Velocettes crossed the finish line 1st, 2nd, 3rd at the Burt Munro Challenge 2015. This would not have been an unusual sight on the racing circuits of England and Europe through the 1920s 30s or even late 40s. However Invercargill in November 2015 at the bottom of the world in New Zealand? An unlikely treat for those with a taste for vintage racing motorcycles. Phil Price picks up the story.
Unlikely is a good word to describe most things about Invercargill, Burt Munro’s efforts, and the challenge now named after him. It is literally the end of the earth or at least the earth’s most southern town right at the bottom of New Zealand, where the weather is anything but settled, often blowing straight off the Antarctic. The locals are a determined lot with a good old-fashioned zest for life. Munro, a curious and slow learning fellow who persisted when most would have given up, finally achieving nearly 200mph on the salt flats of Bonneville in Utah aboard his own highly modified 1926 Indian scout. The event with the formal title and catch phrase ‘The Burt Munro Challenge—one hell of a week’ is only in existence as a consequence of the place, the man, oh and the bikes.
A cool wind but clearing sky greeted our Sunday, race day, on the back streets close to town. Thankfully the sky is not threatening to deliver Southland’s norm of flagrant horizontal squalls, what were the chances? Team Velo lined up a string of Cammy pre-war racers all entered in what could be described as a ‘loose girder fork’ class, five prewar Velocette’s in total, two MKVIIIs, two MKIVs, and the Big Velo. A far reaching historical reference, but rolling with the theme of the unlikely, when Soichiro Honda visited the isle of Man in the early fifties he wanted to scope out the best machinery on offer in the world and to see whether a Honda might be built to compete there. Marketing through racing was not new, he already had demonstrated the right balance of market savvy, engineering nous, ambition, belief in himself, and his already established ‘dream’. Veloce had used this business method to great success and ‘The Old Man’ as a student of the history and evolution of the racing motorcycle would have been only too aware of the deep seated passion and determination that is street racing. World domination may have been in his minds eye but the sponsoring of a Street race in Invercargill some 65 years later? Maybe not but the ‘Honda Invercargill Street Races’ it was. Nervous anticipation and the crowd both grew as the morning progressed. The track new asphalt, in a commercial precinct, wide, long, and enough variety to get a small head of speed without being a boring race from right angle to right angle. Most riders spent the inevitable down time as the show slowly got underway, putting finishing touches on their winner’s acceptance speeches, or indeed speech itself for some, and motard riders practiced the clearly superior and not retarded as some suggest, straight leg out approach to corner exercises. The mood in camp Velo was rather quiet with a bit of nervous polishing, checking of oil and fuels levels. Our in-house film crew of Theo and Jasper taped GoPro miniature cameras here and there on the vintage KTT’s giving rise to a classic but ironically accurate comment from octogenarian Neville Wooderson that he presumed the pictures would be in colour! Ruminating on this we surmised that beyond the odd teaser demonstrating the starting procedure of a Velocette or a tame stroll up the street, the online availability of real imagery capturing these machines in close action may well have left off more than 60 years ago with black and white soft focus shots of Freddie Frith and Bob Foster following one another on the GP circuits of Europe, taps fully on circa 1949-50.
What chance we might capture something this day to relive such a delight not only in colour and sound but with on bike viewpoints to boot? Either way we looked to better our beginning Eldee2 clip of 2012. Following ill fated last minute sponsorship negotiations with Pump house Paddy a siting lap and practice was upon us, a proud moment seeing all our riders splendid in black leathers on black machines, visually set off with that fine minimal gold pinstriped tank, the only concession to decoration on the purposeful racers. Competition in the form of the ever present, friendly, hospitable, and growing Team Rudge, along with a couple of shiny Indians and a few others made up a good looking grid for old girder bikes, what were the chances of that? Some experienced problems of one sort or another in getting their full compliment to the start line, but that’s old bikes and those inflicted with the bug of running them live with this reality constantly. Velos dominated the start grid with no intimidating effect, honest.
We take reliability for granted these days thanks in no small way to the efforts of Mr Honda but we forget too easily the failures he had on the ladder to success. His and the companies attitude being that failure was fuel for future success, an admirable mantra in these days where we reward our young with participation certificates for trying. Failure is no bad thing but as any racer with experience knows in order to win first one must finish, or in some cases start. Racers whose biggest concern is what type of after-market suspension package to try, or whether or not their tyre warmers are on straight are in another world from the early days of team Honda. For example, picture the development engineers making fine jetting adjustments sequentially richer from the inside hotter cylinders to the cooler running outer pots of the 250/6, an activity to leave most contemporary tuners scratching. A winter of preparation largely by Nick Thomson put all our bikes on the start line, and across the finish, as we shall see. No small achievement for machines that require to be entirely blueprinted if ridden hard, but back to the Deep South. Cloud Craig-Smith joined our dream team of Chris Swallow and Bill Biber for the weekend, and was thrown somewhat into the deep end cocking his leg over our new MK8 for the very first time at Teratonga, Saturday morning. This machine had locked the back wheel on me going up the Bluff Hill Llimb changing down for the bend onto the big uphill straight two days prior. That finished upright and out of the gorse, much to my relief and applause from the crowd. But we had found no cause until that Saturday morning with no compression revealing a sticking inlet rocker. That satisfied the mind enough by way of at least finding something to fix, and the rest of the weekend reinforced this notion with the bike performing without fault—phew. I had already learned just what a transformation the Nova 6 speed was, and perhaps this was a bit of a false reality for Cloud’s first KTT experience. A gear for everywhere with even gaps and smooth changes up and down. With four speeds it’s really a matter of thinking hard about what gear to be in where and when exactly to change, any variation to this once established routine never ending well. It seems simple now with retro engineering but back in the fifties or earlier these were just not available, or not developed, or the single cylinder engines had enough torque to make do—really? Soichiro was clearly not convinced with the outcome, for as well as trying more and more cylinders, some of the small capacity racers had upwards of 10 ratios. Even our own Les Diener made notes to the effect of wishing he could have got his hands on a factory five speed for his dohc 250, but in reality living out his racing life with 4 speeds only. Cloud was very quickly on the pace and within a few laps showing just what calibre of rider he is. We learned quite a lot in a short time at Teratonga that morning. We knew the Arthur Wheeler Bike was fast and reliable, I had won the NZCMRR vintage 350 class easily on it as had Bill Biber ten years prior. Chris had recently surprised a good number of much later model 350s on what is a very well sorted and historic machine, in earlier life it had been at the hot end of races across Europe, the TT and Ulster. That said it is still a pre war girder machine with four speeds running on petrol. Bill Biber had most enthusiastically taken up the offer to ride the Bike Velo, a stately rider and machine combo. The history of MT 5001 goes without much saying as does Bill’s career aboard Velos. We knew both were fast although a new combination. The bike is very standard, the way it must be kept for posterity. Over the winter we had remade the wheels with new English black rims and spokes and a new magnesium early works front hub, a spruce on the guards with Bill coming to the party covering the new replica seat based on photos of the day. Only change in the motor was to a Carrillo con rod more as insurance than performance as this bike is the only one of its kind in the world to still be running its original crankcases. A very tidy and correct vintage looking bike indeed.
We’d done the odd comparison of lap times with Chris onboard Big Velo at Hampton Downs versus Arthur Wheeler MKVIII and Bill the same at Manfield where he had previously cleaned up the entire field of 350s convincingly on the MKVIII. Remembering here that the Big Velo is a 500 from 1934 and the MKVIIIs evolved over the following few years, formerly emerging around 1938 and largely unchanged for post war production. The MKVIII had the great leap forward of a swinging arm rear suspension thanks largely to Stanley Woods the Irish rider and star of the thirties who took one of the dog kennel machines (the Big Velo is one of only three ‘works bikes’ in total along with its predecessor now living in NSW with an iron top knot and the unenvied title ‘the monster’ no doubt because of its weight. The Big Velo and 2 others had ‘Y’ alloy castings which on our bike are still showing the great quality they were at the start) for a test in 1934. “Great engine, shame about the handling” was the upshot of Stanley’s feedback to the factory, who to their credit worked with Woods to develop MT5003 into the first rear springer, and he came 2nd on it in the 1936 TT just a whisker behind Harold Davies aboard a Norton, the closest velo ever came to a senior victory.
So on balance a small and interesting range of machine specs and riders at varying stages of career and familiarity, but on track the three were a tight bunch with the youth on MKVIIIs swopping places and paint here and there to take a win a piece, Bill consistent and classy as ever underpinning the 1, 2, 3. I was on the ex Ivan Rhodes MKIV well down on power behind Neville Mickleson looking most familiar on the ex Pete Butterworth’s MKIV. With fingers well and truly crossed that everything would hang together and the knowledge that everyone was in the same boat having never ridden the street circuit before, there we were at the start of the first race of the Sunday nervous and excited. The action that followed had some old codger in the crowd muttering how long it had been since seeing action like this, as only an old codger would know. With lean angles to match any other class due to the need to maintain corner speed. Crossing the start/finish line for the last lap the rear-mounted gopro on Chris’s MKVIII finally gives into vibration and throws itself onto the track, but the action was already well and truly captured.
Some weeks later when the digital black box finally released its secret file the young Swallow sent the following statement to Velo HQ “ I am absolving myself of all responsibility for gopro welfare due to using every inch of road, its my dads fault he brought me up like that”. What could have easily been said but not so easily done had just been done. Velocette 1,2, 3, 5, and 6. With a similar result for the second race of the day.
I suppose it’s true that the first time we achieve something fabulous or hard fought is the most memorable moment even if repeated many times. Few will even have an inkling of what Soichoro would have felt the moment he knew that not only had his bike and team finally lifted the winning title at the 1963 250cc TT race at the Isle of Man, but the first 5 places! Few motorcycling achievements can match this. In any case a quiet sense of ‘chuffed’ settled over team Velo while we gathered machines and personnel for photographic posterity, prior to those black leather one piece suits being replaced by civilian togs once more, put away for the next adventure. The memory of this weekend and most especially the Sunday street race will live for a long while for those involved, and hopefully not lost on those spectating. You know who you are and big thanks if you helped out. An unlikely gathering of pukka racers and proper riders, ridden hard near the end of the earth. Living the day and reliving a little more history for the already famous Velocette. Unlikely, but true.
Words: Phil Price
Archival images: Phil Price and Nick Thomson collections
Burt Munro short film: Theo McDonald
Photography: © Iona Gibbs, Shaun Waugh
Desktop publishing: Shaun Waugh MagentaDot Brands
Bill Biber and Shaun “IT” in a van crammed with gear for a fortnight and four race bikes, Nick Thomson and Graeme Peters also crammed into a van with gear for a fortnight and four bikes, and Phil Price with two photographers travelling in accommodation on wheels all departed Tuesday to make the trek south to the Burt for the 10th Anniversary Challenge.
Having work restrictions meant I could only leave Friday night to fly down to “The Burt” along with several others flying in for the weekend; Cloud Craig-Smith, Chris Swallow, Janet Wilson and Shaun Chamberlain (Gepeto).
The hill climb on Thursday by all accounts went well for ‘Team Velo’. Phil Price having a wee moment on his second run, but came off unscathed. Unfortunately there was an accident on the hill mid-afternoon, so the event was cancelled after the boys’ second run. Phil managed a respectable 61 second ascent first time up which was enough to get 3rd place in the pre 63 category.
Friday was a test/play day at Teretonga and I believe the weather was just fine. All riders and bikes performed splendidly. If you can remember the weather we had in Wellington that weekend, we were experiencing some 144 km p/hour winds and around 12 flights were cancelled—mine being one of them! Bugger!
Flying into Invercargill on a fresh Saturday morning, I could see sunshine, but just as we landed it started to rain. A quick taxi trip to the track taking around 10 minutes and it was fair bucketing down with strong winds. Proper grotty. One could see tents flapping, gazebos flying and general chaos. Team Velo on the other hand were cool, calm and collected!
The first race of the day was the girder fork event, which saw all of team velo out on the track together. The aim was to get good placings, to be proud of what was a once in a lifetime viewing experience, seeing the KTTs and the Big Velo out on the track at the same time. I think what came next exceeded expectations; 1st, 2nd and 3rd going to Team Velo with riders Cloud Craig-Smith, Chris Swallow and Bill Biber. A repeat performance was seen for race two. Alas there wasn’t to be a third round, the weather was the reason for that! We were all cold, wet and shivering. A small amount of fettling to be done for the bikes in preparation of the street circuit the next day, and we were off to the warmth of the Bluff pub for a brew!
Sunday was a refreshing sight; sun, bit of light cloud and a gentle breeze. Riders briefing was over two hours late, and we were beginning to wonder if there was going to be ANY racing on that day. But the call came, we went, we listened, and we listened, and we listened… (Remember Errol McCabe and his riders briefings? Need I say more?). Finally the boys were called up for their two sighting laps, which launched straight into four laps for qualifying, resulting in front row of the grid for Cloud, Chris and Bill… again. I had a friend ask me if I get excited. I sure do, but the feeling blurs between excitement and nervousness. But, the boys pulled it off yet again, 1st, 2nd and 3rd not once, but twice. Great result!
Thanks must go to “Squadron Leader” and general “Boss of Operations” Phil Price—for without him none of this would’ve been possible. Nick Thomson, for without his mechanical skills for not 1, 2 or even three bikes, but five, none of this would’ve been possible. The riders; Chris, Cloud and Bill, for without THEM (yep you guessed it), none of this would’ve been possible. They all put on such a great performance on some very special, very rare and beautifully prepared machines.
Team Velo rocks!
Words: Iona Gibbs
Photos: © John Cosgrove / FairfaxNZ, Iona Gibbs, Shaun Waugh
Desktop publishing: Shaun Waugh MagentaDot Brands
Initial enthusiasm for a five pronged cam attack on the South Island were reduced by a small chunk when guest Cam had unavoidable wrist surgery in the diary that weekend. So it was with these four overhead cams that Team Velo departed for battle at the Burt Munro Challenge 2015: KTT MKVIII No. 1041 ex Arthur Wheeler, KTT MKVIII No. 1079 ex Leo Andrews, 1934 MT5001 ex Bill White The Big Velo, KTT MKIV. Cocking talented and somewhat battle scarred legs over such splendid machinery was Squadron Leader Price, Brigadier Biber, returning to active service, Captain Craig-Smith and Squaddie Swallow. Tank Commander Thomson of the Royal Engineers had our backs and over the top we went, showing no fear in front of the Southern enemy and not selecting top gear until seeing the whites of their eyes. Etc. Right, enough of that. First battleground was the Bluff Hill Climb—a minute or so of steep road littered with bumps, cambers, springs (wet ones not bouncy ones usually) and enough consistent tar seal in the central sections to encourage a bit of enthusiasm on cold tyres. Brigadier Biber treated the strong Southland crowd to the delights of an open megaphone as he trumpeted The Big Velo up the hill in fine style, followed by Sqd. Leader Price entertaining the punters by showing them how to deal with a seized motor while travelling with rapidity. Tank Commander Thomson was looking all too relaxed and was thus relieved to have some fettle on his hands; a seized rocker arm on MKVIII No1079 was subsequently discovered and re-assembly was a matter of course thereafter, the Royal Engineers maintaining impeccable high standards despite unfamiliar working conditions at the front line. The new RV was Teretonga race track, zero eight hundred hours, Friday. With the enemy in good spirits, battle was delayed until the Saturday and the day was spent exploring the trench system then tweaking and polishing weaponry. The Squadron was buoyed to full strength later that evening when Captain Craig-Smith and Squaddie Swallow arrived late to the OP after the Hun had delayed their travel. Battle day dawns with typically bright Southland weather and troop welfare concerns sees a flurry of SPF50 distributed around the barracks of Camp Velo. Unpredictable drizzle and high winds wash this off just in time to put on tin hats and crank up the weapons of war for the first push. The front row of the grid is smattered with cammy Velos but it’s the local defence network of Wing Commander Wilson who enters the fray with typical zeal and vigour adhering to the mantra ‘Rudge it, do not trudge it’. No one had envisaged such a forthright attack from the off and rapid chase was given by the Velo boys feeling out the damp underfoot conditions as best they could. Wing Commander Wilson runs out of ammunition as he lifts his head above the parapet in readiness for turn two, then the Rudge weaponry is down and no longer a concern in this fray. Squaddie Swallow (ex-Arthur Wheeler MK VIII No. 1041) leads Captain Craig-Smith (MK VIII HotteRodde) and together they proceed to break cover and eke a small distance on Brigadier Biber (The Big Velo MT5001) the damp conditions playing havoc with his shrapnel wound. A rogue Indian nudges Squadron Leader Price (1932 MKIV KTT) out of formation flying and the battle ends in this order with no further injuries sustained. Civilians report of a ‘bloody good show what, what’ and sustaining rations are taken onboard by the main protagonists during the interim period between bombing raids. The Velo weapons of war are all still in fine fettle, minor alterations are attended to by Tank Commander Thomson of the Royal Engineers, his experience in the fray detailing such matters in an unhurried methodical manner bringing re-assurance to all prior to the next push. With the enemy Rudge not sighted on the horizon Team Velo leave the trench in a confident air for the second onslaught, their makeshift bottle lights glowing dimly at the rear as per blackout regulations dictate. With a dry battleground now present there is a major offensive from the off, led superbly by Captain Craig-Smith of the Muriwai Panzer Corps, his friendly fire across the bows inspiring the Velo troops to give rapid chase. Squaddie Swallow pulls up to the charging Captain but despite his best efforts at sharp shooting from the front, he is overtaken with little time remaining and trails Captain Craig-Smith to the line, Brigadier Biber follows and Sqd. Leader Price comes in next. Back at the barracks the young Squaddie is overheard conversing with the Royal Engineers advising the sending of the following message back to HQ by morse code: 6 bullet magazine box more effective than 4 bullet. Recommend for all future reconnaissance or undercover missions. Out. The advance front marches north to the new Invercargil Street Circuit; the conquering Velo team are in positive spirits but under no illusion they are still in unfamiliar territory with some cornered locals ready to fight, finding their way to the battle and intent on making their mark on the gold striped invaders. Wing Commander Wilson of Team Rudge is spirited in advance of the day despite an all-night onslaught on his gearbox. Brigadier Biber is in steely focus from the sunrise, Squadron Leader Price conveys a calm reassurance about the barracks but the eagle eyed observers can discern an ever so slight query of expectation in this normally reserved countenance. Tank Commander Thomson of the Ngaio Ngineering Corps stirs his morning brew with his preferred imperial allen key, his mind whirring constantly attending to the insides of the creations he has assembled and is about to watch disappear into battle. Captain Craig-Smith and Squaddie Swallow head out on advanced reconnaissance gathering and walk the new track slowly and methodically taking note of blind spots, surface conditions, raised masonry and the like. Some concerns are muttered under breath in dark corners but cowardice is not wanted to be shown in the face of the enemy at risk of a court-martial; so after using the Signal Corps to contact the clerk of course regarding the line of sniper sight through the back straight chicane, any matters of burden are discarded and battle lines get mentally formed. Squaddie Swallow, still fresh from overseas service at the Isle of Man, takes to the new battleground with relative comfort and puts the Wheeler bike on pole, narrowly ahead of Captain Craig-Smith, Brigadier Biber and Sqd. Leader Price. The rogue Indian is going well piloted by Field Marshal Munro and he is joined today by Flying Officer Friskin who is seen pushing not flying at the end of qualifying; the Indian Engineering Corps deciding to return this bike to the barracks for the day. Gearings are deemed appropriate for the new terrain and Tank Commander Thomson assures Squaddie Swallow his mount will take a bit of clutch slip if required during the heat of battle. Tyre pressures are measured and tweaked, fuel is added and then each soldier retreats into his mental battlefield of solitude ready for the command to arms. Captain Craig-Smith again heads into the fray with impressive zeal, inspiring a focused chase to commence behind. Squaddie Swallow can hear the megaphone of Brigadier Biber as he follows the smooth navigation of Craig-Smith between the bails, kerbs and catch fences. With a lap to go Swallow squeezes past on the brakes and makes a dash for the line, Craig-Smith comes in second with Brigadier Biber a fine third. The rogue Indian is being ridden better and better by Field Marshal Munro and he is within a sniff of the Velocette enemy, Squadron Leader Price following home for fifth. The final push is signalled for and all artillery is wheeled out once more. The eyes of the boys from the Velo barracks suggest no holds will be barred and friendly fire is a thing of previous wars. ‘Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.’ With preference given to the latter. Captain Craig-Smith makes his customary rapid escape from being imprisoned on a lonely start line, and Brigadier Biber gives experienced chase into turn one, followed by Squaddie Swallow and the rest of the escapees. Biber appears to come loose on some shrapnel and he slows across the tops slightly allowing Swallow to move alongside, his gaze fixed firmly on the disappearing Craig-Smith. Within a lap he is on his rear wheel and they are both holding nothing back going from kerbside to bails back to catch fence, this the final battle of the weekend war. Swallow makes a move past and Craig-Smith fights straight back, the contest is too close to call, the conscientious objectors are now drawn into the elegance of battle, their hearts stirred by the advancing Velo boys leaving nothing behind, it’s all out there and they’re surviving this moment on instinct and wit. At the close of the battle Squaddie Swallow leads across the stripe by a bikes length from Captain Craig-Smith, Brigadier Biber a close third, Field Marshal Munro from the Indian Army is fourth with Squadron Leader Price close behind. ‘One more dance along the razor’s edge finished. Almost dead yesterday, maybe dead tomorrow, but alive, gloriously alive, today.’ The conquering Team Velocette retreat from the battlefield content with having given their all and then some. The girder fork territory rightfully claimed with the crest of the golden black tanks.
Words: By RonDine
Photos: Iona Gibbs, Shaun Waugh
Desktop publishing: Shaun Waugh MagentaDot Brands
Phil Price tells the back-story on the Velocette MKVIII KTT 1079.
Image: Cloud Craig-Smith rounds the sweeper at the Teretonga circuit, 2015 Burt.
Factory records only note this machine, quite late in the production of post war MKVIII KTT’s was a new export direct to Melbourne, Australia. Not much has surfaced about its history between then and my acquiring it at a Bonhams auction on the eve of the Rugby world cup final, hosted in NZ 2011. Eldee2 has taken most of our enthusiasm since then but this year the dust was blown off 1079 with the intention we always had for this bike which was to develop it a little more than the famous and well documented 1041 from Arthur Wheeler. The few connections I have made into Velocette folk in Australia tell me Leo Andrews, the owner and restorer of this KTT for some 3 or more decades and who’s estate was being auctioned that spring day was a fine, capable, and knowledgeable chap. Certainly the bike appeared to be correct with all essential bits there, evidence of many hours spent on detail fixings mostly correct. As per usual on Velocette restorations the visual appearnce of the bike was let down by the seat, guards, exhaust pipe, and bars. So while Nick Thomson set to on the all important mechanicals I appointed myself on getting these details more as they should have been in the day. Among the many developments the factory would have learned in racing KTT’s over the years, was to get weight out of the front, and for that matter both wheels. An early magnesium item on a racing Velocette is quite a piece of engineering, light and effective. The rear conical hub on the Big Velo MT5001 (the first works 500 from 1934), for example has a magnesium cone with an aluminium plate at the big diameter drum and drive side, with a smaller aluminium ring on the small end, both taking the strain from the spokes, while a steel cylinder holds and spaces the bearings. In a recent restoration of this item, including relacing back to a Dunlop style black painted steel rim we were simply staggered at its superb condition after all these years of racing. Many of which would have been on rough roads (can’t imagine the Waiheke Island TT would have been a smooth surface) and it’s a rigid rear end. All good evidence of just how fit for purpose the engineering design was 80 years ago! One of the few incorrect items on KTT1079 is the front hub, a well made and correct looking item but rather unfortunately the replica is made in Aluminium and what kind of wall thickness?! Looks good in the museum and would have easily satisfied the decorative requirements of the Coleman replica brigade but too heavy for precise high speed steering, and if there was any useful suspension to speak about… (more on this later) just more unsprung weight. Now we all know that a standard MKVIII was no lightweight, a big girl at 340lbs and one of the reasons the 7R and 350 Manx went ahead in the 50’s, along with Veloce’s insistence on persevering with the sweated lug style frame construction. Their original wheels however are a thing of beauty. This unsprung weight saving regime extended to the front guard, a long slender aluminium item, attached with flat aluminium bar stays and old fashioned one piece aluminium rivets. Studied students of the ‘K’ motor evolution will know that the earliest version sported roller followers on the cam end of the rocker. Percy Goodman dispensed with these due to a lack of reliable oiling from the pressurized timing chest and bevel tower system, instead substituting the roller for a hard skid pad running direct on the cam. This system along with the threaded adjuster for tappet clearance is something of a disaster that the factory had many goes at upgrading. Even the most one eyed Cammy Velo Fellow must concede to cam wear being a big problem. Nick had developed roller followers for the push rod engines some years ago with great success and saw an instant opportunity for a sensible upgrade here and did what he had done previously on the Arthur Wheeler KTT by way of making an aluminium rocker, rocking on needle rollers. At the cam end of matters a small needle roller running on the cam, and for the valve end a 6mm flattened ball running in a socket machined into the rocker with the flat on the valve head ala NSU sportmax practice, the small flat controls the tappet clearance and is simply ground to achieve the desired tolerance. Cam profiles worked back through the new mechanism using the valve openings and degrees of crankshaft rotation to achieve desired timings.
So 1079 gets this full treatment along with a Carillo connecting rod, for insurance, and a six speed cluster from Nova. Compression ratio of 10:1 is achievable as a first base with the piston as supplied. We intend this engine to run on methanol from the off through a GP5 carb. The other great leap forward Nick has developed over the years is a belt drive primary which we now have running on more than 8 racing velos and never one incident. We have seen a couple of other variants but tell folk till we are blue in the face that the only trustworthy belt is the Syncroflex AT10. Nick makes a one piece hard aluminium front pulley, and when I say one piece we are talking internal spline and retainers for the belt, a very good example of a beautifully hand crafted item that is simply right because he wants it to be so, not cost effective in time or material but also and more importantly no mechanical joins or bits to fall off. The clutch has a similar wheel with a few stages of evolution but all use an after market Suzuki plate and thin circlip to retain the big central bearing. To date he has used original backing plates and extended the tongues, along with standard style spring holder and threaded adjuster nut, although there is now talk of alloy items here and less moving parts in the adjustment. I’ll attest to these clutches really being something with the front wheel of Nick’s Venom often leaving the ground off the grid, there has even an airborne Mac front end in NZ racing mythology! So we are armed with this new KTT albeit having not fired in more than 30, possibly 40 years to Taupo for its first test. Well its starts readily and apart from being initially too rich in the mid range feels good and has good power from the off. The bike is also oil tight and holds a good line, and here we were a little worried as a replacement front wheel would point to damage and possible bending at the front end earlier in life. Second time out with a good pull out of corners I find myself faster by 2 seconds a lap than on the Wheeler bike, and with a road compound front tyre that’s alright, the six speed feels wonderful. We are pleased enough with that so after a crack right though the exhaust pipe is discovered following a disconcerting vibration through the footpegs (beware the replica part if you want it to do more than look right—and even this is wrong) we put 1079 aside with a big tick beside it and good feeling about her future. Almost ready to venture south, one more test weekend at Manfield to come early November.
Words: Phil Price
Archival images: Phil Price and Nick Thomson collections
Feature action photo: Shaun Waugh
Desktop publishing: Shaun Waugh MagentaDot Brands
Velocette minutia aficionado Phil Price tells the back-story on the Velocette MKVIII KTT 1041.
Feature image: ‘Local’ man Bill Biber in resplendent purple and silver LEDA leathers, touting his sponsor ‘Royston Vasey’. This shot is from the second Burt Munro challenge where he left the girder fork class in no doubt that a Velocette is faster. Factory records from 1949 show KTT 1041 going to English dealer, privateer, and factory rider Arthur Wheeler (5 August 1916–16 June 2001). I never met Arthur although he had been to New Zealand at least once. No doubt was known to the factory and Goodman family and had a lifelong interest in racing Velos and Moto Guzzis. Anyhow, the provenance of 1041 seems to be that Wheeler Motors of Epsom, Surrey took delivery April 1949. Arthur sold the bike in June 1953 and this seems to stack up as he rides a 350 Velocette in some of the European Grand prix events 1949–1952. 1950 is a good season where his best results appear to be 12th at the Isle of Man, 16th in the Netherlands, and 10th at the Ulster respectively. Ivan Rhodes recalled that 1041 was one of the few KTT’s that could pull a ____ tooth sprocket on the island. He bought the bike back from its single second owner one Adrian Deverell of Surrey in 1962 and kept it until 1998. Where he swapped it for another of his passions a works Guzzi. Certainly when the bike appeared in Australia many years later it sported a rather special 9000 rpm Smiths chronometric rev counter, sadly this was no longer united with the rest of the machine when I bought it in Melbourne in 2002. Seeing this machine in Australia was quite a surprise and here I will let Bruce Pederick of South Australia pick up the story as there are good connections…
I started racing in Adelaide in 1945 age 17 Associated with Les Diener (workmate) Laurie Boulter, Bill Watson, Ray Trevana, and all the S A riders of note. In summer 1948/49 Fergus Anderson came to Oz with a works 500 V twin Moto Guzzi , which was the lap record holder in the IOM by Omobono Tenni the year before. Plus the first 7R AJS in Oz and a works 250 cc Moto Guzzi Albatros, which was virtually identical with the machine Stanley Woods won the lightweight TT in 1936. This machine was in the historic lap on IOM in 1997 where I went with the great and late Arthur Wheeler…
…Fergus was soundly beaten in all his Australian races at Woodside S A Ballarat and Rowville by Les Diener, Syd Willis, Harry Hinton and others. I was at Woodside and Ballarat but not Rowville. I think Fergus said re Rowville “it was the fastest scramble he had ever ridden in. Fergus left the “Albatros” here. It was ridden by South Australians Les Diener, Bill Watson, Bob Reed, and Laurie Fox. In fact Laurie Fox was leading the lightweight at Longford referred to on another site when he lost concentration and slid off at the bridge. It subsequently took a lot of polishing to get the skid marks off the outside flywheel. Following that there was a blow up and the bits laid in the corner of his shed whence I bought them as a basket case in about 1970.
By 1988 with engineering help from the late Les Diener the Guzzi appeared again in mint condition. In 1991 Arthur Wheeler, who rode Guzzis most of his international career, was guest at Mallala Historics. Les Diener phoned me to see if I would bring the Guzzi for Arthur to demonstrate—which I did. Arthur wanted to buy it then and there, however I resisted and had a lot of fun parading it at Mallala, Phillip Island, Winton and Broadford over the years. I became firm friends with Arthur and finally agreed to swop the Guzzi for his 1948 MKVIII Velocette which he bought in 1949.
So Joyleen and I went off to the UK with Guzzi in a box and likewise bought the Velo back. We had great time based at Wheeler’s in Worthing.
Sad that Arthur left us aged 84 having developed an infection from a scun shoulder, a simple fall while out walking, after 60 years racing. We are still close friends with Ruby Wheeler.
I had a great time on the KTT, Pre war Aust Junior champ, Eastern Creek 2000, 2nd same at Mallala 2002, 2nd NSW champs 2002, 3 2nds Phillip Island Feb 2001. plus various other seconds and thirds at Winton and “old farts meeting at Mt Gambier” (KTT qualified as pre war as identical to 1939 model in appearance.)
At Mallala 2002 at age 74 I decided not to stretch my luck any more The KTT had an ultra high bottom gear, always hard to get off the line, not built for a clutch start, often my lap times were equal to or better than those in front of me, except the first lap-Bruped.” — Bruce Pederick
Now remembering that back in Australia in the off season of 1948/9 Fergus Anderson had been seen off in no uncertain way by a small brace of locally developed pushrod MOVs amongst these was your Les Diener. The fact that the MOVs racing in Australia and Godzone New Zealand, by our very own Joyce and McCleary Brothers of Christchurch, were at the sharp end of the game in the lightweight class, seems to have been lost on the factory. But not on the ever capable Les Diener who, although he never realized a dream to race his own bike at the IOM, must have been watching these results—including the new factory DOHC 250—with interest. Could it have been about this time the idea for the double cam top was brewing in his mind? It is of interest to note here that in 1951 Arthur Wheeler rode one of the new factory DOHC 250 machines which were essentially a MKVIII crankcase and head with the new double knocker top knot Bertie Goodman developed. These were interesting machines and were something of a cheap compromise toward where Norton and AJS were going with duplex frames and telescopic forks. They essentially took a standard frame, cut the cast steering head and top tube out, lowered the head position and used two top rails for support like the McCandless, with a third much needed brace running all the way through the inside of the whopping aluminium tank back to the seat post. 68 x 68mm bore and stroke the same as the pushrod production MOV, and reputedly a special magnesium shelled 5 speed gearbox to keep the little engine on song. Arthur got 5th in the IOM lightweight TT and 3rd in the Ulster that year.
Back to Melbourne, where reputable “Vincent, Velocette, and Other Exotica” dealer and keen collector Franco Trento’s Eurobrit showroom, stood two shiny MVIII KTT’s for sale. I quickly realised what I was dealing with and made arrangements for the Wheeler Bike to come my way, having by the way first checked that friends Nick Thomson and Bill Biber would respectively engineer, tune and ride the thing. At this stage I did not know the back story and was pinching myself that this machine was even in this part of the world. That is all relative history now as KTT1041 arrived in New Zealand early in 2003 just in time to be part of the national register’s celebration of 100 years of Velocette. Bill rode the machine to immaculate and impressive wins in the NZCMRR national championships first in the vintage class and then factory racing, doing everyone proud and opening quite a few eyes along the way. To see how well the real thing could go, beating many and bigger bikes. It was something new to us having battled away for years with modified pushrod bikes, the KTT just effortlessly and reliably coped with the rigours, albeit of short circuit racing. I guess a decade and a half of development at the Isle of Man does that to keen men with a good design and some considerable ability.
Both Swallow’s Bill and Chris have ridden the bike continuing its winning ways, and even more lately myself. All of which encouraged the purchase and preparation of another MKVIII, one with perhaps a little less provenance that we could develop and race harder, enter KTT1079. So more to come then…
Archival images: Phil Price and Nick Thomson collections
Desktop publishing, Photography: Shaun Waugh MagentaDot Brands
The racing for the Classic Pre ‘63 class (with and without girder forks), including Phil Price’s superb collection of original Velocette racing machines, covered 3 of the Burt’s 6 events at the tenth anniversary Burt Munro Challenge. Kicking off proceedings on Thursday 26th November with the Bluff Hill NZ National Hill Climb championships, the Teretonga Circuit Races & Practice Day spanning Friday–Saturday and culminating in the hugely successful new Honda Invercargill Street Races on Sunday 29th.
The VRNZ Classic Velos competed in the Pre ‘63 (with girder forks) Class along with Neville Mickleson’s KTT, Rudges, a Triumph and an Indian and other famous marques pictured in the galleries below. Several riders from the VRNZ camp also raced machines in the Classic Pre ‘63 class, and the Post Classic Pre ‘72 class, galleries of those classes at the event are included below. The trio of cammy 350cc KTTs and the Velocette “Big Velo” 500 are featured in the Classic Pre ‘63 with girder forks slideshows at each event, the galleries of all the other bikes in the Classic Pre ‘63 and the Post Classic Pre ‘72 classes, including the Eldee Velocette, are in labelled galleries. There are also galleries of scenes below from the Classic Pre ‘63 motorcycle pits and Dummy grids. Completing the photographic project documenting the event another page of photo galleries of all the other classes will be published soon over at MagentaDot Brands. This will chronicle all of the Classes of motorcycles that raced at the 2015 Burt in the events listed below. There is also a selection of shots of motorcycle pit culture, the support teams, machines and the crowds in and around the four day festival of events.
I’d like to extend a vote of thanks to all the riders who put it all on the line, their support crews, the event marshalls, organisers, admin and sponsors that made the 10th Burt the festive, thrilling spectacle that it is. Finally kudos to Wellington Velo man Nic Thomson for the outstanding achievement of developing, race prepping and fettling the four Classic Girder Velos that achieved so many historic wins at the Burt and finally acknowledge the remarkable fact also that all bar-one both started and finished every event entered over the four thunderous days in November.
NZ Hill Climb Champs: Megaphones on Bluff Hill
Flagstaff Road is a steep 1.4 km public road that snakes its way up Bluff Hill. With a few short straights, tortuous curves flanked by rocky cliffs, steep drops and demanding surface conditions that includes a small stream running across the exit of corner four the Bluff Hill course was a formidable challenge with which to kick off the start of a decade of the Burt.
After the Marshall’s briefing, Machine Scrutineering and Riders’ Meeting the Hill Climb event started at 09:40 Thursday morning with a series of two practice runs up the tortuous course for each competitor before competition commenced. Competition consisted of a couple of official timed runs for competitors in each class entered.
- Classic Pre ‘63 (including Girder fork Classics)
- Classic Pre ’82
- Classic Pre ‘89
- Open Class (including a sidecar)
- Up to 600cc
- ATV Quad
For VRNZ in the Classic Pre ‘63, Girder fork class Rider 4 Bill Biber (1934 “Big Velo”) and Rider 197 Phil Price (1934 KTT) were competitors. Also in the camp was the Pre ‘63 Hill Climb class-winning Rider 85 Graham Peters (1958 BSA Goldstar) who won the Classic Pre ‘63 class in 55.41 secs, not too shabby considering the fastest time of the day was set at 46.64 secs by Tony Rees aboard his Open Class 2013 Honda CBR 1000.
The Classic Pre ‘63 girder fork Velos on the Start line and rounding Corner 1
In this gallery are three girder fork machines,
- Rider 197, Phil Price, 1934 Velocette KTT MKIV
- Rider 95, Neville Mickleson, 1932 Velocette KTT MKIV
- Rider 63, Francie Winteringham, 1930 Rudge TT Rep 500.
The Classic Pre ‘63 girder fork machines rounding Corner 5
This gallery features five girder fork machines;
- Rider 4, Bill Biber, 1934 Velocette ‘Big Velo’ 500
- Rider 197, Phil Price, 1934 Velocette KTT MKIV
- Rider 63, Francie Winteringham, 1930 Rudge TT Rep 500
- Rider 36, Rhys Wilson, 1937 Rudge Ulster 500
- Rider 95, Neville Mickleson, 1932 Velocette KTT MKIV
The final turn. Classic Pre ‘63 girder class at the tortuous Corner 6
This gallery features four girder fork machines;
- Rider 4 – Bill Biber, 1934 Velocette ‘Big Velo’ 500
- Rider 95 – Neville Mickleson, 1932 Velocette KTT MKIV
- Rider 63 – Francie Winteringham, 1930 Rudge TT Rep 500
- Rider 36 – Rhys Wilson, 1937 Rudge Ulster 500
Classic Pre ‘63 Class winner, Graham Peters’ BSA Goldstar 500 flies up Bluff Hill in in 55.41 secs
Classic Pre ‘63 Class and Post Classic Pre ‘72 competitors
Velocette Motorcycle Pit culture at the NZ Hillclimb champs
E Hayes & Sons Teretonga Circuit Races — The KTT trio and Big Velo
Friday 27 November 2015 (Practice day), Saturday 28th (Race day). VRNZ classic racing at Teretonga Raceway, Otatara, included 4 riders aboard 5 machines in the Classic Pre ‘63 Girder fork and the Classic Pre ‘63 Class.
The Big Velo and KTT trio round the Teretonga circuit’s fastest curve, the Loop
The Teretonga galleries features the four girder fork racing Velocettes;
- Rider 4 – Bill Biber, 1934 Velocette ‘Big Velo’ 500
- Rider 32 – Chris Swallow, 1946 Velocette KTT MKVIII 350
- Rider 197 – Phil Price, 1934 Velocette KTT MKIV 350
- Rider 231 – Cloud Craig-Smith, 1949 Velocette KTT MKVIII 350,
and these machines from the girder fork class;
- Rider 30 – Michael Wilson, 1930 Rudge Special 350
- Rider 36 – Rhys Wilson, 1937 Rudge Ulster 500
- Rider 63 – Francie Winteringham, 1930 Rudge TT Rep 500
- Rider 95 – Neville Mickleson, Velocette KTT MKIV 350
- Rider 114 – Keith McLeod, 1928 AJS K6 500
- Rider 238 – Bruce Aitken, 1936 Triumph T80 350
Teretonga’s Castrol curves and the Start Finish line
Classic Pre ‘63 and Post Classic Pre ‘72
- Rider 9 – Paul Riley, 1981 Honda RC181r 500
- Rider 18 – Kevin Ryan, 1966 Triumph Bonneville 800
- Rider 32 – Chris Swallow, 1959 BSA Goldstar 500
- Rider 45 – Peter Mills, 1962 Norton 650 SS
- Rider 85 – Graham Peters, 1958 BSA Goldstar
- Rider 128 – Stuart McElrea, 1963 Triumph 5TA 500
- Rider 141 – Bill James, 1954 AJS 7R 350
- Rider 168 – Butch Woods, 1970 Norton Commando 750
- Rider 231 – Cloud Craig-Smith, 1971 Weston Westlake Norton Special 500
- Rider 291 – Paul Register, 1972 Triton Norton Triumph 750
Teretonga Practice Day Gallery, Friday 27th
Classic Pre ‘63 Girder Dummy Grid
Velocette motorcycle pit culture at the Teretonga circuit
The Honda Invercargill Street Races. Black and Gold.
Sunday 29 November 2015. For VRNZ racing at the exciting new street circuit was in the same classes and with the same riders and machines as detailed above for the Teretonga Circuit races:
Rider 4 Bill Biber, Rider 32 Chris Swallow, Rider 123 Cloud Craig-Smith and Rider 197 Phil Price.
Classic Pre ‘63 with girder forks
Classic Pre ‘63 and Post Classic Pre ‘72
Velocette motorcycle pit culture at the Invercargill Street races
Riders’ meeting, Classic Pre ‘63 dummy grid
Words: Shaun Waugh
Photography & Desktop publishing: Shaun Waugh MagentaDot Brands
Feature Image: Isle of Man Classic T.T. Junior Race. Bill Swallow rounds The Bungalow during practice. Photo Credit: Russell Lee/Sport-pics. Written by Nick Thomson, November 2014.
I DELIVERED ELDEE-2’s new aluminium crate to Lucas Palmer at Auckland Airport with assistance from Ken Macintosh a few weeks before the Manx. At 280 kg, it was packed with all the tools and spares we could think of including the original Eldee 2 motor. It took 36 hours to get to the U.K. where it was received by Andy Farrow who kindly delivered it to a depot in Somerset where Velocette Owners Club member Will Wells picked it up.
Two weeks before the Manx Classic T.T., Phil Price and I followed via Shanghai to Heathrow, where Will and our friend from many years before Pat Clancy were there to meet us. Just 10 minutes before we came through arrivals, Pat was astounded to see a bloke wearing an Eldee 2 T-shirt come through—it turned out to be Phil’s brother-in-law, returning from New Zealand! You can imagine Pat was pretty excited by the time we appeared.
We drove down to Will’s place in Somerset, and loaded the crate into Pat’s Transit van—just half an inch clearance! Then onto Pat’s house in Cornwall, arriving after midnight. We spent a delightful few days there, going over the Eldee and making some last-minute mods, including lengthening the inlet port, and in particular, replacing the followers with new roller-type and cams to match which I had brought with me. This was to alleviate wear which I was concerned about. Pat took the Eldee for a gallop on a few quiet local roads, in order to check the mixture on the air-fuel meter, with inconclusive results. But the bike sounded magnificent. So with the Eldee and Pat’s Venom Clubman in his van, we set off for Liverpool, with Will riding his Venom. Arriving in good time, (though Will’s bike with a puncture) we caught up with Tony Rodick from Nelson, another of Pat’s mates, who joined our party on the Ferry.
Friday 22 August
Arriving in Douglas after midnight, we were met by local V.O.C. members Billy and Jim who had kindly let their beachfront cottage in Peel to us for the duration. And they had even bought a trailer for Will’s stricken bike! We couldn’t been luckier with the cottage and its associated garage which the Eldee shared with, of all things, Jim’s Maserati! Jim was to prove invaluable with workshop facilities, local advice and general assistance. The first priority was to test the Eldee in local conditions with the fuel we picked up from Steve Lindell who kindly organised this. We had our suspicions about the local fuel from stories the previous year, and in view of the importance of getting carburettion right, we had fitted an air-fuel mixture meter.
This seems to indicate stubbornly rich however, and, unable to source G.P. needle jets locally we sent an order to Amal. Nothing that we tried, however, seemed to improve matters, if anything the motor was running worse. The breakthrough came when Carburettor Guru Dave Kenah offered to accompany us on one of our test sessions. He spotted the air-jet was a methanol one, left in after some confusion with dyno testing back in Wellington. It was a good reminder to always check everything, and never rely on memory.
After this, rider Bill Swallow pronounced the bike eminently rideable, which was a huge relief to us all.
At this stage we had been joined by Damion Hadcroft, Les Diener’s grandson, who is resident in the U.K.. He arrived in Peel on a single-geared bicycle with huge backpack, and no record of where we were staying. He was very pleased to hear his name called out as he cycled past our door! The project meant a huge amount to him, as he had assisted his grandad with the Eldee as a schoolboy in the 70s. Our activities in the garage had generated much interest, with both local and international Velo owners calling by. The I.O.M. Velo owners club had organised a rally at Ginger Hall during the Manx, and Phil was able to take the original Eldee 2 motor for display, and sell not a few T-shirts.
Saturday 23 August
And so to our first practice day, the Saturday. Bikes are scrutineered just prior to practice which means a real panic if things are not as they should be. Aside from adjustment to the steering damper, the bike sailed through, which was a great relief, since I had built-up a long list of potential problems in my mind. Having Bill hovering over the bike during scrutineering probably helped!
We had been very generously offered room in the Works Norton Tent by Richard Adams whose 500 Manx Bill was also riding, where the Eldee attracted much attention and I must say it looked superb, with Phil’s beautiful black fairing, seat and tank. I daresay it had been sometime since a 250 Velo fronted up to a Manx. Well, due to a shortage of marshalls, a perennial problem at the start of the Manx, practice for Saturday was cancelled, and we were back again for Monday’s session. With nothing else to do, we were free to watch the 500 Manx classic on the Saturday. It was a real thrill to watch Bruce Anstey come home third on the Macintosh Manx, since we had witnessed its demise the previous year. But a catastrophe for Chris Swallow on Dave’s Manx Norton, with clutch failure on the first lap, especially after setting the fastest time through the Highland speed trap for a 500 single, at 136 mph. He was a real contender for a podium finish.
Monday 25 August
And so, for the first time, Eldee 2 took off around the Isle of Man circuit. Talk about a thrill, hearing it accelerating away down Brayhill. Then nothing to do but wait for around 26 minutes, and then there he was, back in pit lane! The bike had completed its first lap without incident. We gathered from the reaction of several I.O.M. stalwarts that this was a major achievement.Bill himself was very pleased. Apart perhaps from the horsepower, he said that he “wouldn’t want to change a thing”, and this we gather coming from Bill, is high praise indeed. He particularly liked the suspension, handling, brakes, clutch and gearbox and the tucked-in riding position behind the fairing. Very satisfying to have all our hard work vindicated.The next day was spent thoroughly checking over the bike, and in consultation with Bill, dropped the gearing a tooth, and reverted to standard Norton front dampers. An area of concern was the accuracy of that Scitsu rev-counter which was not the correct type for a magneto. We had been unable to obtain the correct one, and the needle was wavering at peak revs.
And by this time the air-fuel meter had gone on strike, perhaps exacerbated by running too rich during testing. So I removed it, happy now that we were clearly in the zone with carburettion. Practice sessions were for one hour, during which it was possible to take out two bikes, so Bill elected to do the first lap on the 500 Manx, and the second on the Eldee. He appeared a little concerned after the first lap, saying wind up on the mountain was blowing him right across the road. Sot it was with some trepidation that Phil and I waited in the grandstand as Bill set off on the Eldee, especially as the cold wind was now much stronger, and the spots of rain started to fall from darkening clouds. By the time Bill returned we were frozen, but Bill was all smiles and warm as toast behind the all enveloping fairing. And he reported no problems with the wind, which some nay-sayers had warned us of. We learned that a qualifying lap needed to be above 76mph, but Bill had done 82mph. So another milestone had been achieved.
But in reality, we were hoping to get into the 90s so some soul-searching was done. About all we could change was the magneto, a twin-spark Morris Mag, so we substituted for a single spark BTH of known provenance, and adjusted the timing down from 26 to 33°. In fact following suggestions, we did test runs from 26 to 40° with, astoundingly, very little to choose between them. But we settled on 38° (standard MOV!) since Bill felt that the motor seemed smoothest there. So through the ritual of scrutineering for the fourth time, and Bill was away again. But this time a different story—the bike petered out at Ballaugh Bridge about half way round. And it was here we collected in the bike, as darkness fell—fortunately local supporters had looked after Bill in the pub for the duration. Clearly the original Morris Mag was not to blame, so we changed back. But we had a sense that something was not as it should be. Our friend John Anderson had arrived by now, and with an engine simulation package on his laptop. And so we set him to work straight away crunching numbers, something at which Damion proved to excel also. The upshot was that most of what we had done was correct, though peak power was perhaps at higher revs then we suspected we were achieving. Even so, we elected to shorten the exhaust header. And a local garage lent us their MIG welder to enable us to re-mount the exhaust system.
Tuesday 26 August, Junior Manx Classic race day
And so to our race, the junior Manx Classic, combining 350s and 250s. Scheduled for Monday, fog on the mountain meant a postponement to Tuesday, since if the rescue helicopter can’t land the race can’t be run.
So with a carefully calculated fuel load, I push-started Bill on the dummy grid. At number 21, he started 210 seconds behind the first bike. Eldee 2 sounded glorious as it accelerated off through the gears down Brayhill. You would not imagine any Velo could sound like that, roaring away at seemingly impossible revs. However all was not well, as Bill said later the bike seemed to hesitate at times, and slowed a little over the mountain, whereas in practice it had flown up the mountain in 5th gear at 8000 RPM.
But on the way down, with gravity assist and slightly lower gearing on what is probably the fastest part of the course from Creg-ny-ba, Bill said he found himself going “really quite quickly indeed” instead he had to “think about this corner” as he approached Brandish.
Through the start finish, it was obvious the lap was slower than in practice, which was a worry, and then eventually the leaderboard showed him as retired, part way round the second lap at Ballacraine.
The cause was found to be stripped alloy Magneto gear, possibly weakened by seizure of the timer breather on the dyno back home. This was part of a long saga during testing of the bike before we left.
Flashback to Manfield in New Zealand, June
Knowing the revs at which it would need to run, I was very keen on the magneto turning at quarter engine speed by using a toothed belt in the timing case. This appeared to work well during the test session at Manfield, but in fact the belt broke down, possibly due to temperature. The upshot was a serious wet sumping and a badly damaged piston and liner. With these replaced, and time running short, I reverted to gear drive for the now modified Magneto, but with the changed centre distance, the timed breather didn’t match, and hence seized on our next dyno session. Obviously a steel mag gear would have been preferable. However this was not the only problem, because when pushing the bike back through the pits when it was returned, it became obvious that the back wheel was stiff to turn, and this may have been happening for some time once it got hot. Once properly cold it appeared perfectly free. We haven’t yet got the chance to properly investigate, but suspect it will be bearing spacing.
I.O.M Junior Manx Classic race epilogue, November 2014
So although on the face of it a disappointing result, especially for Bill with a D.N.F in the 500 Manx classic also, we were by no means all doom and gloom. The plan had always been to take the DOHC Eldee 2 to the Isle of Man, in as close original condition as Les Diener might have done. In view of the arduous nature of the Isle of Man course, where 250s are on full throttle for most of the time, it was felt that a more bullet-proof replica motor was essential. And this largely lived up to expectation. And when one considers that the fastest 350 Velo in the 1953 Manx averaged 78 mph, we feel our wee Velo didn’t do too badly. But we are certain that there is more to come.
At the event in August we had the privilege of meeting Ron Herring, a retired engine analysis consultant, who very generously ran our motor through his engine analysis simulator. He has supplied us with new cam profiles, which I have already made and am waiting to fit when we get the bike arrives back.
Interestingly, the analysis showed that the original cams had far too much duration and lift, and would only develop maximum power at 10,500rpm, way beyond the safe revs. Everything else on our motor proved to be bang on. Ron was the brains behind the Royal Enfield 500 that last year did the first 100mph on a British pushrod single. Amazingly he sees the only reason he needs to visit a dyno these days is to set the mixture. Everything else will be exactly as the computer predicts. So our plan is to return again in 2015, with the bike further developed and perhaps shedding some weight, and with more experience of running on petrol. It still won’t be as fast as the two strokes, but we have far more to prove than they do.—Nick Thomson
And finally a huge thank you to the very generous team of sponsors builders and generous supporters-in-kind who made this all possible:
Nick Thomson | Pastoral Construction Services (Phone Tim Matt, mobile +61 – 428 931 914) | Merv | Phil Price Kinetics | Murray Aitken | Lincoln Frost | MagentaDotBrands.com | Dangus | Backstage Academy | LS-LIVE | Neville Wooderson | Farrall’s | Classic TT Isle of Man | Avon Tyres | Classic Racer Magazine | Nova Racing Transmissions | EuroBrit Motorbikes Australia | Identity Signs | Les Delacey | Dave Kenah | Velocette Owners Register New Zealand | Chris Swallow | Pat Clancy | Will Wells | Electro Freeze | Damion Hadcroft
Words: Nick Thomson
Editor, documentary photos, desktop publishing: Shaun Waugh, MagentaDot Brands
Automotive engineering and mechanical design and build team: Nick Thomson, Murray Aitken
Composites team—3D design, CAD modelling, molding and immaculate finish: Phil Price, Lincoln J. Frost, Shaun Chamberlain
Dyno testing: Our thanks to Gareth (Service Manager) and Luke (Dyno wiz) of motomart
1954 MOV line drawing: Velocette Owners Club U.K.
Footnote  The DOHC innovation was originally crafted in the early 50s by gifted engineer and champion Australian racer, Les Diener, from whose initials the ‘Eldee’ takes it’s name. In 2014 Nick Thomson has, among other things, completely recreated the DOHC drivetrain and housing.
Republished from New Zealand Bike Rider Magazine, November 2014. Words: Chris Swallow | Photos: wpfotos iomtt.com, Dave Kneen (manxphotosonline.com), Russell Lee, (Sports-pics), and Fent
New Zealand Bike Rider Magazine’s classic scribe, Chris Swallow, shares the trials, tribulations and unscheduled beer breaks that are all part of the ultimate classic race…
You’re in the middle of a hot practice lap, scratching away as best you can around, say, Hampton Downs and you miss your apex into turn 1 by a foot, you’ve got to roll off with the right hand and momentarily wait. Just over a minute later, on the next lap, subconsciously aware of your previous error, you get it did right, the bend unfolds sweetly before you and you open the throttle in the knowledge you’re online, the exit is yours in that bend’s in the memory bank for the next lap, and the next. Picture the circuit where you can’t see your apex as you approach it, travelling at a speed that is faster than your race bike has ever been before, you miss you apex by a foot and then have to wait 37.73 miles to have another go at it. When you arrive there again around 22 minutes later… Bollocks! You make the same error, have to roll off the throttle, and then it’s back to the pits as the practice session is over for the night. The allure of trying to ride the Isle of Man TT circuit well entices hundreds of racers each year to a small rock in the Irish Sea.
FRIDAY 15th AUGUST
Compulsory formalities of sign on and riders briefing attended. Huge slow-moving queue for sign-on; when I get in there I am asked to confirm all the details on my entry form one by one before signing in the relevant box. Can’t help but think things would move quicker if we were asked simply, “any details changed since you entered?” Riders briefing was conducted by the clerk of the course Phil Taubman, who I consider to be a top boy, very proficient in his role. No bullshit, Phil’s emphasis is on the riders being thoughtful, approaching matters with common sense. “There are only two walls to worry about in the Isle of Man,” he says. “The one on the left and the one on the right.” I’m sat next to Belgian Paton racer Bart Crauwells, who lends me a twin-pull Menani lever for the extension clip-on’s I have brought to assist me in wrapping my lanky frame around the tiny 350cc Aermacchi I’m to ride in the Junior Classic TT. Good mate Bob Millinship lends a clutch lever and that afternoon, for the first time ever, I can get my knees inside my elbows on an Aermacchi. Cheers fellas!
First night of practice and a plan to do two laps on Dave Kenah’s beautiful 500cc Manx Norton, my mount for the Senior Classic TT, all the way from Whitianga. A rumour that there are not enough marshals unfortunately proves true and the session is canned. Mutters and grumbles prevail, wonderment at why is there not enough? The question I feel we should ask instead is, which suit has decreed there needs to be such a huge quota of marshals at each post? Spread them out around the track, trust their professionalism, maybe it’s time to pay them for their efforts, too?
Nothing much doing. Met my old school mate Fent off the ferry, he’s over to help us on the spanners. Top boy, now working for Yamaha UK.
MONDAY 18th AUGUST
Run-in the new piston on the short-stroke Aermacchi up on the old Clypse circuit. As I whistle round a blind bend I spot two horses in the distance so instantly kill the motor so not to spook them. Thinking I was about to be admonished I lift the visor and the rather attractive jockey thanks me as, ‘It’s the first time out on the public road for this one, so good to get used to traffic noises!’ Nothing like an Aermacchi’s open megga to acclimatise a horse to traffic I guess. Fent drops the hot oil and it’s crystal clear, jolly good. Stick in 3 . new pints of Morris R40. Also discover a sticking throttle that is traced to a burred needle tube on the Gardner carb, so emery it smooth and then grease: lovely. Bike feels strong. The plan for practice is as per Saturday, two laps on the Norton. Five miles in on the run down to Crosby and I feel that dreaded slowing so whip the clutch in quick and the motor dies instantly with a piston seizure. (Incidentally three others suffered the same tonight.) When I told a good mate of mine what happened, and that the internals weren’t too decimated, he said ‘Good man Chris, our boy banged it down a gear and gave it another handful’. The lovely couple whose garden I coasted into proffered tea and chocolate biscuits, then I saw Dad go through on the 250cc Eldee Velocette, its first lap of the Island, both of which cheered matters somewhat.
TUESDAY 19th AUGUST
Surveying the piston shows expansion on the skirt where the internal ribs meet. “You know where it’s growing now Dave”, says my Dad. “Dress it in those areas and put it back in.” Dave acknowledges such advice with a slight eyebrow raise, before dressing a few thou’ off the skirt of his new piston then proceeding to rebuild the motor. Mike Fawcett’s lovely Aermacchis have both got new internals for the meeting so the plan tonight is a lap on the short-stroke followed by a lap on the long-stroke to run them both in and get some miles under my tyres. An eventful night! About seven miles in and the short-stroke splutters and cuts out while hard on in top gear on the approach to Appledene, a very fast double right. I spot a gateway on the left and pull quickly off the track into the safety of it. I notice that the needle flat on the Gardner carburettor has rotated in the carb body and I am pretty sure this would have been starving fuel flow. The problem I have is I’m on the outside of a full-bore double right where riders run right out to the wall I am behind—if the needle isn’t the problem and I push off down the road and it doesn’t bloody fire, I’m in no man’s land. Luckily there’s a two metre strip of tarseal descending into a field, so I tell the marshal to go for a walk round to see if it’s muddy. ‘Seems firm enough. Hope you’re good at motocross…’ The bike fires up just before I hit the grass then it’s clutch in, feet down and wobble round the bumpy field in a big loop and back up to the track and away to complete a ‘rusty riding’ running in lap. Quick change to the warmed up long-stroke and out we go again, riding a little better now, then exiting the second part of Waterworks and beginning to climb the mountain the motor dies and I coast to a stop on the inside of the track with a huge bank next to me and nowhere to go. I lean the bike up and the marshals fifty metres away communicate between engines that I should leg it across the track and behind the wall—we’re first session tonight so it’s going to be a long wait, but what a vantage point! Eyes at spindle level, bikes a foot away under hard acceleration. Michael Dunlop on the big Suzuki is the only rider to make me take a step back, certainly using every inch. A long delay after the last riders and no ‘roads open’ car appears—the mountain has been shut after an incident. I quit my grumbling about beginning to turn blue when I learn from the boys who’ve come to get me that one team in the paddock won’t have a rider returning to them tonight.
Dave has the Norton rebuilt so we go crack it up on the old Clypse road. It feels strong and sounds good. Plan tonight is one lap on the Norton followed by one on the long-stroke. We have jetted up and I keep the new piston busy under light load, spinning at 7,500rpm in 5th gear until about five miles in then I start to let it pull. It feels lovely, strong, torquey, handling is brill and I’m really settling down to enjoying matters. Tucked in down Sulby straight, 300m board, 200m, right that’ll do, anchor on, and… not a great deal happens. With the tight right of Sulby Bridge rapidly approaching I squeeze the fading front brake for all it’s worth, stamp hard on the rear and come all the way back to first gear before drifting gracefully sideways into the air-fence at low speed, eyes bulging on stalks through my visor. Phew. Pull it out, bump it off down the side road, adjust the front brake up and get going again, late braking points now being treated more cautiously. (We put the fade down to the new linings and Dave then went right through the brake; it never happened again. Strange.) An enjoyable lap on the long stroke; very busy out there, a lot of traffic getting in the way. To the newcomer rider on the mountain riding a modern machine—if someone has just whistled round the outside of you at the 33rd Milestone, full-bore in top, head behind the bubble while you make three slow corners out of this one fast sweep, would you consider for a moment they perhaps know where they are going a smidge more than you and you could perhaps learn something tonight? Next time, don’t go squirting past them aggressively on the run to Keppel Gate, balk them completely on the entry and make a complete balls-up of that bend too. Pretty pleased with a lap of 95.7mph all things considered. On the Norton, sector times without air fence reconnaissance are positive. Dad gets a lap in on the Eldee. Mechanically it’s sound, a great achievement for a new engine made by Nick Thomson in Wellington. But it ain’t as quick as it should be, so heads are being scratched.
Go see Steve Smith at Avon tyres who helps us out with some new rubber, thanks. Fit various tyre combinations to various bikes and decide to commit to dropping the forks through the yokes on the short stroke Aermacchi, the rationale being that the AM26 Avons are a bit tall and the front end has at times pattered a bit, so it would make sense to try load the front up. The cable tie I positioned yesterday indicates a 15mm drop through should be safe, so I drop it 10mm and tighten it all back up. It pisses down in the afternoon and practice is declared untimed. Clerk of the course Phil Taubman announces to the paddock this would be a good opportunity for riders to get some laps in during the untimed evening, but the pit lane is noticeably quiet. I put in two laps on the Norton, it is wet, damp, patchy and inconsistent the whole way around, but I enjoy the steady ride round, the Norton feeling good. Dave tells me he’s timed me at 98mph which is surprising as I felt like I was tiptoeing in places.
FRIDAY 22nd AUGUST
Dave is race-prepping the Norton so I take both Aermacchis out, the long-stroke first. 21 times TT winner John McGuinness on the 500 Paton sets off ten seconds behind me and comes wailing past just before Braddan Bridge. I consider he has braked very early so I hold the Aermacchi open for a split second more then outbrake him down the outside. He has the inside line and he’s clearly gonna disappear up the hill after Braddan so I hold back and let him tip in to the left first. John proceeds to then head off for a 112mph lap. (My perceptions of competence are diminished somewhat when I hear him interviewed on the radio that evening citing, ‘new brake pads as the reason I nearly didn’t stop for Quarter Bridge, so I was very tentative into Braddan and for the next few miles after that, sorry to Chris Swallow if I got in his way…’) An enjoyable lap, the front-end better with a change of fork oil, before coming in to the pits and heading out on the warmed up short-stroke. The front-end has also benefited from a change of fork oil, and in addition to the 10mm lowering feels real planted. We have taken a tooth off the rear and it is overgeared however, labouring along when it should be spinning, the short-stroke being a more peaky buzz-box that benefits from being kept above 8,000rpm; it really sings at 8,500rpm. Because of this, I don’t feel like I’m particularly ‘on it’ so am surprised to see I’ve made a half decent lap. I get wind that Dad has broken down on the Eldee at Ballaugh. Knowing he’ll be picked up by Nick and Phil, I jump in his van and shoot over to Team Velocette’s digs in Peel to save them having to drop Dad back at our digs in Colby. I arrive the same time as they do and discover the problem is magneto related which proved to be easily fixed; but despite jetting improvements and a positive step in an ignition timing alteration for tonight’s practice, it is still not, we feel, going as it should. A long discussion into the evening culminates in postulations as to whether it’s high comparative performance in New Zealand may be due to running on methanol which is masking a fundamental Achilles heal for the more fickle petrol one has to run on in the Island. Valve timings, cam profiles, durations and lift are all considered before two Swallows depart and head off to get out of leathers and into a shower each.
PRACTICE LEADERBOARDS FOR THE NIGHT:
Formula 1: 1st Bruce Anstey, Yamaha, 122mph // 2nd Ryan Farquhar, Yamaha, 118mph // 3rd Jamie Hamilton, Kawasaki, 114mph. //
Formula 2: 1st David Hewson, Yamaha, 103mph // 2nd Adrian Morris, Yamaha, 101mph // 3rd Derek Glass, Kawasaki, 100mph. //
500 Classic TT: 1st John McGuinness, Paton, 112mph // 2nd Bruce Anstey, Norton, 106mph // 3rd William Dunlop, Honda, 105mph. //
350 Classic TT: 1st Lee Johnston, MV, 99mph // 2nd Chris Swallow, Aermacchi, 98mph // 3rd Chris McGahan, Honda, 95mph.
SATURDAY 23RD AUGUST – 500cc CLASSIC TT RACE DAY
There’s a 350 practice in the morning which I decide to have a run out in aboard the long-stroke Aermacchi. Apprehensive about getting back for the race in the event of a breakdown, my worries are assuaged somewhat when I realise there’s a Rudge parade lap with friends Mike Farrall (of Farrall’s transport, who was a huge help getting the bikes transported) and Paul DeLacy in it. I have a wry smile as I envisage thumbing a lift back over the mountain on a rigid and girder pre-war Rudge. A steady event free lap, it is intermittently damp around the circuit with wet patches in places. I go chat to Dad upon return to tell him. Silently, I begin thinking these are tricky conditions to race in, not quite knowing how hard to push. Clerk of the course Phil Taubman delays the start by an hour and then reports ‘dry roads, perfect but windy conditions’, so a wise move on his part. I feel relaxed enough at the start, give Dad a hug then go into ‘thousand yard stare’ mode once I’m aboard the Norton. Dad is setting off number 17 to my number 20 but I have no recollection of him starting, and in no time I am heading off down Bray Hill myself. Bike feels good and I’m riding fairly well, I feel. Catch and pass a couple of riders, then Maria Costello on a very quick Paton twin passes me down Cronk-y-Voddy straight. Her bike is too quick for the Norton to hold in a tow, but I catch her up quickly through the 11th and get frustrated all the way to Kirk Michael through the fast stuff. Knowing that it’s much the same after Kirk Michael to Ballaugh I scratch up the inside into Douglas Road corner and head off into Kirk Michael village. A huge wheelie exiting Rhencullen suggests I got through this technical section well. Don’t see Maria again until she passes on the straight after Ballacrye then enforces a return to 5th gear through Quarry Bends when I’d really prefer to be rattling through hard on in top. She disappears off down Sulby straight and as we approach Sulby Bridge at the end I spot a familiar figure and witness Maria thinking hard about outbraking Dad. Instead she makes a bit of a hash of matters and I squeeze past on the exit before having the unique experience of passing my Dad in the Isle of Man on the run out of Ginger Hall. Get on with things and feel good all the way up and over the mountain, the Norton sure does feel strong. Then braking hard for the Creg, 5th, 4th, 3rd and… the clutch breaks. If it had been the last lap, perhaps even the third, I’d have carried on, but there’s a pub and we’ve still got an intact gearbox, so I pull in utterly despondent as I hear Maria’s Paton take the bend. I’m the only person in the pub, everyone’s outside in the sun watching the race, but I don’t really give a shit at this stage. A lovely lady called Jude comes in and buys me a beer and we chat a while, I gradually begin to perk up. Dave Kenah arrives with Mike and he too, like me, is inconsolable. I hear Dad is out of the race too with a magneto problem, having done over a hundred miles per hour on his standing start lap. Given I’d caught thirty seconds on him, then pulled out another twenty or so more, I was looking at an opening lap of around 105, which would have been competitive enough I guess. The ‘what ifs’ and ‘could have beens’ of the Isle of Man. Small consolation for Dave, his bike was the fastest single cylinder machine through the speed trap at over 136mph, and that’s with a full tank and a 5th gear Quarry Bends exit; a real tuner. Ian Lougher goes on to win the race on the Paton, overcoming a 30second time penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Dan Cooper puts in an impressive performance for second place aboard the 4-valve 500cc Molnar Manx (when was that ever made in the period we are trying to re-create?) his exhaust pipe coming loose on the first lap and having to hold it on with his boot for the race. Third place goes to the Kiwi team of Bruce Anstey aboard the McIntosh Manx—well done. Bruce laps at 108.110, beating my Dad’s 15 year-old lap record for a single cylinder by just one second, but Michael Rutter goes even better taking his mono-cylinder round on the second lap at an impressive 109.102 on the Ripley Land Seeley G50, but he failed to finish. “About time wi’t course and bikes as they are now.” said Dad, when informed of the progress.
500cc CLASSIC TT RESULTS:
1st Ian Lougher, Paton, 108.481mph // 2nd Dan Cooper, Norton, 107.740mph // 3rd Bruce Anstey, Norton, 106.803mph
SUNDAY 24th AUGUST
Late start thanks to a lage finish the night before. Go spanner-check the Aermacchi and change the gearing. Fent goes for a lap on an original Yamaha FS1E ’Fizzy’ that he has fettled into life for our top hosts for the week, Brian and Alexia Hewitt. He runs out of fuel on the mountain and phones in for recovery. He is thrilled when I take up race fuel and oil and he can thus complete his fizzy TT lap. Forecast for tomorrow not good.
MONDAY 25th AUGUST 350cc CLASSIC TT RACE DAY
Grey, wet and windy. Race postponed until tomorrow. Go watch British Superbikes live from Cadwell Park where weather is much the same. Got a flight back to NZ on Wednesday so pleased to see a positive forecast for tomorrow.
TUESDAY 26th AUGUST ACTUAL RACE DAY
Fine day, conditions once again described as perfect. Set the tyre pressures on the Aermacchi, the front has dropped 3lbs, strange. Re-inflate then take up for scrutineering and the first thing I’m informed is that there is a nail in the front tyre. Instant action mode, it is now 11 o’ clock with the race scheduled for mid-day. Jump on the bike and race down to Steve Smith at the Avon wagon: ‘Steve, minor emergency!’ Ever calm, ‘No panic, we’ve time.’ Tools arrive, lock wire cut, wheel out, Steve gets busy fitting a new tube, re-balancing wheel. Tidy up nuts and bolts free of lockwire, lay spindles, brake anchor bolts, and brake plates out, sequenced and in order on the mat ready, then wait patiently. Newly tubed and balanced wheel arrives, action stations, brake aligned, wheel tight, pinchbolts, lockwiring done, go, go. We arrive back at a closing scrutineering at 11:17 and are allowed through. Phew, hope that’s enough drama for the day. Race is reduced to three laps so I drain four litres of fuel out. Wish the Eldee Velocette team and Dad good luck up on the grid then I’m away at number 11. The Aermacchi feels good and is pulling the new gearing well. Get passed by Alan Oversby on the Honda twin just exiting Glentramman, then Lee Johnston on the MV Agusta 3 accelerates past soon after. I ignore the ringing in my ears and tuck in behind the five open meggas and follow them through the high speed swervery to Parliament Square then up the hill to Ramsay hairpin. Exiting the hairpin I am impressed by the speed the multi-cylinders accelerate away from me, that’s the last I’ll be seeing of you two then. Lonely ride from here on in, me against the circuit, maintain concentration, what’s coming next, where do I need to be on the road, are my toes on the pegs, elbows in, knees gripping the tank. Have a big slide on the right-hander into Kirk Michael on the second lap and look down to see oil all over my right boot. Instinct suggests all is not quite well so temper matters somewhat on the right-handers. Arrive at the chequered flag and am told I’ve finished in 6th place, seven seconds from 5th, and I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed. Looking down at the bike and there’s an inch wide strip of oil all around the right hand side of the rear tyre, stemming from a mild weep at the base of the barrel gasket. I’m second single cylinder behind Roy Richardson, and in light of the tyre’s new lubrication, I soon start to feel a bit more chuffed with our effort, so head to the beer tent for a celebratory pint—maybe two.
Dad on the Eldee Velocette has retired on the second lap with a broken wheel bearing, ironically one of the only items Nick Thomson had not made or replaced as new. An admirable achievement by Phil Price and Nick, plus a close knit team of support, to take a home-built motor to the Isle of Man where, from an engineering perspective, it performed faultlessly. The plan now is to get it running better on petrol in New Zealand, ready for the Classic TT in 2015. Lee Johnston on the MV won the race with a very quick second lap of 105.239, Alan Oversby second and Roy Richardson third. Would the result have been different if the race had been four laps necessitating a pit stop for the thirsty MV?
350cc CLASSIC TT RESULTS:
- 1st Lee Johnston, MV Agusta, 104.134mph
- 2nd Alan Oversby, Honda, 102.942mph
- 3rd Roy Richardson, Aermacchi, 101.942mph Later that afternoon the Formula 1 and 2 races were run concurrently, also 3 laps.
FORMULA 1 CLASSIC TT RESULTS:
- 1st Bruce Anstey, Yamaha, 121.957mph
- 2nd James Hillier, Kawasaki, 119.371mph
- 3rd Russ Mountford, Suzuki, 118.949mph
Many thanks to the following for another year of progress, regress, highs, lows, depression, anxiety, elation and ultimately great fun—enough to make you wanna go back next year, perhaps… Dave Kenah and Mike Fawcett for beautiful and quick motorcycles. Dad (Bill Swallow) for the many hours of engine development and prep that got those Aermacchis flying. Steve Robinson and Uncle Alec Swallow for precision Aermacchi engineering. Steve Smith at Avon Tyres. Morris Lubricants. Bart Crauwels and Bob Millinship for lever loans. Andy Farrer for race boot support. Adrian Earnshaw for top garaging and signals. Brian and Alexia Hewitt, ever the brill hosts. James the Fent Fenton, top mechanic and breakfast chef. Liz and Jen, both fine women. Mike Farrall, Farrall’s Transport for being his usual brilliantly helpful self. Miles Robinson of Norton Works Racing for his transponder and Dark Destroyer. Paul Phillips, Bruce Baker and Sophie Lowney.
Republished from New Zealand Bike Rider Magazine, November 2014.
Words: Chris Swallow
Photos: wpfotos iomtt.com, Dave Kneen (manxphotosonline.com), Russell Lee, (Sports-pics), and Fent
Desktop publishing, Communication design: MagentaDot Brands, Shaun Waugh
THE LEGEND CONTINUES
Words: Chris Swallow | Photos: see credits in footer
EVERY NOW AND THEN you see a project that takes on a life of it’s own. The story of Eldee is part of NZ’s racing folklore. The twist is that a dedicated bunch of enthusiasts, including our classic man, Chris Swallow, have serious plans afoot—but they might need a wee bit of help…
NOT SO EAGLE eyed observers visiting the Honda museum in Motegi, Japan will notice soon after paying their yen there is a racing motorcycle devoid of the familiar winged Honda vector. The emblem is distinctly Italian and proudly informs that you are ogling over a ‘FB MÒNDIAL’: made 1957, Milan by the Counts Bosselli (‘FB’ being Fratelli Boselli or Bosseli Brothers) and their firm Mondial. It is a gear driven double overhead cam (DOHC) 125cc Single Cylinder Grand Prix motorcycle, brought by one Soichiro Honda, direct from Count Boselli shortly after it won the 1957 World Title. 1957 was the year the Italians (with the exception of MV Agusta) all pulled out of Grand Prix racing due to the cost of it all; prior to this they had been leading exponents of high revs, high performance and high reliability; characteristics clearly endearing to Mr. Honda and his fledgling motor company.
Les Diener was a racer and a brilliant engineer.
LD’S ELDEE IS BORN
In 1958 Soichiro Honda visited the Isle of Man TT for the first time, then returned in 1959 with five riders and his first bikes: 125cc gear driven DOHC twins. They won the team prize, with a best result of 6th, came back in 1960 for a best result of 4th, then scored a double victory in 1961 before proceeding to re-write the history books as to which manufacturer should win the most motorcycle races (and seeing off the antiquated British bike industry in the process….). But back in 1953, way before 1957 and Mr. Honda stripping his DOHC Mondial into it’s constituent components, a talented thirty two year old Velocette enthused South Australian had long been aware that a series of gears driving two camshafts was the way to go: and he had just finished his first example of such. His name was Les Diener, and he gave his initials LD to his creation: the Eldee.
Les Diener became hooked on bikes at the age of 13 when he and lifelong friend Keith Hamilton would pool their pocket money to ride (and fall off) an old single geared, belt drive Levis two-stroke. A year later Les then came by an old V-twin, side valve JAP engine which was the basis for his first bitsa and offered ample opportunity for the honing and development of his clear engineering talent. The next step forward was a 350cc OHV New Imperial Jap, then a trade in for a 1936 Douglas, followed by the acquisition of a quite special overhead camshaft (OHC) 500cc CS1 Walter Moore Norton at the age of 17. The Walter Moore had to make way when a 350cc OHC KCR Velocette brought out from England by Rex Tilbrook came up for grabs; a lifelong passion for the marque was born.
Les began racing with the Atujara MCC in 1938, predominantly in scrambles and beach racing and showed a certain speed and deftness from the off. The KCR Velocette was sold in 1939 and replaced by a 1934 model 250cc MOV Velocette which became his main interest for the next fifteen or so years as a racer and his lifetime interest as a tuner. Despite many wins and South Australian championships, Les realised he could extract no more power from the MOV’s pushrod configuration and so gave some serious thought at the end of the 1952 racing season to convert his beloved MOV into a double overhead camshaft racer: thus Eldee 1 was born in 1953.
Inspired no doubt by the Italians, fellow Australian Sid Willis grafted a DOHC factory Velocette head onto his 250cc Velocette racer and proved very difficult to beat in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, taking his bike to a fine fifth in the 1953 250cc Lightweight IOM TT. Following in these footsteps, Les and fellow competitor at the time Ted Carey both got busy on their own conversions, in Les’ words, “working and racing together on separate projects,” (incidentally Ted provided the piston and head for Eldee 1 to Les). Eldee 1 matured into ‘the bike to beat’ and was a testament to Les’ ingenuity and engineering capacity, clocking up a multitude of wins and placings and famously seeing off the works 250cc Moto Guzzi of Fergus Anderson when he came out for a visit to the Woodside race circuit.
WIND-TUNNEL TEST BY ASSOCIATION
At Mildura, in 1956, Eldee 1 was resplendent in a full dustbin fairing. Although Moto Guzzi knew not at the time, Bill Lomas was ‘persuaded’ to loan the works Guzzi to Melbourne boys Bob Edmunds and Charlie Rice who plastered around the wind tunnel tested fabrication before making a fibreglass copy from the ensuing plug. In this guise, Les clocked a very admirable 116mph (186.6kph) at 9,000rpm down the mile and a half long straight. He also records how ‘streamlining was all very new to me,’ and how ‘when I put on the biggest front sprocket I could find [a 21T up from his usual 19T, overall gear ratio of 5.1:1] I didn’t realise at all how fast I was going,’ until he left his braking far too late at the end of the straight and ‘up the escape road I went!’
A clean break from racing was taken after a major crash in 1957 at Port Wakefield when a gearbox seized while lying second in the 500cc race on a 350cc Manx Norton. Disillusioned, Les loaned the Eldee to Ken Rumble who raced with some success until 1961 before it was sold to fulfil ventures in other tales.
It only took twenty-six years for the racing bug to bore back into Les’ psyche and he picked up where he left off with the Atujara MCC in 1983 on an ex-Tom Medlow 1939 Velocette MOV rigid racer, winning most races he entered in the post war class. However, it was 1987 and an invite to be guest rider at the New Zealand Classic Racing Register’s festival meeting that links most to this story and the subsequent construction of a replica: Eldee 2.
Les admits to having ‘oft thought of building a replica of his beloved Eldee racer,’ and it seems the stars aligned to foster requisite motivation as was required for such a project at Pukekohe, Auckland, 1987. Velocette enthusiast Peter Butterworth had acquired a Ted Carey head (as used on Eldee 1) from Australian Dennis Quinlan. Having no immediate use for it, Peter passed it on to David Rogers, who showed it to Les at the Festival who immediately recognised it as identical to the head in use on Eldee 1. Les, still perhaps a tad unsure about committing to the project, didn’t acquire the head there and then, leading David to ring Peter that night to enquire whether the proposed new destiny was a good direction. The next morning when Les left his digs, there the head was, sat on the doorstep ready for hand luggage back to South Australia, and so the Eldee 2 project was born.
Twenty-four years later, that head arrived back to New Zealand but this time full of life as a component part of Les’ fantastic replica of his original machine. I am proud to say that I am intimately familiar with Eldee 2, having being trusted as jockey on such a remarkable racing motorcycle by owner Phil Price. With Nick Thomson on the spanners and in the workshop, I feel we’ve done a bloody good job of holding true to Les’ objective of getting to that chequered flag first. But more of that later…
Original patterns for the cam box and timing cover castings were in the hands of Adelaide enthusiast Peter Westerman who proffered them for use for the replica, or Eldee 2, at the start of 1987. The timing side crankcase is standard MOV with obvious modifications to accept the train of gears, which were originally modified BSA items but now completely re-made and hot from the Thomson workshop, all running on needle rollers. The drive side crankcase is a cast item recreated by Adelaide foundry Castech in CP601 aluminium alloy. Perhaps not as elegant as certain Italian items, though the webbed ribs on the outside do offer strength to accompany the heat treatment. Security of camshaft to gear is via a pin vernier, an item we have had fail, resulting in a bent exhaust valve (soon to be turned into my wedding ring…) and sheared the key locating the gear on to the camshaft. Nick has re-engineered the camshaft to accommodate an oversize key in addition to an increased diameter pin into the final gear and initial runs show good. Valves are Superalloy now, replacing the Eso Speedway components Les fitted, the exhaust being 1” 7/16 and the inlet 1” ½. Les’ notebook detailing the early tests of Eldee 2 show a plague of oil from the coil valve springs (on the advice of Bill Lomas, valve spring seat pressure was set at 90lbs resulting in 160lbs pressure at full lift, showing horsepower increase and no loss of valve control) a problem which we suffered from too. Nick has been successful in curing this problem by making eccentrically turned caps to accommodate and enclose the valve gear, springs and exposed pushers, in addition to fitting an oil feed to drain pressure from the now capped area.
The conrod is a hefty titanium number that wouldn’t look out of place in a 350; it
is ‘I’ beamed and trimmed substantially and connects on the southern end to a big-end needle roller pressed between high tensile steel flywheels balanced to a factor of 80%. We feel gains could be made upping the balance factor, finding a significant ‘roughening’ and increase of vibration at around 8,200rpm. The engine will rev to 9,000, but is discernibly smoother below 8,200 and seems to labour more obviously after this point. The little-end connects to a piston recovered from some Les ‘made back in 1956’ and when he set up the engine for initial testing it was on petrol with a compression ratio of 8:1. It is now on
methanol with a compression ratio in the region of 10:1. With a large dome and fairly long skirt, the piston shows extensive working inside to remove excess material, clearly the work of a dedicated tuner. The piston resonates in the same ‘square’ bore dimensions as Eldee 1, 68 x 68.25mm, the barrel being the favoured Alfin type, modified in this instance from a later 350cc MAC Velocette component.
Hubs and brakes were cast to 1938 Mk VIII KTT Velocette specification after Les had a chance encounter with a retired pattern maker who offered to assist with the project ‘for a challenge’; the resulting aluminium items are laced to 18-inch Akront alloy rims shod in sticky Avon rubber. The twin leading shoe front brake is lined with high grade centrifugally cast iron and works very well indeed, the pads being green in colour and probably not worth inhaling near. The entire rear hub is made from the same material and it too works very effectively: soft and progressive and none too harsh. Such castings would perhaps have been better in magnesium as they are bulky affairs with great wall thickness and the choice of aluminium weighs heavy for a 250cc: the overall weight of the bike is around
The chassis is sprung sufficiently on the rear by heavy Koni items and up front are Norton forks, with beautifully crafted lightweight alloy yolks and taper roller bearing head races. The original fork springs have been discarded in favour of heavier weights, as Les must have been somewhat lighter than me and we have also added adjustable dampers supplied by Lansdowne Engineering in the UK, giving us effective control of both compression and rebound damping. The front-end has always felt vague to me, with a tendency to patter exiting corners, despite many efforts to cure this. We made a fork brace which helped, but I think the weight of the lumpy front hub plus a not quite sorted spring rate is accentuating
a bounce, but we’ll get there. The frame is a modified Norton International model, sporting Les’ own rear section, nickel-bronze welded to the front cradle and resulting in a lowered seating position, a factor that may also contribute to the unsettled front end with my heftier bulk aboard. At the back it sports a standard cased Velocette gearbox, hiding six speeds to keep the little gem on the bugle. A low level exhaust pipe stays clear of the track and protests by cracking when secured at the original three mounting points, so we leave it mounted at the head and before the megaphone taper and it seems happy enough.
Sparks are provided by a Les Diener wound magneto that now accepts an electronic triggering device from a Mitsubishi car and such sparks set fire to a mix brought in through a faithful Amal 1” 5/32 carburettor, with a number 5 slide and jets to suit circuits. Needle is a Dave Kenah component with additional adjustment slots for height positioning. The fairing is a double bubble Morini item shrouding an aesthetically pleasing package, contributed to by the light blue 12litre tank made by UK company Lyta, held down along the middle by Les’ own tank strap and decals proclaiming ‘Eldee Velocette’ in a familiar insignia.
All in all, it took a retired Les Diener a little under two years of beavering away in his small workshop to create Eldee 2. Taking to the track again aboard this faithful replica must have been some thrill for Les who, at 69 years young, showed he could still do it, racing to forty exceptionally well earned trophies inscribed with either 1st, 2nd or 3rd. At the age of 73 Les suffered a heart attack whileout riding on his Italian Gilera road bike, never getting the chance to gather up some more silverware but leaving one hell of a legacy.
As I mentioned, it has been a proud privilege to add to the history of this bike and the lineage of the Eldee marque. We started racing Eldee 2 in 2012 and have won two NZCMRR 250cc modified titles since then, only missing out on the third title as in the last round I felt it wasn’t a bad idea ‘to have a go at the 350s’, so rode out of class to some second positions behind Nev Bull’s rapid short-stroke Manx Norton. Eldee 2 has started the 2014 racing season in winning form already and it is to the future and Eldee 3 that this story ends.
Eldee 2 was in no doubt a more modern yet faithful replica of Eldee 1. With improved materials and greater knowledge of methods and concepts, Les improved on what was already very good. Eldee 2 was made over twenty years ago, and in that time ‘modern classic racing’ schools of thought have advanced in leaps. The prospect of developing the tried, trusted, proven and tuneable gear driven, DOHC engine format was something that our small team began to relish with more vigour as the results from the race track, in both performance and reliability, mounted up. Thought was given to really giving matters a proper test and there’s few places one can go to do that. One is the Isle of Man TT circuit. And to go over there for the 2014 Classic TT we decided a new motor was in order, with the tried and trusted Eldee 2 due for a refresh to serve as a backup. And we also decided a man of experience would be welcome in the saddle. So we gave my Dad a ring, who is still to this day the fastest man around the TT circuit on a 250cc single cylinder (98mph average), 350cc single cylinder (102.23 mph average) and 500cc single cylinder (108.03mph average) machine.
Nick Thomson has been a busy boy. Whenever I visit, the piles of swarf are ever higher. Since Eldee 3 was conceptualised, he has whittled a shoe box sized lump of aluminium into a beautiful cam box. He has made the nine gears to drive the camshafts adorned with his own cams. The conrod has been crafted and is away for heat treatment. The piston is due to be forged shortly. New ‘old’ stock crankcases have been modified to accommodate the gear train. Murray Aitken (instrumental in the development of John Britten’s iconic motorcycle) has designed and is about to cast a new head. The new motor will be housed in the existing Eldee 2 chassis with some subtle alterations to suspension and wheels in the interests of handling, safety and weight saving. A carbon fibre fairing has been designed, wind tested, sculpted to channel air across heat build up areas and is due for production soon. A new larger capacity oil tank has been fitted and an ergonomically designed 19 litre tank is on the cards to allow the rider to get wrapped tight to the bike without having to make a fuel stop in the four lap race.
We’re under no illusions that the Isle of Man can find you out! But every effort is being made to leave no stone unturned in our quest to see the Eldee finish the Classic TT 2014, and to that end I’ll finish with a plug for support. We are a small team of dedicated enthusiasts, not doing anything for profit. Support has come from some areas already but this project could do with more to see it achieve it’s potential. We are seeking sponsors to help in these aims.
THE HEART OF ELDEE
The engine retains the standard MOV bore and stroke of 68mm x 68.5mm and the double overhead cams (camshafts made from 60 ton steel, cams from oil hardened 12% chrome steel) are driven by a series of nine timing gears mixed from Velocette and BSA sources, with the inner timing case being welded to the crankcase. Oil reached the cam faces via a .030 inch jet and drained through the distinctive ‘Y’ pipe to the sump. Valve timing variation of three degrees is catered for by vernier adjustments on the final gear wheels (more on this later….), a two piece crankpin dissects a Symco rod and is hugged by Les’ turned mild steel flywheels. Exhaust valve was sodium filled and the inlet chrome-moly, both running in bronze guides and brought back to seat by 140pound springs. Valve to piston clearance
was minimal at just six thou’, and tappets were set at eight thou’ inlet and fifteen thou’ exhaust with Les practicing and racing without checking matters as he was confident, “that with the double-knocker engine, they were guaranteed to stay put.” The piston (made by Ted Carey) is a slipper type running a “moderate hemisphere up top and a compression ratio of about 10 or 11:1,” (on methanol).
Les had problems initially with the alloy cylinder he made to couple with a cast iron liner. He found he was losing compression under load as the motor got hot. He worked out that the iron liner had no flange to sit on top of the alloy cylinder and due to the cylinder head joint being partly on aluminium and partly on iron, as the variable expansions occurred, compression pressure was being lost down between the two metals until the engine cooled again. He related this back to Veloce Ltd in the UK who promptly sent him a patented Alfin barrel with a bonded-in liner; end of problem.
The chassis was, in Les’ words, ‘the best of two worlds’ being a home-made frame with a front end dimensionally similar to McCandless’ ‘Featherbed’ and the rear end similar to that of the 7R AJS. With a single top tube favoured instead of the Featherbed’s twin rails Les hand-beat a 4 gallon tank into what I consider a lovely, svelte and tapere