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Bike Review - Posted Posted 26th April 2013
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Velocette Sports Singles

It's a century since Veloce built the first Velocette, and the firm's sporting singles are still some of the most desirable classic bikes on the planet...

Although the firm had been winning races with high-performance single-cylinder machines for decades, the postwar customer roadburners didn't really arrive until the latter part of the 1950s in the shape of the 500cc Venom and the 350cc Viper. Before these feisty beasts appeared the Velocette was considered an accomplished, high quality touring machine which suited the sporting rider. Then in 1961 a Venom took the 24-hour 500cc world record at over 100mph (and it's never been beaten). The sophisticated sporting single had definitely arrived…

Pure lines... 1968 Velocette Venom Thruxton

…but it wasn't cheap back then, and if you so much as sniff a sporting Velo today you'll be staring at a five-figure price tag. The Venom, Clubmans and Thruxton versions of the 499cc engine can be provoked into producing 40bhp and more, from wildly varying specifications tailored over the decades to each owner's aspirations. These usually include high comp piston, monster Amal TT or GP carb (with accompanying cut-away in the petrol tank), close-ratio gearbox with mountainous first gear, 2ls front brake, TT magneto, alloy wheels, twin clocks, raucous exhaust, two-way damped forks, and the inevitable cramped racing crouch from clip-ons and rearsets. Good luck with finding a 'standard' one.

Dirty, rusty, magnificent... Velocette Venom Thruxton Cockpit

Thruxtons in particular look magnificent and - if you can cope with the single-purpose nature of the beast - more than live up to expectations at full tilt. A 36bhp Venom will top the ton and hit 30mph before you've fully engaged the clutch. The 45bhp Thruxton with its 10:1 compression piston, hairpin valve springs, gas-flowed head, big valves, downdraft intake and Dunlop alloy wheels was still winning TTs in 1967 and stayed in production until 1970.

Also available in black. The one true colour for motorcycles... Dove Gray 1958 Velocette Venom

There's plenty of expertise available from the trade and owner's club, but be certain to investigate each machine's provenance carefully. Velocette built around 1100 Thruxtons all told, but many enthusiasts have since created their own… Oh, and don't imagine that every Velocette was necessarily black - early Venoms, as seen here, were finished in Dove Grey.

Looking quite gentlemanly... Velocette Viper press bike

The 349cc Viper was never as popular as its bigger siblings even though it stayed in production for nearly 15 years, and benefitted from the same robust bottom end as the 500 which made it near-as-dammit unburstable. The 26bhp Viper is normally considered to be smoother than its stablemates, pretty quick off the mark thanks to its close-ratio gearbox, and capable of reaching 90mph or returning 85mpg. When tested new, the reporter commented on 'the exceptional flexibility and smoothness of the engine - it seems almost incredible that so much docile punch should be the product of no more than one cylinder and an 8.5:1 compression ratio.'

This Velocette Viper sold for 5750GBP recently... 1961 Velocette Viper

The later Vipers benefited from a BTH racing magneto, raised compression and TT carb - really rare ones still have their full fairing and can claim to be Viper Clubman Veelines, although these are seldom seen. The original press test Viper from 1956 came up for sale in 2013 and was valued at around £10,000. Less remarkable examples are rather more affordable: a roadgoing older restoration fetched £5750 in 2012.

Thruxton carb. It sucks...
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Few pushrod singles cram so much 'go' into such an accomplished package as the Velocettes. Gold Stars offer similar thrills but the super-sports Velos are rather more refined and not quite so highly-priced as the BSA. A cheap Venom costs £7k, in Clubmans trim you're looking at £10,000 and prices for Thruxtons depend entirely on their history and specification. A Clubman 500 was sold by Bonhams in France for €9200 in early 2013.

OHC Velo reclines on its sidestand... Overhead Cam Velocette

If your tastes turn to something even more exotic (by which we mean complicated), then you might want to consider the postwar OHC machines. Velo only built the KSS and its touring counterpart, the KTS, for a couple of years after WW2 but marque enthusiasts have been creating carefully crafted specials since the 1950s, slotting the OHC engine into later cycle parts. The marriage of a cammy Velo motor with the firm's swinging arm chassis is an entirely sophisticated affair, providing oodles of smooth surge and rather less mechanical racket than the Norton. Prices and performance are on a par with the Venom.

Clubmans Velocette Venom...

Words: Rowena Hoseason Photos: / RC RChive


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