdream material. But as I say, those big one-lungers look so cool now!

Anonymous said...

Paul, I hope the move is going well. You seem to be getting the posts coming more often. Your site has quickly become a favorite for me.
As a life long racing fan, (and yes, I did try it long enough to realize I was not going to be a serious racer), I like to keep up with what has become of the popular racers that were my heros in the day. Two of the best from the late sixties and early 70's were Dick Mann and Jim Rice, both from the Bay area. Bugsy is the better known racer and folks have been able to keep up with him. Rice seems to fallen off the end of the earth. He very nearly won the national AMA title in 1970, with the accident at the Sacramento Mile ruining a fine year. I was at that race as I was living in California at that time. From time to time we see some of the guys from that era at gatherings and historic races. Rice is never there. Do you have any idea what became of him?
Cortes Pauls
Richmond, Virginia

Anonymous said...

Hi there

I've been enjoying your blog on and off and noticed your passion for Velos. Thoughh you might like to see these photos I took at a Velo specialist near where I live, called Ralph Seymour. No doubt you've heard of him. He tuned and prepared Velcocettes, many of which acquitted themsleves very well at the Isle of Man. Ralph died in the early 90s, but the shop has been run since by his widow and his daughter Liz. Unfortunately last I heard Liz is unwell, and the shop is opening less and less. I fear it may close which is very sad as it's a unique place, left more or less as it was in the 1950s.

regards and keep up the good work


Anonymous said...

Good Day Paul,
VERY impressive website - throughly enjoyable. Can you assist me. i have a 192? 16H side valve Norton Flat Tank. I have technical questions relating to the ignition timing and i also require a contact for magneto refurbishing of same machine. any and all assistance would be greatly appreciated as I have not had any luck locating manuals for this motorcycle (perhaps you may have some suggestions?). Looking forward to hearing from you. Thank you & cheers, Cate Donovan

At your service,
Jack Geoghegan
Deer Park Cycle
105A Competitive Goals Drive
Eldersburg, MD 21784

Anonymous said...

G'day Paul,
Interesting item that Venom special.... other "budget" items were the 60mm diameter 100mph Smiths non trip "Nemag" principle speedometer, same as the Valiant's. Although as they used the nacelle, they had to punch a smaller hole...61mm dia. against 81mm diameter and this would have necessitated a punch being made, unless they could utilise the one for the Valiant.
The rear hub is I believe not a "full width", but the MSS "spool hub", whereas the front was as you say, the "lashup" to give the full width appearance. It was the 7" from memory, with a spun cover arrangement to give the finned full width look. You may have to check with Dai over this. A local Veloman in Sydney used one for years...he worked at the chrome plater I used and so I often looked at it. Sadly didn't take any pics.
Your comment...
"The crankcases, timing, and gearbox covers were unpolished, and the fibreglass covers over the power unit, made in conjunction with Mitchenall fibreglass (friends of the Goodman family), were cheaper than polishing up the raw aluminum castings."
This seems to infer the specials only had this economy saving of the non polished crankcases hidden by the undershields.
I had a standard new Venom, 1961 and it had did all Venoms and Vipers around that time. Veloce "saving a bob"...reading the Kelly thesis explains why of course.
best, DQ

vintagent said...

Hi Dennis,
my '66 VM Special had a fakey steel cover over the rear hub as well...

Anonymous said...


The same for sale at 3500 pounds!

John from Holland

vintagent said...

Well, now we know who bought it! 700 quid is pretty cheap for a Velo in any case...

Anonymous said...

Big Sven reporting:

re: Affer's comments.

Not a few of the guys preferred the Velo to a Goldie, but couldn't lose face by buying one. Just the fact that Goldie's had a 6 month-1 year waiting-list upped the cred. Velos were also just that tad slower, too, and the silencer looked funny. Only real men rode a Goldie. But they still quietly lusted for a Velo. Why? It was the only bike that could cruise at 80-85 mph all day. Try THAT on anything else (excluding BMW's).

I met Ethel Denley, buyer for Velocette, and a walking encyclopedia on them. She knew all the parts, the numbers, the cost, retail as works, she knew more about the engines, design and engineering than her brothers. And this was a dumpy little grandmother from Coronation Street type of woman! Rode bikes too, not so much now, but a lot when younger, loved the GTP 2-stroke. She hated the LE, which began the demise of the company, she hated the Viceroy scooter, which did finish the company (though she liked riding them). She did half-like the bike variant of the LE, the Valiant. "We lost money on the Roarer and the O-series, too, she complained, "too much was lost by lack of marketing expertise, we were spending huge sums on things that would never sell, let alone generate profits." She didn't like Udall, wanted him gone, but he seemed to hold sway over her brothers. The LE lacked development and was expensive to make. ALL Velos needed hand-assembly, making it worse. A friend in the USA had designed a 300cc parallel-twin, based on V-8 car design, one-piece cast-iron case, head and cylinder, tin lower half (sump as gearbox), cheap to make and assemble, that was perfect for the LE. Chain-drive (she hated shaft) 14bhp at 4,500 rpm or so, 4-speed but 5 being planned. Blimey, recalling it now I'd love to have one now!

The Vintagent said...

A definition of genius is when the proper solution to a problem appears utterly simple. I have yet to see such with a Phil Irving design: it is all complication dancing around the simple...

To have used his design for the 'LE' was suicidal; any production economist could have foretold disaster for the project, but Veloce was full of men with vision, and clearly not men of business. Perhaps the women should have held a firmer hand.

With the death of Harold Willis in 1939, the fortunes of Veloce went steadily downhill, yet with a few bright spots. His legacy was the World Championship in '49 and '50, but inertia only lasts so long, and it was clear neither the will nor the inspiration existed by 1950 to continue Velocette's winning legacy.

The MOV and its children, up to and including the Thruxton, represented the very best of Vintage motorcycling - none was better, as proved by their 24 hours @ 100mph. Try THAT with your Brough, your Vincent, your Triumph, your Manx, or anything else barring a BMW R69S...the R50S couldn't do it.

The record still stands for a 500cc single-cylinder machine.