Big Velo: An ongoing history

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… Read more >>

Big Velo racing in the 2015 Burt movie

Velo MT5001 stars in some amazing GoPro sequences in Theo Macdonald’s brilliant short film ‘Velocette Racing Burt Munro Challenge 2015’.

Big Velo, Big Velocette, Velocette 500cc Factory racing bike

Big Velo Slideshow

Click to view the Big Velo 500 slideshow >>

The Big Velo at the Burt

Velocettes crossed the finish line 1st, 2nd, 3rd at the Burt Munro Challenge 2015. This would not have been an unusual sight on the racing circuits of England and Europe through the 1920s 30s or even late 40s… Read more >>

Close-up detail of the Big Velo megaphone exhaust with an airbrushed fade-to-white gradient at the head.

Big Velo soundbite

Check out the 7 second video / soundbite of the Big Velo open megaphone, at the foot of the page, from Hampton Downs, Feb 2014. The clip was shot by Tony Herd, his comment sums it up well; “This valiant old warrior just 80 years young can still show a clean pair of wheels to many younger bikes.”

Velocette, Big Velo, MT5001, racing, 1930s

The UK origins of the Big Velo in the 30s

Phil Price takes up the story.

IN 1924 THE VELOCE MOTOR COMPANY produced a single cylinder 350cc engine with a camshaft sitting above the combustion chamber driven by a vertical shaft with bevel gears, the model ‘K’. Highly efficient, reliable & powerful, this engine formed the basis of the famous KTT and all its illustrious history. In 1926 the riding ace Alec Bennet, being so impressed by the machine offered to ride in the junior TT on the Isle of Mann for nothing unless he won—which he did by ten minutes! Above: Group photo at the Veloce motor company works circa 1934. Left to right; Billy Tiffen Jnr, Ernie Thomas, H. E. Newman, Harold Willis, Les Archer, Walter Handley and MT5001.

The years from this development until the second World War saw Velocette Motorcycles gather a worldwide reputation as fine hand built, quality machines. Demand was huge across the range with KTTs being ordered and sent all over the world. Racing was the motivation, not only to drive sales but for the prestige of winning, and the greatest motorcycle road race in the world was the Isle of Mann Tourist Trophy. This dangerous race was the crucible for improving speed, endurance and mechanical excellence. The Velocette, elegant in black with a single hand painted gold pinstripe sported all these attributes, and during the ‘30s developed ground breaking design features and an enduring aesthetic.With success and fame in hand on the 350 KTT, Harold Willis, the head of racing at Veloce Limited enlarged the engine that Percy Goodman had conceived some ten years earlier into a 500cc. MT5001, MT being Factory experimental racing, 500cc number 1, first appeared in 1934. This may have been aided by the factory developing the MSS pushrod engined road bike model concurrently. The machines had similar designed new heavyweight loped frame, positive stop foot-change gearbox and engines with a bore and stroke of 81x96mm.With the prestigious premier ‘senior’ class in mind three experimental ‘dog kennel’ engines were prepared. The name comes from the shape of the bolt on cam box. Special ‘works’ parts included magnesium castings for the cam box, gearbox, and conical rear hub which was no doubt the predecessor of the MK8KTT wheel set.

ONE NOTABLE FEATURE of MT5001 was the use of the ‘strutted’ front fork, made by Webbs, their intended use was for sidecar units, but the race department at Veloce thought they would be more capable of coping with the 38 bhp the new engine produced.

August 1934, advertisement, Walter Rusk, ‘the Belfast popular idol’, Big Velo, race victory, 500cc Ulster Grand Prix, record speed, record lap

August 1934 advertisement featuring Walter Rusk ‘the Belfast popular idol’ on the Big Velo following his victory in that year‘s 500cc Ulster Grand Prix at a record speed and record lap: the latter at 92.13mph (148.23kmh).

Mr William White, Big Velo, Velocette, White's Newmarket Showroom

In 1934, MT5001 was given to Bill White

Above: Mr William White sitting atop the ‘Big Velo’ in his Newmarket Showroom in 1972.

MT5001, the first of these rare machines was ridden by the flying Ulsterman Walter Rusk to win the Ulster Grand Prix Senior of 1934 at the record speed of 88.38mph, & a blistering outright lap record of 92.13mph. Rusk on the Velo followed Stanley Woods aboard a Moto Guzzi home in the Senior Isle of Mann TT of that year. Woods went on to become synonymous with racing Velocettes and in 1936 took MT5003, albeit with a new ‘springer’ frame developed at his request, to a spectacular second place two seconds behind Jimmy Guthrey on a Norton.

THE 500CC WORKS RACING Velocettes were continually developed until WW2 including a dohc version, & in its final form as a fully enclosed 10 inch square ‘Huntley & Palmers’ head. Only a handful of factory racing 500s were made & were never available for sale to the public. Unlike other British brands of the period Velocette were family owned by the Goodman’s, previously Gutgemann, of German descent. Much as it is today, long term relationships based on loyalty, trust, and the gentleman’s agreement was the company’s philosophy from beginning to end. Agents and riders alike were to become lifelong friends and associates of the Goodman family, one of these relationships was with the White Family of Auckland New Zealand. In 1934, MT5001 was given to Bill White partly to use as a race mount in colonial New Zealand, partly to get it far away from other contemporary competitors in Europe, and partly to help with sales of the Velocette marque here in New Zealand. Many motorcycling kiwis will remember Whites in Newmarket, and for many years he ‘Big Velo’ was displayed in the showroom of the shop. Bill himself won its first national title, the NZ beach Championship in 1935.

Big Velo, some it‘s major successes, sign

Re-creation of the ‘Big Velo – Some of it‘s Major Successes’ information sign displayed in White’s Newmarket showroom circa 1972.

Many successes were to follow, in fact the Big Velo won every race it started in New Zealand prior to WW2 with the exception of the 1938 New Zealand TT on Waiheke Island. Perry, thinking he was leading relaxed his pace until five laps from the finish getting the correct pit board, breaking the lap record for each of the remaining five laps was not enough and he had to settle for second that year.  The same year Perry smashed the record at Henning’s Speedway in Mangere at a speed of 86mph. Len Perry and the big Velo were to become a familiar and formidable duo, the pair taking no less than 8 national titles. John Herd was also a familiar figure on the Big Velo during the 50’s. […]

(the story continues below)


Len Perry, Big Velo, Velocette, Waiheke TT 1946

Bill White won the Big Velo‘s first national title, the NZ beach Championship in 1935.

Above: Highside photo of Len Perry at speed aboard the Big Velo, N.Z.T.T Waiheke, circa 1946. IN THE MID SIXTIES once again the bike was pressed into race action at the NZ beach Championships and won the 1965 and 1966 national titles. The latter with the New Zealand Classic Racing Register’s founding member and lifetime Velocette enthusiast Pete Butterworth aboard, no doubt to the embarrassment of contemporary riders and machines from the day—the Big Velo being 32 years vintage at the time. Following the death of Bill White in the 1980s the Big Velo was bought by Ivan Rhodes, friend of the Goodman family and world authority on historic racing Velocettes. Ivan has returned many of the original and correct parts to the bike and had subsequently written that he believed the machine “morally belongs in New Zealand.”—Story by Phil Price, VRNZ

Len Perry, Big Velo, Velocette, racing

Highside shot of Len Perry racing the Big Velo in the 70s.

Big Velo history posters

Click on the thumbnails below to view the two original information signs, the UK origins, and the conquering of the colony, 
BIG VELO, information sign, poster, PDF, U.K. history , MT5001, 500cc Velocette works bikes, Phil Price, Shaun Waugh
Click to view or download the Big Velo’s British history .pdf >>
BIG VELO, sign, poster, PDF, MT5001, New Zealand motorcycling history, Phil Price, Peter Butterworth, Shaun Waugh
Click to view or download the Big Velo’s New Zealand history .pdf >>

BIG VELO an ongoing history of a Classic Racer


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… Read more >>

Or read the original article in pdf format.
BikeRider NZ magazine, Chris Swallow, Big Velo, Velocette, Phil Price, Lyttelton Harbour