Words by Phil Price
With the exception of a few gems from the BBC, free to air television is pretty much rubbish everywhere. Certainly this is true in Australia and New Zealand where I spend the bulk of time. I sadly admit to catching a few episodes of Australian Ninja Warrior, a kind of sports game show where pumped individuals test themselves against a kind of confidence course carefully designed to have them falling unceremoniously into the drink. The contestants get to have support from a friend or family member who runs along beside them offering advice on strategy, motivation, and often condolences should they fail. The failures are of course the best part, the crowd with hands over mouths, tears, the compères offering insincere condolences. It’s a fairly pathetic formula that apparently makes good tele. What becomes quickly apparent is the undeniable truth that there is a certain body type that is capable of scaling the obstacles and arriving in good time at the big red button. Its all proportional power to weight. The cute little one no matter how determined is not going to cut it with those short arms, neither is the over proteined upper body builder. Unsurprisingly it’s the wirey around 70kg — 1.7 metre types who without too much fuss and motivational pumping just get on with the business and get to the end quickly and efficiently.
Now then, if you are not interested in vintage and classic racing Velocettes best you sign off here because its only the power to weight analogy that’s of interest from above.
So, you are going to build the best ever 350cc Velocette road race machine capable of and specifically built to tackle the Isle of Man mountain circuit, the oldest, most respected and challenging motorcycle road race. You must stay faithful to the Velocette factory efforts and simply carry on where they left off. You can’t and don’t want to use many (if any) ready to go bolt on bits largely because that’s just too easy and waters down far too much the idea of this being a genuine effort. Plus you’re a kiwi so you’ll want to do it yourself the hard way.
Just about everything we get in or on these days has a double overhead cam engine, that is unless you are a clean green modern thinker committed to batteries not petrol, in which case you should also sign off here.
The very little yet capable racing department at Velocette’s designed and built two versions of a twin cam single cylinder junior engine for racing, nearly two decades apart. Neither of these efforts it could be argued were optimized for different reasons.
The first debuted in 1936. Once the KTT engine achieved mechanical reliability during the twenties, valve control would have been the next big thing on the mind of Percy Goodman who would have been on his straps with business and highly committed to racing. He had already not only conceived, put into production and tested with great success in the preceding ten years the single overhead cam K engine but was already at the mk5 version of it.
Harold Willis was in charge of the race department at this time and his fertile mind and practical abilities both in the workshop and on the track would have been a key ingredient, and let’s not forget Charles Udall who I always pictured as something of an engineering oracle that no hair brained idea was going to get past. Add to this hotpot rider feedback from the likes of Stanley Woods who had become the first modern professional, controversially working with the Italians and riding the red devil Moto Guzzi to senior victory in 1935. He knew his mind and on it was the clear advantage of rear suspension. So in 1936 Velocettes come up with a brace of three what could best be described as superbikes of the era, double over head cam 350 singles with 4 speed positive stop gearboxes, as many magnesium castings as possible, gearbox, crankcase, wheel hubs and brake plates, this was fairly new and experimental even though Harold Willis called the stuff ‘electrified dirt’. Full loop frames, a rear swinging arm with air and oil suspension units the design of the former pretty much unchanged in your Thruxton.
We’d have to agree that the 1930’s was the most exciting for Velocette road racing both for design development, new materials, and a real spirit of progress. All fuelled and motivated by commercial successes from the factory and marketing efforts.
Possibly with war coming but for whatever reason the dohc was not pursued beyond 1936 even though Ted Mellors on the only rigid of the three built had had great success on the continent that year. The three engines were put back under the bench and eventually given to Frank Musset to take back to Australia, one of which formed the basis of the Sid Willis 250 twin cam on which he gained a creditable fourth? place in the 1953 TT. The factory pursued the single cam for 1937 which was in Ivan Rhodes’ words “as dull as dish water”. They got it wrong there is no doubt about that: the early ‘dog kennel’ and twin cam had steeper valve angles, the general consensus of the day was to go for deeper combustion chambers wider angles bigger valves and finning projecting out into the cool air, hot and heavy stuff, no red button for that ninja.
Fast forward through the war to around 1950. Velocette won the junior world championship in ‘48 and ‘49 largely on machines of prewar design similar to what took Stanley Woods to TT victory in the 1939 junior. Bertrum Goodman son of Percy is now in charge of the racing department following the unfortunate loss of Harold Willis. Percy himself is an old man and the racing budget is very tight with the board changing direction toward mass production of scooters. Just five special twin cam engines are built at 250 and 350cc using the MK8 as the basis and extensive use of magnesium. The other big change was a modified frame, using a MK8 frame as the starting point, removing the cast steering head and replacing it with a machined version from the LE project, lowered and with additional support from two near horizontal tubes a la McCandless and another angled brace all the way from the top of the steering head, through the tank to the seat tube. And for the first time a special 5 speed gearbox which no doubt helped keep the little engine on the boil.
Its worth making note of the climate of the two dohc efforts. Prewar the factory was relatively rich working with the “win on Sunday sell on Monday” philosophy, they steadily progressed technology and design year by year since the mid twenties on successes, the minds and hands that developed the K more or less from the beginning directly involved. Post war there were other factories throwing big money and progressing the racing motorcycle largely on the back of what Velocette and others had achieved. The Mk8 and factory pimped racing Velocettes were a highly developed machine that was advanced in the 30’s but not anymore. Money was very tight and Bertie while having some good ideas and encouragement from dad may not have been able to optimize and develop the thing properly.
So, you are back in the Hallgreen nae Ngaio kitchen choosing your ingredients. You have at hand one Nick Thomson, for this effort the most essential component as this cake won’t bake itself. Nick is a lifelong Velocette engineer extraordinaire so we’re in good hands whatever the ingredients.
We know that a MK8 can deliver as an excellent vintage racer and if you read about our “hotrod” which is essentially a standard Mk8 with roller followers on methanol and a 6-speed Nova box nestled neatly into the original housing, oh and one Chris Swallow aboard. Unheard of and embarrassing for others (sorry JC) results came out of this combo here in NZ. My own unproven theory of its capable handling being that this bike had had a front on stove somewhere in its history in Victoria thus providing a few precious extra millimeters of trail. We had to ask the question what if this hulking 325lb motorbike could shed a few kilograms and have the girders reworked to optimize not only trail but essentially have actual hydraulic damping not just the normal tightening of friction washers so that nothing much moves up front? Would we then have a real ninja warrior vintage racer with power to match weight and good handling to boot? A combo capable of playing at the sharp end of any classic 350 field?
As you know the 73x81mm bore and stroke of the K never changed throughout its 25 year run, although the Rhodes’ believe there was at least one special engine near the end that had a short stroke. And history tells us when any British 350 was downsized to a 250, the short stroke version was always superior. Really to be at the high end of power output a short stroke has to be on the agenda, so after much musing about the highly successful Guzzi 350s at 75x79mm, a bore and stroke of 80x69mm was settled upon.
Now in making all these special castings I must send a very big thank you to Colin Quartly of Christchurch who followed our wish to have the patterns made very much along the factory lines, that is with the feeling of the handmade over something spat off a CNC mill. Colin must be the most experienced and capable patternmaker in NZ and the foundries all respect him which is quite a plus. Back to the cases, with the exception of a bigger mouth capable of the venom stud pattern and our desired bore we changed nothing, that goes for the gearbox too. At every turn we took the approach only to change a thing if it truly needed it, and one thing you can say about the early design on a Velo, it was mostly thorough and correct. On a KTT engine the oil pump bore which is a slight interference fit and is very close to the main bearing on the timing side, quite an achilles heel for the engine as most main bearing bores end up not being round even if they start out that way.
Nick had the good idea instead of attempting to strengthen the bore with an insert or even more extreme changing the centres, rather to reduce the OD of the bearing by choosing a needle roller but also and importantly to shrink in a slug of steel the same size as the pump prior to boring for the main bearing, so the hole is not round without the pump in but is when it is. This example of the depth of consideration is throughout this engine where every part has been handmade. The conrod follows the tested method of being one piece not having a pressed in big end ring rather a hardened surface of the actual rod itself. Remember the ninja, its all power to weight and if you can reduce weight anywhere you should and if you are building from scratch the opportunities are literally everywhere and for the taking.
So without every detail, the top knot much like the Eldee has been hewn from a solid billet of Alloy, this simply because he can and because the level of accuracy and consistency of quality material is guaranteed. Here again although it is one of the few parts not cast I’d like to mention and thank one Steve Howell of CH tooling in Melbourne, another enthusiastic old school totally capable guy on the magnesium, he says ‘I don’t know whats in the water over there in New Zealand but I make more maggy parts for kiwis than anything.’
Getting back to the cambox which is in itself a wonderful piece of form and function. Here I must explain our choice of engine. We went with the 36 thinking more than anything about weight, this design has the cambox bolted onto the head where as the later is one piece and really its superior to the later version not only because its much lighter, the path of thinking from the late 30s and into the 50s was to increase the mass of the head and extend the fins out into clear air, all very nice aesthetically as Velos demonstrated with the famous ‘Huntly and Palmer’ heads of the late 30s, but it weighs far too much and there are better ways to keep the thing cool. Not least of which being a ventilated exhaust port à la late two valve Ducati engines. Plus we wanted to stand the inlet tract and valves up more, we’ve got a good quarter of an inch skull cap around the combustion chamber but other than that the vintage exterior is bang on.
On the delivery of all this urge we’d have to go with what has been proven through years of short circuit racing in NZ. The synchroflex belt has been faultless with Nick milling both the engine and clutch wheels, the engine pulley in one piece with shoulders complete. If you could hold one of these parts in your hand for a close look its quite a thing. If it’s possible to have less parts to achieve the result then just do it, it’s less to fall off or go wrong. Once set these belts never and that means never need adjusting. The clutch similarly a tested item with aluminium pulley wheel and off the shelf Suzuki friction plates.
On this bike Nick has made a tool plate aluminium backing plate as well, with that 100kg dry weight in site. The Nova six speed with low first has been a success and again because we can and it’s better we’ve gone for the extended mainshaft. Put simply because on a Velo the drive sprocket to the rear wheel is outboard of the clutch the mainshaft gets a hammering, and quite often operates in a state of bending. With a new shaft extended we can have an inline reamed bore and needle roller outboard and kiss goodbye to any problems pulling the gearbox forward and nothing is under stress through the box casting itself, Nick learned this lesson on his quick Venom racer and while we’ve not bothered on the smaller bikes, but for this ‘little un’ we have high hopes.
What else, oh yes the frame is a nice piece of work. Ivan Rhodes loaned us a proper works example of this semi duplex item and we had a measure and a think. Now you’ve heard the stories and possibly even seen the photos of Stanley Woods testing weight distribution on the rigid dog kennel bikes by fixing a lump of lead to the downtube. The outcome of his involvement was twofold, the swinging arm and a steeper front downtube to get the engine more forward, and remember here that the action of the girder is largely forward in a kind of ‘S’ line so the front wheel can be very close to the down tube.
Both these features were employed as standard on the MK8. On the late works bikes a 19 not 21 inch front wheel was used so there’s a bit more room to increase trail, plus we are not convinced about the advantages of the engine forward so choose a standard RS frame as our starting point. Chris and Nick drew up and modeled on a sheet of MDF the rake, trail and suspension travel of the girder with Chris coming up with the type of thinking we like which says we want the wheel to have constant trail everywhere on the suspension spectrum which should be in the order of 100mm so why not move the wheel through that trajectory and see if the arms and pivot points of the parallelogram either side of the steering head can accommodate this? The outcome interestingly can be achieved almost perfectly with the bottom pivot in the same place as standard on the centreline of the steering head and the top point moved forward and with a short arm. On a previous burst of enthusiasm on girders we had had punched by Southwards Tube Mills some sets of tapered tubes in 4143 grade steel.
These in hand and with more patterns made for the lost wax steel casting process for lugs we were in business. Plus Nick went ahead and actually made what may have been a myth and that is ground pins and needle roller bearings for every junction on the girder. Everything is straight and true and with minimum friction, and did I mention rigid, wow this front end is impressively rigid compared to most teles. I’m compressing the level of effort required for all this, in particular the making of frame lugs offered reasonable challenges.
For example the swinging arm which we wanted to be pretty faithful to the MK8 which has quite a specific look and advantage over the RS frame version, that being the arms are connected with a strut between and just behind the pivot. The special lug for the frame down tube we had milled in two halves from solid steel with the goal of achieving even wall thickness everywhere. The special swing arm lug cut and milled from solid. Good friend and fast becoming Velocette royalty Pat Clancy spent a solid week fettling the latter just to be right, thanks Pat. Front wheel is standard late MK8 with our own brake plate with internal double leading shoe linkage and the rear hub in alloy.
There’s the ingredients boys, a blend of the two double overhead cam factory efforts, engine from the earlier and frame from the latter versions. A lot more than able to be described here has gone into this of course but how much time do you have? Outcome, a 100kg dry, cobby looking works replica. Lets go racing.
Signs from testing to date look positive. A pleasing outcome starting from the ground up making all new choices and combinations, not the usual compromised starting point.
Built specifically for Chris to ride at in the Classic TT and as testament to the excellence Velocette had achieved many decades prior to the type of machines that are currently in use in these modern classic events. We are in no doubt there is unfinished business in terms of the development and optimization of the single cylinder junior twin cam Velocette racer and were keen to see what we can do with this package.
A slightly more complex competition than the ninja warriors on the tele, nonetheless with many a greasy pole to slip off into the metaphoric drink ahead of us.
My New Zealand Sojourns
My New Zealand sojourns began in 2010 when I came over to join Chris and Jen for a few weeks. They had been living in an estate car but now had a shared rented house. Jen had a part time job but Chris was between teaching supply work,so off we went on a Dad and lad road trip which cemented my love of the country but also included visiting Hugh Anderson, Ken Mc Intosh and Les and Paul Delacy. Chris, on the recommendation of Miles Robinson who he had been riding a Manx for in England, had mailed his leathers to be stored at Ken’s and we had a very interesting few hours and were made very welcome when we went to collect, but with no offer of a ride forthcoming (any regrets Ken?), off we went to the Delacy shop. By chance, Neville Wooderson was there, and the rest for Chris is NZ racing history. I got on well with Les, and talked much about my Aermacchi racing days.
With my appetite well and truly whetted, I retired from teaching and came back the following year for a 3 month stay. Les had been busy with his new babies and had built an Aermacchi. Stopping with Neville for a couple of weeks meant that I could get to Hamilton easily, and I spent quite a bit of time with Les working on and talking about the little pushrod beauties, and raced the first one at Taupo. After a steep learning curve for me on new machine and unfamiliar circuit, and with the bike still manifesting teething troubles, we got a win at the end of the meeting and Les has never looked back since. I am very grateful for the fact that he always has a bike for me, which was the case again this year.
Dave Kenah offered me a ride on his beautiful Manx, which gave me a win in my first race in NZ, went to Eastern Creek with the Kiwi team, generally finished 2nd to Chris riding Peter Lodge’s ES2, and persuaded Dave over more than his usual beer limit, to take it to the Isle of Man. (he has never forgiven me, but keeps going back, and Peter is taking the ES2 team there too in 2018!)
The other big experience of that second year was being invited to the Velocette rally by Cheryl and Neville Mickleson. I did hundreds of miles on a range of great bikes, notably Neville’s Venom, and engendered a relationship with the racing Velo fraternity, primarily Nick Thomson, Phil Price et al,from which came a ride on the unique 250 Eldee Velocette.
So New Zealand has become a second home, full of what appears to be now old friends, and I will keep on returning as long as I can do so, which conveniently brings us up to 2018.
A very ambitious plan by the Price/Thompson Velocette team to take the Eldee for me and a 350 for Chris to the Classic TT is underway. Three years ago I rode the 250 in the Junior Classic in the Isle of Man. The Manx fairies were not kind and after a troublesome practice we stopped on the 2nd lap. But subsequent rides at Pukekohe have shown it to be pretty well sorted now. I was beaten into 2nd in the first race this year by a Benelli 2 stroke twin, to be expected really, but then went faster than I had ever done to take the next race, before the meeting was unfortunately stopped due to bad weather. It is such a lovely bike to ride hard, handles impeccably with its Manx rolling chassis, has good brakes and a fault free gearbox. I could take it full bore all the way from the Hairpin, up on to the start straight, and round Turn 1, carrying enough speed to ease away from the faster strokers. So I am looking forward to another TT. Problems with fairing, seat and general riding position the last time have been addressed, and Phil Price has the bike in Lyttleton to rework all that.
But it is the 350 that is really exciting. It will be an exact replica of the 1951/2 Works bikes, as ridden by Les Graham, Bill Lomas and others. It has an engine based on the pre-war DOHC works motor, generally acknowledged to be better than the post-war type (difference of opinion amongst Velocette management and the untimely death of genius designer Harold Willis meant that the 1936 works motor was shelved, much to the disgust of Stanley Woods who knew it was better, but it has now been resurrected by that Kiwi genius, Nick Thompson).
Nick has actually made it—all of it. Last year he borrowed the Works frame from Ivan Rhodes in Derby (I took it back as hand luggage!) and fabricated a new one, very authentically as it uses typical brazed lugs, including swinging arm. The motor has been carved from solid, in effect, gears, cams and all in Ngaio, the tank is laminated by Phil to replace the heavy steel unit, but the forks are the pièce de résistance. Velocette, the first company to put a swinging arm on the rear of their racing machines, before the war, when Nortons and others were using the horrible plunger system, finally fitted tele forks in 1952. The riders didn’t like them and asked for the girders to be refitted; which is what the Thompson 350 will have for the Island. They are authentic copies, but use a modern single hydraulic spring unit. However, Chris did some drawing and model making, and found that he could replicate the wheel action of a telescopic fork and obviate the loss of trail that occurs with the typical girder movement, so it has top and bottom links of different lengths, not quite parallel, nor pivoted on the same axis. A lot of new stuff there, and you never take an untried bike to the Isle of Man. So it had to be tested as soon as, and the Festival at Puke was the target. I landed from the UK and had no time for jet lag, spending the rest of the week along with Phil, Pat Clancy (ex-NZ resident,now back home in Cornwall) at Nick’s, welding brackets on, fitting tyres, tanks, mudguards, number plates, making an exhaust system, etc. It ran for the first time the day before we left, and actually sounded great while it dumped a pint of oil on the deck—no oil filter drain plug, which then had to be made!
Chris ran it in at the Festival, suffered clutch slip, but reported no handling problems and said the motor felt strong; I did my stuff on the Eldee, rode my usual long stroke Aermacchi for Les (he has Zurrin Wiki on his super short stroke this season). Last year he had it really sorted and I cleaned up, but he has been experimenting with a short con-rod which he wanted me to try. Aermacchis already have a short rod/stroke ratio, and this did not work. However, he took everything on board and I am looking forward to being up the sharp end again next year; thanks, Les.
Back to Wellington with a day to sort everything out before we set off to the Burt Munro week all the way down at Bluff and Invercargill—my first trip—which meant we had to hit the road from Puke and miss the prize presentation, a great shame. (the Scottish Classic club have a similar problem with their 2 day meeting; people have a long way to go home, and work on Monday for most, so they lay all the awards out at the Paddock gate in advance and do the presentation straight after the last race—food for thought)
The trip to the South involved a marathon van pack. Nick and I were joined by Graham Peters for the drive down. He had his Gold Star (and a spare bike!) and the Eldee, the new 350 and the Wooderson BSA had all to be fitted in. We hit the road first thing Wednesday, ferry to Picton, always beautiful down the Sounds, and then ambled through the rolling South Island to camp with Phil and Pat at Lyttleton for the night. They would fly down to Queenstown and hire a car, Chris and Neville were also to fly but on Friday after work, and also joining us would be Graham’s wife Janet by plane too. Graham had organised great accommodation in Bluff, initially above an art gallery, and then a move to a larger typical old colonial residence when the team arrived.
My role was to give the new 350 its first real competitive outing on the Bluff hill on Thursday. I thought I had better go and have a look at it, so got my trainers on and went for a run. I soon found how bloody steep it is, but was pleasantly surprised that it was wider and better surfaced than expected, plus it was not forecast to rain! Graham is an expert, having ridden at every single Burt since its inception, and I wasn’t expecting miracles, but felt reasonably confident; but how would the new forks handle the bumps? My experience of girder forks on a range of bikes over the years is that generally they behave like a pogo stick, or patter, or make the bike weave, or go into tank slappers. These didn’t. Straight away it was apparent that they absorbed the bumps very compliantly and, notwithstanding the lack of any steering damping mechanism, the worst it ever did was shake its head but then straighten up immediately; I have undoubtedly ridden far worse tele-sprung bikes. Practice showed overgearing, and I was really enjoying the first proper run when it suddenly cut out accelerating hard up the long straight. Shutting off and playing with the throttle brought it coughing back to life somewhat, and it was fine riding back down, so probably not ignition. I said to Nick that it felt like fuel starvation, that the float bowl was emptying. Flow from the taps was more than adequate. It had a big main jet for methanol, so the problem had to be somewhere between the two. After the same problem next run, we did some flow tests through the carb., and found a significant difference with the standard Amal plastic filter removed. The last run was good, bike went well, and I had the lines sorted; 59 seconds Nick reckons may be the quickest by a 350 Classic.
Friday was practice day at Teretonga. What a great circuit, with many similarities with Pukekohe, fast sweeping bends and a long straight. Nick had geared the Eldee up, but the straight is no longer really, and the entry corner is slower, so it was a bit tall. But we were the only 250 in the race, up against big twins and G50s so all I had to do was enjoy the ride. The main job was to evaluate the 350 properly. No problem now with fuel starvation, showed that it has a good strong engine, at least as fast as the Delacy Aermacchi I would think, but the handling was a revelation. It has an Avon ribbed 19inch front and an 18 inch AM26 front tyre on the back (one of Dave Kenahs cast offs). I could ride it hard with the suspension working well with no trace of any of the typical girder fork vices, and Chris proved this the following day when he won every race for girder forked bikes with ease, even apparently having the legs on 500 Rudges and 1000 Indians. Well done Nick; good straight out of the box! I had a lot of fun on the Eldee, getting left off the line and catching up on the infield, finally scrapping with Aussie Danny Aherne on his G50, always getting past and exiting the last corner in front, and always getting passed before the line!
The famous street race is now in Invercargill. It didn’t look very enticing with its fencing and barriers and straw bale chicanes. We got three laps untimed practice under a yellow flag and then straight into 5 qualifying laps, and that was it, as someone dumped oil all around the circuit in the first race (which Chris won on the 350) and the organisers deemed it impossible to continue. I can’t say I was sorry.
Janet wanted to go back in the van so I flew back with Chris and was back in Wellington on Monday morning. I have done a lot of work with Nick on the 350 since, and I am confident that it will raise a few eyebrows in the Island. I am away home now; I left an Aermacchi engine on the bench which needs finishing, and need to acquaint myself with a 460 Ducati,the Team’s next project.
Thanks to all my friends in New Zealand; great people in a great country. I will be back.
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
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 tapered shape allowing the jockey to get himself ‘tucked right away’. Forks were from a BSA C10 but shortened by four inches to keep the whole head assembly low and then fitted with Les’ own design of damping rods. The gearbox was four-speed with original Velocette ratios as standard, though Les had alternates that could be changed depending on the circuit.
Article reproduced with permission from BRNZ Magazine, April 2014 issue (Gemma and Ken at Bike Rider magazine—many thanks.)
Words: Chris Swallow
Desktop publishing: Shaun Waugh @MagentaDot Brands
Big Velo an ongoing history
Words: Chris Swallow
Photos: Shaun G Waugh
This March 2014 article is reproduced with the permission of Bike Rider New Zealand Magazine
As I had only heard about ‘Big Velo’ in revered and almost mythical tones, when friend and new owner Phil Price of Christchurch telephoned to say he would be honoured if I’d race this piece of New Zealand history at the 2014 Burt Munro Challenge, the honour was most definitely mine.
In 1924 Veloce Ltd produced a single cylinder 350cc bevel driven single OHC engine: elegant, reliable and powerful, the model ‘K’ was the precursor to the highly successful KTT lineage. So impressed by the marque, top rider Alec Bennett offered his services for the 1926 Isle of Man Junior TT on a no-win, no-salary basis. He duly won the seven lap, 264.11 mile race in a shade under four hours at an average speed of 66.7mph: Jimmy Simpson, on the works AJS, was runner-up over ten minutes adrift. Bennett’s salary was not recorded.
Driven by the desire to achieve on the race track, the years up until the war saw concerted and focused development gaining Velocette a worthy reputation and a large share of the growing international motorcycle market; this in addition attracted talented riders such as Freddie Hicks, Les Archer, Wal Handley, Walter Rusk and Harold Willis to the works. Willis, whose career best at the IOM TT was two second places (runner-up to Velocette mounted Alec Bennett in 1928, Bennett’s 5th IOM TT win) eventually took charge of the Veloce Ltd race programme and decided that for the 1934 season the ‘blue riband’ 500cc class was to be contested. It was decided that Percy Goodman’s conception of some ten years earlier to enlarge a 350cc ‘K’ series engine was a worthy notion, and so, in 1934, MT5001 ‘The Big Velo’ was born. MT denotes factory experimental racing, and then Number 1 500cc is the rest.
The 350cc KTT engine was enlarged from a bore and stroke of 74mm x 81mm up to 81mm x 96mm, to give a capacity of 495cc. Running on 50% petrol benzol, the new 500cc motor produced a credible 38 bhp at 6000rpm. Housed in a rigid, heavyweight looped frame, guided by modified ‘strutted’ girder forks up at the front, MT5001 also boasted many ‘works’ parts: the forks, for example, were made by Webbs and were initially destined for sidecars, but the Veloce race department perhaps felt the extra rigidity provided by the triangulated struts may tame the additional power of the 500cc motor; magnesium also featured prominently with cam-box, gearbox and hubs all benefiting from such metallic dieting.
A LEGEND BORN
Debuting at the 1934 Ulster Grand Prix in the capable hands of Ulsterman Walter Rusk, MT5001 won the 200 mile race at an average speed of 88.38mph with a new lap record at 92.13mph. The open country of Northern Ireland plays host to the Ulster Grand Prix which is held on the Dundrod circuit, complete with seven mile long Clady straight. It is always held a week or so before the Isle of Man TT and is thus a good opportunity for the works teams to blow up their motors and highlight any pitfalls in anticipation of the more highly prized TT victory. The fortnight after the Ulster, Rusk had a trouble free ride on the Big Velo, taking the machine to a fine podium in the Senior TT, finishing third behind the talented Norton team mates of Jimmy Guthrie and Jimmy Simpson. Rusk got the Big Velo round the seven laps in 3hrs 36mins 19secs, at an average speed of 73.27mph, demonstrating the reliable nature of the bike; a trait which would stand it in good stead throughout it’s long life.
Buoyed by such early success, Velocette continued development of their 500cc projects up until the war, seeing Stanley Woods take the new ‘springer’ framed MT5003 to second place in the 1938 TT, just 15 seconds behind winner Harold Daniell on the works Norton. They developed a DOHC version, then a 10 inch square ‘huntly and palmer’ head; but of the small handful of factory racing 500s made, only this one, via the factory, and one brought back by Rod Coleman made their way to New Zealand and it is in this direction the story now heads.
CONQUERING THE COLONY…
The summer of 1934 saw The Big Velo land on New Zealand shores; an intriguing export by Veloce Ltd given the early success and obvious potential of their relatively undeveloped ‘first’ 500cc racer in an era where performance on the lengthy European road races and the highly prized Isle of Man TT correlated strongly with reputations of reliability, performance and prestige, and consequently showroom sales. Why send it to the other side of the world?
It was a decision ultimately made by the Gutgemanns: a family originally of German descent who later became the Goodmans, the founders, owners and operators of Velocette. Conducting business based on the underlying principles of trust, loyalty and the gentleman’s agreement, long term relationships were formed between agents and riders alike and it was to one of these agents that the Big Velo was presented: William White.
The White brothers came to New Zealand in the 1920s having left Stafford in the UK Midlands where they worked in the motor industry, forming friendships with the Velocette team and factory. Bill became a team member, attaining a Gold star for lapping Brooklands at over 100mph on a 350cc Velocette. (I have also received an amazing photo which was kindly sent by Bill White’s nephew, Ian, taken in the Isle of Man showing the 1928 Junior TT winning Velocette ridden by Walter Rusk and it’s team; there on the far right stands one Jack White, brother of Bill). The strong ties and mutual respect between the Whites and Velocette seem very evident and it is clear the high regard Velocette felt for Bill White in presenting him with the Big Velo and trusting him to maintain and race the bike in colonial New Zealand and thus publicise the marque to aid sales.
Jack and Bill set up the motor firm ‘J & W White’ in Newmarket, Auckland, which it remained until 1936 when Jack left to go farming and the firm became ‘W. White’, or simply ‘Whites’. Throughout his business career Bill made a point of visiting the Velocette factory at least once every two years and the firm maintained a continual correspondence with the Velocette factory, which was good as there was a lot to tell them!
Simply put, MT5001, ‘The Big Velo’ is New Zealand’s most successful racing motorcycle, winning no less than eight national titles, five national beach championships and eight NZ TTs. The bike set a world and NZ track record in 1938 with a lap of the Hennings Speedway track, Mangere at 86mph. Every NZ race except one that the Big Velo started prior to WWII it greeted the chequered flag first (the exception was the 1938 Waiheke TT; Len Perry thought he was leading until, with five laps to go, to his horror he got the correct second place pit board. Despite breaking the lap record on each of those five remaining laps it still wasn’t enough for the victor’s laurels). Oh and it did some winning at the 2014 Burt Munro, but more of that soon.
Bill White himself won the first NZ national title on the Big Velo, the 1935 beach championship. Then two NZ TT victories on Waiheke in 1936 (C. Goldberg) and 1937 (A. Mattson) preceded the legendary Len Perry era, which began in 1938 and took a pause in 1950, racking up eight national titles and five New Zealand TTs. Such reliability came from behind the scenes in White’s workshop where the skilful Len Coulthard was giving the Big Velo thorough and meticulous preparation, much akin to what a works machine would receive. Each year for the TT, Len, assisted by John Jones, would strip and rebuild the bike, including wheels, fork spindles, bushes, the motor, gearbox and clutch. Special attention to the magneto was apparently given.
In 1950 John Jones was sent to England for a year, on Bill White’s request, taking the Big Velo engine with him. I quote from an article he wrote on his experience as it makes for much more interesting reading than I could paraphrase.
“I was let loose in the workshop [at Velocette], working under Berty Goodman, with Frank Panes, Hedley Cox and Freddie Owens. I then proceeded to rebuild engine MT5001. The engine was stripped, cleaned, and to my surprise a selection of new unfinished conrods were dug up. These were all tested, until we came up with one with Vickers/Rockwell reading 6.33. Then hours of shaping and polishing produced a conrod which was acceptable. New crankpin assembly and piston assembly were also produced, and after weighing up the bits and doing our maths each flywheel was balanced to 25oz 3 drams, giving a balance factor of 70 per cent. The flywheels were assembled and tried, the cylinder was relined and the motor assembled. With all new parts, existing inner timing case was disposed of, and one fitted Incorporating extra scavenging pump to cope with overhead gear oil, i.e. oil return from bottom bevel housing to sump was blocked off, and the new pump intercepted this flow, and delivered direct back to oil tank. Consequently, there was less oil in sump at any time.
The motor was trundled up to the Test House and bolted on to one of the Heenan Froud Test Benches. It was fired up and run for half an hour with a few pounds load on the shaft, then after a quick external check, fired up again and run for two hours. The cylinder was then removed, the piston checked for bedding in, and eased if needed, assembled and run for another period. A total running of six hours, and another piston check. Then Berty Goodman announced that it was ready for bashing.”
It was John Herd that ‘bashed’ it to victory at the 1951 Wanganui GP. Then Forrest Cardon went on a winning streak until 1954 and the Titirangi Road Race where he unfortunately came off second best against his phonetic namesake when he wrote off the front girders on a young Rimu tree. The bike was fitted with Triumph tele forks before being retired at the end of the 1954 season. Eleven years later John Herd persuaded that the Big Velo should roar once more and proceeded to win the 1965 NZ Beach Championship before (the evergreen and still racing today) Peter Butterworth did the same in 1966. Many beach wins by Keith Williams preceded a second retirement until John Jones gave MT5001 a thorough restoration in the 1970s.
Trevor Discombe, and then the rightful Len Perry raced it again, until in the 1980s, following the death of Bill White, the Big Velo was bought by Ivan Rhodes, world authority on historic racing Velocettes and friend of the Goodman family. Ivan returned many of the original and correct parts to the bike, before decreeing quite honourably that, ‘morally, the bike belongs in NZ.’ Which I guess is how I found myself astride it, listening to the wonderful crack of an open megaphone, staring up the Bluff Hill.
STILL A GOODIE
Prior to the pilgrimage south, the Big Velo visited the workshop of Wellington Velo man Nick Thomson, thus continuing the tradition of fine mechanics and engineers who have worked on the bike. Together with owner Phil Price, Nick stripped the motor and gave matters a thorough and comprehensive check through. Valve timing was checked and re-set and the oil feed to the cams was subtly re-engineered. I made a new front brake cable and number plates, and I decreed the tyres to be satisfactory after a comprehensive ‘thumbnail insertion’ test. The motor was re-assembled by Nick and on first push Wellington was treated to the crack of an open megga. Oil seemed fairly reluctant to stay inside certain areas, so with a large supply of absorbent foam we headed to Manfeild for a shakedown at the NZCMRR’s Spring Classic. We decided to race on the Saturday only, Nick being ‘quite keen to replace the exhaust valve soon,’ and it was a joy, picking up where it left off thirty years ago in winning form. Nick decided to add an ‘O’ ring to the exposed valve pusher in a bid for oil tightness and then with a thorough check and service during the next week we ventured towards Southland.
I am impressed with how right Velocette got the bike all those years ago, the handling especially. Like any classic motorcycle, rewards come when you settle the bike on corner entry and accelerate towards the apex and beyond: slow in, fast out. The 21” front wheel and 19” rear means you don’t have to lean too far to corner and you get a sense of being quite tall on the bike. The bike flows into bends nicely, not dropping in sharply but also not too lazy so you have to boss it around; it does what you ask.
The Bluff Hill’s bumps and surface changes are very ‘pre-war’ so although approaching matters with a modicum of caution, I had a feeling that all would be well and approached matters in a frame of mind to press on a bit. I set the tyre pressures deliberately low at 24:26psi and was subsequently very pleased to discover that although it was a bit lively and bounced around a touch, the rigid and girder combination worked very well, behaving itself completely when you kept it driving. The 4-speed gearbox is faultless so long as you allow it the short time it needs to action. It has quite a high first gear, a moderate jump to second gear, and the remaining changes are quite close ratios. The motor gathers revs gradually, that long 96mm stroke smoothly surging and noticeably stronger from 4,000rpm to my self imposed limit of 5,500rpm (period reports suggest a limit of 6,000rpm), leaving a lovely spread of tractable power that the four cogs were more than capable of keeping the motor in. The brakes, considering they are single leading shoe front and rear with a fairly hefty package to stop, are excellent: progressive, powerful and respond well without fade to that oh so familiar ‘oh hell I’ve overcooked this’ final squeeze.
Best time up the hill was 60.11 seconds, not quite cracking the minute barrier but enough for fourth pre-63 and first girder forked bike, in addition to making that evening’s One News. When asked about the bike and then my Grandad being a Velocette dealer, I felt I shared much historical insight of clear value to the average One News viewer, and subsequently considered the shiny shoes before me to be housing a well researched and informed type. So when he queried my current job in hand, which was securing absorbent foam around the exposed valve springs, I did wonder had I presumed too soon. Reducing the explanation to a simple analogy I made mention of Grandmas, old dears from 1934 and the inevitable leaks that needed some containment. I think he must have understood though, as it was this final ‘sound bite’ that he chose to use for the 6pm broadcast.
Rested at Teretonga, the Big Velo was next out at the Wyndham Street Races, where in previous years it has been South Island man Chris Frisken as the man to beat in the Girder fork class. The large capacity V-twin Indian he races so spiritedly is owned by ‘Pumphouse Paddy’ and it really flies. There was some debated whisperings around the paddock about the origins and eligibility of the Triumph twin leading shoe front brake the Indian sported, so as we took to the grid I was pretty focused on sidestepping paddock politics when the flag dropped. I got a good start and hit the front, pushed on and rode the Big Velo as hard as I could, and it responded brilliantly – just like a well sorted, genuine Grand Prix bike should.
It must have been the open megaphone noise bouncing off the bales because on every bend I could ‘hear’ the Indian right behind me, so kept my head down to the flag; most bemused when an empty track behind was revealed over my shoulder!
The second race went the same way and then Invercargill boy and all round good lad Rhys Wilson had his game face on for the third race and we had a real ding-dong right to the flag, the Big Velo winning by half a wheel against Rhys’ very original and quick 4-valve Rudge. a great end to the week!
Thanks must go to Southland MCC and the Burt Munro Memorial Meeting for putting on such a fantastic week of bike sport (that every racer and bike enthusiast should get themselves to at least the once) and supporting and publicising the commitment to bring this piece of NZ history racing once again.
Big thanks also to Nick Thomson for his hard work and Velocette wizardry. And a final huge thanks to Big Velo owner Phil Price for trusting me with MT5001, and for being in a refreshing minority of enthusiasts who believe race bikes are for racing and adding history to; not simply parading, or at worse, cold and lifeless in a museum or collection.
BIG VELO: SOME OF IT’S MAJOR SUCCESSES
BUILT AS A WORKS MACHINE 1934
First raced 10 May 1934. Finished first in 500cc class ulster Grand Prix. Won at race record speed of 88.38mph, fastest lap 92.13mph. Timed for 7 miles on Clady Straight between antrim and Clady. Presented to William White by Velocette Factory in 1934.
- 1935 – Won NZ Beach Champs – William White
- 1936 – Won NZ TT Waiheke – C. Goldberg
- 1937 – Won NZ TT Waiheke – A. Mattson
- 1938 – 2nd NZ TT Waiheke – L.V. Perry
- 1938 – World and NZ Track Record – L.V. Perry
Hennings Speedway, Mangere, 86mph – L.V. Perry
- 1939 – 1st NZ TT Waiheke – L.V. Perry
1st NZ Open Beach Champs – L.V. Perry
- 1939 – 1st North Island 500cc Beach Champs – L.V. Perry
Time 16 mins. 29 secs – 20 miles
- 1946 – 1st NZ TT Waiheke – L.V. Perry
- 1947 – 1st NZ TT Waiheke – L.V. Perry
- 1948 – 1st NZ TT Waiheke – L.V. Perry
- 1949 – 1st NZ TT Waiheke – L.V. Perry
- 1950 – Rider crashed in lead, record lap – L.V. Perry
- 1951 – Wanganui Grand Prix – J. Herd
BROUGHT OUT OF RETIREMENT
- 1965 – NZ Beach Champs J. Herd
- 1966 – NZ Open Beach Champs P. Butterworth
First published in Bike Rider New Zealand Magazine, March 2014
Words: Chris Swallow
Desktop publishing, photography: Shaun G Waugh, Magentadot Brands
This is an introduction and guide to New Zealand Classic and Post Classic Motorcycle bike classes (categories) and regalia. There is an overview of Classic and Post Classic race structures amply illustrated by a comprehensive portfolio of Classic racing slideshows from the 2015 Summer Classic. The purpose is a meta view, to describe the complexities of organising Classic + Post Classic Racing downunder and to provide insights into the pure spectacle of the VRNZ Classic racing slideshow portfolios.
This new page is a trackside journal and set of slideshows of the New Zealand Classic Motorcycle Racing Register Hampton Downs Summer Classic 7–8 February 2015. The event was inclusive of both Classic and Post-Classic machines from all over New Zealand. An event highlight was the chance to witness twin Britten action during the lunch break both days, which saw Andrew Stroud re-united with the Kevin Grant-owned Britten on which he won the 1995 World BEARS Championship and Stephen Briggs riding the Texan-owned Britten V-1000 that he once raced for the Italian CR&S .
The racers were organised into 9 Race Groups. The Race groups align roughly with the Classic, and the Post Classic Class structures. As a new fan of Classic / Post-Classic racing I’ve been interested in a little understanding of how the NZCMRR organises the technical classes within the nine Race Groups at their events. The details of which classes fall within each Race group are specified in the Hampton Downs slideshow headers. Visit this reference page for more information about the Classic and Post Classic Class Structures.
The feature image heading up the page is Chris Swallow aboard one of the two Glyn Robinson / SportsMotorcyclesDucati sponsored Ducati Pantah constructed by Glyn for the event for Chris and Bill Swallow.
Saturday 7th February
After the Marshall’s Briefing, Machine Scrutineering and Riders’ Meeting the first event kicked-off at 09:00 Saturday morning with a series of nine ten minute practice sessions for each race group. Round 1 Races 1–19 were 1–4 laps. During lunch both days there was a thrilling Britten & Norton Demonstration ride. Round 2 Races 14–27, were 2–4 laps. The last race of Round 2, 28-08 TT2, was postponed to first thing Sunday morning, prior to the start of Round 3.
Sunday 8th February
Round 3 of the Summer Classic started at about 09:30 Sunday morning right after the postponed Round 2 TT2 ‘08’ race. Round 3 finished with race 36-08. Round 3 races (3–4 laps} flowed seamlessly into the 4 lap races of Round 4, the final round whci commenced with Race 37 at 12:30.
For VRNZ classic racing began with Race 11 at 13:20 Saturday afternoon for Bill Swallow and Phil Price aboard the 250cc Eldee-2 and MOV Velos respectively, and wound up with Chris Swallow aboard the Glyn Robinson/Sports Motorcycles Ducati Pantah in Race 46 on Sunday at 15:30.
2015 Championship points results at Hampton Downs
250 Modified: 1st, 2 Bill Swallow (Velocette) 80pts, 2nd, 197 Phil Price (Velocette) 68pts. // 350 Post Classic: 1st, 2 Bill Swallow (Aermacchi) 68 pts, 2nd, 231 Cloud Craig-Smith (Ducati). // 350 Pre War: 1st, 93 Jack Mickelson (Velocette) 64pts, 2nd, 32 Phil Price (Velocette) 60pts. // NZPCRA Junior Pre 82: 1st, 32 Chris Swallow (Ducati) 80pts. Full Championship points 2015 table >>
Having signed on with the NZCMRR officials first thing on Saturday morning to register as a photographer I operated from the homebase of the VRNZ pits. Followed the sun to several corners around the track, moving to the sequence spots between races and rounds over the course of the weekend’s race programme, resulting in shots from 6 different viewpoints.
Priorities for shooting were;
- sunny side up, highside photos
- where possible from a low point of view
- primarily locking focus on individual riders and panning with them to capture bursts of multi-frame action
- bunches of riders, bunches compressed long lens head head on, riders vying for position around the curves
- VRNZ riders and other riders of interest within their race groups, other race groups of interest
- VRNZ pit culture
- the twin Britten and Norton lunch break demo
Classic Number Plates
- Up to 250cc – Dark green background, white figures.
- Up to 350cc – Dark blue background, white figures.
- Up to 500cc – Yellow background, black figures.
- Over 500cc – Red background, white figures.
- Vintage Machines – all capacities – Black background, white figures