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28th April 2006


Scrambling in the 1950s

During his competition years, half a century ago, Cornishman Vian Curtis turned a 350 rigid Velo into a 250 swinging arm scrambler, among other adventures. Whatever happened to that Velocette single...?

I started scrambling with a 350cc Matchless in Scotland whilst stationed at RNAS Abbotsinch (now Glasgow Airport) in 1956 and changed to a 350 Gold Star in 1957. At that time it was the fashion to have a complimentary 250 bike. Instead, I acquired an abandoned 350cc MAC Velocette - now what to do? The logical thing was to turn it into a 250 - after all, the 350 MAC was a development of the 250 MOV so it shouldn't be too hard. On the grapevine there was a Velo expert by the name of Charlie Bruce, who could be contacted at Joe Potts' Garage, who could assist me in the conversion to 250cc.

Vian's Velo

After contacting Charlie off we went to Joe Potts' garage and who should we meet but Bob McIntyre - what a wonderful man! As well as meeting Charlie and getting the necessary spares, we were given a guided tour by Bob of the machine shop, build area and test beds - which were all in use because Joe Potts was the sponsor of Bob and Alistair King on those special Nortons of that era.

The machine shop had racks full of basic Norton cylinder heads and barrels castings for further machining to their requirements - in the build area there were some experimental frames (non featherbed) with large diameter top tubes that could be lifted with one finger.

Outside the test beds there were two 500 AJS Porcupine engines that were for a future project - I have never heard of them being used in any specials as Bob Mac lost his life at Oulton Park in 1962 - I still have a lump in my throat when I think of it.

Back to the Velo and 1958 - I put BSA forks on it with a 21-inch front wheel, and converted the rear from rigid to swinging arm. I was working in the sheet metal and welding shop at the time, which made things easier.

Everything worked out well and it was quite a potent motor, but in 1959 I had moved to RNAS Brawdy in Wales and was riding in the Wales Centre but unfortunately the Velo was not up to it - the gearbox couldn't stand up to the rigours of scrambling so it was sold.

Random Velocette bits on eBay.co.uk

I was left with an ex-works 500cc G80CS Matchless which I had acquired after selling the Goldie. What a machine! Much faster than any Gold Star of the same capacity but the handling was inferior. I raced this Matchless throughout Wales and often met up with the works riders when there wasn't a meeting in England… so I can safely say that I have raced against Jeff Smith and co, Dave and Mick Curtis and Vic Eastwood -- or more correctly I can say I have been 'in the same races'. The Matchless had to be warmed up on a soft plug such as NA12 and raced on Lodge FE250s and it was easily looped with too much throttle. I went to one meeting at Saundersfoot and the organisers were so surprised to see me as it had been reported that I had already met my maker - what wonderful memories!

I was later to marshal at Oulton Park in the late 1960s and 70s when the match races were held between Britain and the USA - fantastic racing, but the most dangerous was trying to slow the riders down in the sidecar races when there was an accident. They would not slow down even if you were on the track and hitting them on the head with the flag. One of the advantages of marshalling was that the marshals with bikes managed a few laps of the circuit - I had many laps on my Dommie 99, even to having one too many and getting tangled up with the start on one occasion… My best memory was going flat out down Knicker Brook. Another advantage was meeting all the top riders of that period such as Mike Hailwood, Derek Minter, Mooneyes Cooper, Percy Tait and co.

Vian's Velo, again

I do wonder what happened to that 250 Velo - perhaps if anyone remember it they could let RC know (email TP@RealClassic.co.uk) so I can catch up with it!


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