Peter Butterworth, Velocette, Portrait, 1972

Peter Butterworth article, New Zealand Motorcycle News 1974

EVERY MOTORCYCLIST HAS that particular brand of motorcycle that he will defend to the last nut and bolt against all comers. To Peter Butterworth it is the Velocette and for the last 21 years he has been proving their worth in competition all over the North Island.

He’s ridden on the beach, the road circuit and the dirt but although his main ambition was to ride speedway he never did. “I don’t know why I didn’t probably because I didn’t have the time or the money,” he said.

A member of the Auckland Motorcycle Club since 1951 and now a life member, he first started racing in 1953. The machine he chose to begin on was a 200cc two stroke Francis Barnett. It was aboard this bike that he got his first taste of competition on the Miniature TT circuit in the Auckland-Hamilton area. He remembers how slow it was even after being worked over and said that it was so easy to ride that it made other machines seem impossible to control. After a few seasons riding the Barnett on the road, beach and dirt he moved into the four stroke world of motorcycling. In those days it was the big single banger four strokes who dominated the circuit. Peter’s choice for a second machine was a 1937 MOV 250cc Velocette, rigid frame and all. 

He raced this machine in the clubman’s class up until eight years ago but not without extensive work to the motor.

His occupation as a motor mechanic and engineer helped him to transform the old Velo into a competitive machine, at least until the Japanese two strokes arrived on the scene. The most noticeable difference to the MOV is the rocker box gear. Peter replaced the exposed Velo valve springs with Norton hair springs and enclosed them in a rocker box of his own design. The MOV was first timed over the flying half mile in 1954 and it’s top speed was recorded at 65.22 mph. After 13 years of racing and modifications under Peter’s hands it recorded a top speed of 101 mph when last timed in 1968. Another of Peter’s interests is vintage and veteran machinery and now the MOV is under restoration although he is considering giving her a run to get the cobwebs out of her. The 250 Velocette won the New Zealand 250cc. Miniature TT in 1958, with second placings in the 1958 North Island 250cc. Miniature T.T., the North Island Sporting Trial in 1959, the New Zealand 250cc Airfield Championship in 1960 and third in the Northland Grand Prix in 1962. When it was last raced in 1968 it came third in the New Zealand 250cc Beach Championships. It’s not a bad string of success considering the bike was 31 years old when last raced. These achievements are all important to Peter but perhaps his greatest victory was when he won the 1966 North Island Open Beach Championship astride the Big Velo owned by Auckland dealer Mr W. White

Velocette, Big Velo, Peter Butterworth, Pete Butterworth, Phil Harrington, Muriwai Beach Races, 1965

Perhaps Peter Butterworth‘s greatest victory, winning the Muriwai Beach Races in 1966 astride the Big Velo.

Throughout his career he raced on the beach as well as the road and finally retired from the road circuit when the extremely competitive Japanese two strokes arrived. “I’m basically a four stroke man and although I admit you need a two stroke to win I don’t think I’d buy one. Besides I didn’t have the money,” said Peter.

After leaving the road circuit he took to scrambling. Again he used a Velocette. It was a 350 cc. alcohol fuelled motor in a 250 cc Velocette frame. According to Peter it was very competitive but again when the Japanese two strokes arrived they were just too quick for the Velo. Sticking to his guns Peter took his Velocette out to where the four strokes still reign as tops, the beach racing circuit. “You might as well say I’ve retired to the beach. I still like some competition and it’s not too expensive. Although I still have a good time,” he said.

Being an engineer Peter likes ‘mucking’ around with motors and one beast to emerge from his workshop was a 413cc Velocette beach racer. This was built in 1972 and was clocked over the flying half mile at an average speed of 100.22 miles per hour. “I didn’t intend to build a 413cc bike it’s just that I built it then measured it” said Peter. The latest bike to emerge has been built with the help of John Jones of New Lynn Motorcycles and will be raced on the beach this year. In fact it will probably have made it’s debut by the time this magazine hits the stands.

It is a 350cc overhead cam Velocette which has been converted to a 500 cc model. Peter built the barrel himself and altered the motor with John’s help. It rests in a very much hacked about Velocette frame.

A Velocette man to the end Peter dabbles in the art of restoring old machinery. At the moment his stable consists of a 1934 two stroke Velocette which is almost complete, a 1934 KTT Velocette and the 1937 MOV Velo. When he‘s got nothing else to do he just comes down to his shop and finishes them off bit by bit. In fact the 1932 Velo is unique that it has mag ignition from a, BTH seldom seen on this model. He’s got his Velocette scrambler under there too, which, when he has the time, will be restored. He also has an MSS 500 Velocette that he rides to work every day.

Peter Butterworth portrait with his 1935 Velocette KTT, Pukekohe Classic Festival, February 2012, Classic Motorcycle racing

Peter Butterworth and his 1935 Velocette KTT, in the pits at Pukekohe Classic Festival, February 2012.

When asked if he‘d ride on the road circuit again he said no. The only occasion he’d take to the tar-seal was in a veteran or vintage bike race. At the moment he is toying with the idea of starting a road racing class for pre 1960 racing machines at Pukekohe. However the beach is his regime now and admits if you want a bit of friendly but tough competition it’s the best place to go. His own words sum up his motorcycling career. “I’m basically a Velocette man and I’m too old to change.”

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