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Bike Review - Posted 12th Feburary 2010
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Velocette MSS 500

If you like the idea of a Velocette MAC but need a little more performance than a 350 provides, then Veloce built your ideal bike in the shape of the MSS 500...

Velocette is often seen as one of the 'high class' marques of classic bike; something of a cut above the ubiquitous parallel twin and far more refined than the average single-cylinder slogger. Yet that very reputation can discourage some riders, who feel a touch daunted by the idea of an overhead cam KSS or a 45 horsepower Thruxton. Those bikes don't come cheap, for a start, and their reputations suggest that they aren't entirely easy to live with.

Sports jackets rule... 'For learner and expert'

The 499cc MSS is a completely different kettle of cod. It's a pleasant and practical sporting single; the kind of bike your grandad bored you senseless with when you were riding an FS1E and he rambled on and on about Brit singles which fired every other lamp-post while doing 100mph and 100mpg. The later versions of this Velocette 500 have comfortable suspension and a broad spread of torque, making the MSS a relaxed ride over longer distances.

Patina rules... This 1954 Velocette MSS was sold by Andy Tiernan ( a little while ago, described as being 'a nice mellow bike'

The MSS initially arrived in the mid-1930s as the third in Veloce's range of OHV high-cam, short pushrod singles. They started with the 250cc MOV which was followed by the 350 MAC. The MSS was a natural progression, using the 96mm stroke from the 350 engine with an 81mm bigger bore to give a 495cc long-stroke motor. This engine was slotted into a heavyweight frame developed from the racing machines, with a rigid rear end and Webb-type girder forks. The result was something of a lumbering beast; elegant to look at and very long legged but not rapid in the acceleration stakes, and often found with a sidecar attached. These days, any pre-war Velo attracts a pretty price premium so you'd expect to pay £5500 or more for one

Fishtails rule... 1954 Velocette MSS

From 1948 Velocette turned their attention to building the LE and discontinued the MSS, but a re-worked 500 returned in 1954 with all the mods cons of the time. The light-alloy engine now used square dimensions of 86mm bore and stroke, and featured hairpin valve springs and a bonded-in iron cylinder liner. Its output of just 25bhp sounds modest, but the MSS made the most of Velocette's excellent sprung frame which Cyril Ayton once described as 'virtually faultless'. Velocette's own telescopic front forks provided superb steering with fully-adjustable rear suspension provided by Woodhead-Monroe springs. Many a rider on a 650 parallel twin was startled to find a 500 single keeping pace on A-roads, and on twisting B-roads the MSS would have the measure of Turner's flexi-frames of the 1950s and early 60s.

So Velo's MSS was an easy starting, tractable and good natured all-rounder which weighed in a 385lb, capable of cruising at 70mph with shorts bursts of speed up to a little over 80. The MSS looked smart, too, in gleaming black and gold, with its fishtail silencer and slightly stepped dual saddle. Although Velocette were never a mass manufacturer as such, the MSS stayed in production in this guise until 1971 so there is some choice if you're looking to buy one now.

Fishtails still rule... 1955 Velocette MSS

Venture Classics ( recently sold the 1955 example seen here. It had not been restored and was in standard condition, with just three owners from new and a history dating back to 1958. After many years in storage the MSS was recently professionally recommissioned with a rebuilt engine and gearbox, recon magneto, and so on.

OK, I'm bored with fishtails now... 1937 Velocette MSS

A 1937 MSS was sold by Bonhams auctioneers in 2009, and fetched £5233. This pre-war MSS was purchased by the vendor's father in 1965 in dilapidated condition, and was then partially restored. The vendor took over the work in the 1980s, rode the Velo for 5000 miles or so, then had the engine professionally rebuilt in the 1990s. The bike had then been ridden for another 8000 miles before going under the hammer, and was in standard trim with only an oil tap and Lucas horn being different to its original specification.

Fishtails; they're so 1937... 1955 Velocette MSS

A post-war version from 1955 was also sold by Bonhams recently. This one had an engine overhaul in 2001 and a new dynamo in 2003, and had covered less than 82,000 miles from new. It sold for £4140 at auction.

If you're thinking of buying any big single then you should always check that you can start it easily, both from cold and once it has warmed up. Any problems with an aging magneto will be compounded by the extra effort required to kick over a big single - the later, shorter stroke MSS can be easier to start than the original variety in any case.

Handsome. Who needs a Fishtail exhaust?... 1954 Velocette MSS engine
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Velocette's clutch mechanism is rather unusual, and it's worth making sure that it does not slip or drag if you're paying in the region of £5k for an MSS. We often forgive the quirks of an old bike and may overlook a little slip at higher revs, or drag at a standstill, but you probably don't want to spend your first month of ownership involved in understanding the intricacies of the MSS primary drive…

In the final analysis, an MSS will cost as much to buy now as an iconic 650 Triumph twin. Many owners feel that the Velocette is worth every penny: only you know if the idea of living with an exclusive big single actually appeals.

Velocette: Machines of exceptionally fine quality and finish...


There's a full road test of a Velocette MSS 500, plus feedback from its owner, in RealClassic magazine issue 62.

The Velocette Owners' Club:

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