Velocette (Veloce Ltd) 1904-71 UK
German born Johannes Gutgemann emigrated to England and the Midlands in 1876. Eight years later he married Elizabeth Ore. They had five surviving children, boys Eugene and Percy and girls Adele, Dora (who married Dick Hillman, who worked for the Veloce Ltd planning department) and Ethel (married George Denly) who later became Veloce Ltd company secretary.
Johannes went into business with Mr Barrett of pill makers Isaac Taylor & Co. Later, Johannes gained the business, changed his name to the more English sounding John Taylor (not legally) and tried his hand in the fledgling cycle industry, making cycles and fittings.
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Later he was in partnership with another cycle maker, William Gue (Taylor Gue, Hampton Works, Peel Street, Birmingham). Taylor Gue manufactured many cycle related products including Hampton cycles and were contracted to build frames for the Kelecom (Belgian) powered, English made, Ormonde motorcycle (Ormonde also fitted Antoine engines). Buoyed by the booming success of the cycle trade, Taylor Gue bought Kelecom Motors and its assets and later launched a 2hp motorcycle branded the Veloce, while also marketing remaining stocks of 3hp Ormonde machines. This project soon foundered.
During the same period Gutgemann went into business with cycle trade component maker and supplier Mr Williams, again using the name John Taylor. A new company, Veloce Ltd, with Williams’ backing, was formed. Later trading from Spring Street, Birmingham this company made many cycle fittings including chainwheels and set up a metal plating plant.
After working in India marketing Wolseley cars and sheep shearing equipment, Percy Gutgemann went into partnership in 1908 with brother Eugene – who served as an apprentice with cycle makers New Hudson – in a concern named New Veloce Motors, to build 20hp cars. Few cars were sold but the cycle parts business combined with the production of complete cycles and even roller skates kept Veloce Ltd afloat.
Next, Percy Gutgemann designed a 276cc inlet over side-exhaust valve two-speed unit construction motorcycle engine/gearbox, for installation in a lightweight rolling chassis. With its foot change gearshift and sump and car-style pump lubrication system the machine was an advanced concept – which many motorcyclists weren’t ready for.
It led to Veloce taking a long look at the most successful motorcycle to date, the Coventry built 499cc Triumph, before designing the next machine. With identical bore and stroke (85x88mm) to the Triumph, the Veloce Ltd built VMC (Veloce Motor Company) sold moderately well at 40 guineas (£42) each. Despite clear public resistance to the earlier unit construction design a small number of complete machines were built of which one or possibly two survive.
While this four-stroke motorcycle development work was under way, Percy Gutgemann noticed the increase in popularity and reliability of two-stroke lightweight motorcycles, including the super Levis models from nearby Stechford, Birmingham. Rather than slavishly copy the work of others, Veloce designed and developed its own ultra light 206cc machine with deflector piston and metered oiling under pressure from its integral sump. Cleverly, the system was pressured by the machine’s exhaust. It was offered in direct belt drive form as the Velocette (small Veloce) Model A at a launch price of 25 guineas (£26-25). For extra cost, 30 guineas, a chain drive two-speed model was available.
Significantly for the 1914 season Veloce adopted for the first time a black fuel tank lined in gold with a new distinctive Velocette logo, again in gold, for the two-speed model and later in the season a dropped frame ladies’ model was on offer.
Sales were promising and Veloce was rapidly earning a worthy reputation for quality built miniature motorcycles. Despite being relative newcomers to the motorcycle manufacturing business, Veloce Ltd glowingly promoted its Velocettes and reminded enthusiasts of the model’s many virtues during WWI, even after the manufacture of civilian motorcycles was suspended in the UK. Against this background and with much less publicity, the Gutgemann’s legally changed their status in the UK. In 1911 John Taylor (Johannes Gutgemann) became a naturalised British citizen and in 1917 all immediate family members changed their surname from Gutgemann to Goodman by deed poll. Veloce Ltd and the family were ready for business once the war ended.
As deadly shells were exchanged between opposing forces during WWI, Veloce Ltd dropped motorcycle manufacture in favour of munitions work. Design and development for ongoing and new projects including a V-twin, larger two-stroke singles, unit construction and another revisit of the Triumph-like side-valve single were abandoned for ever. War over, Veloce concentrated on reviving their motorcycle business with a two model two-stroke range, their tiny engines increased from 206cc to 220cc. With overhung crankshaft and metered oiling, the Goodman family knew they would be bought by discerning customers who wanted a top quality reliable lightweight. Models were the two-speed chain drive D1 and DL1 (ladies) Velocettes – the economy direct belt driver didn’t make it through the war. Veloce Ltd entered a programme of continuous lightweight development.
Improvements included work to lubrication, rolling chassis, fuel tank and gearchange. Soon frugal owners claimed 200mpg-plus while speed merchants boasted of topping 50mph and a tiny Velo secured a gold medal in the 1919 ACU Six Days Trial. Further lightweight development landmarks included the option of a three-speed gearbox in 1921. Over the next year a clutch and kick-starter were added, sports models joined the range and in 1923 the engines of all models were increased to 249cc.
In keeping with marketing trends of rivals, Veloce offered Colonial models and rather cruelly a lightweight sidecar. With Velocette a byword for two-stroke quality one can only wonder what possessed the ‘family’ to consider offering a belt final drive economy model with the pre-WWI oiling system.
Wearing a modest price tag of £38 it was a desperate ploy to attract extra buyers during the hard pressed times of the mid-Twenties, which resoundingly failed. But the Veloce board had taken its eye off the two-stroke ball to concentrate on something new and what was to become very special – the immortal ohc Model K.
Common knowledge tells us in Velocette parlance, K equals Kamshaft. Concepts for faster Veloce motorcycles had been occupying factory minds, especially Percy Goodman’s, for some years. Two-stroke development work, including poppet and disc valve control for metering fuel and larger capacities was visited, but the excellent performance of rival ohv and especially rare ohc singles for performance sport wasn’t lost on Percy.
Folklore informs Percy Goodman designed the new 348cc (74 x 81mm) ohc single cylinder engine on a drawing board set up in his young son Bertram’s (Bertie) bedroom. The new engine, with its ultra narrow crankshaft and bearings, gave a strong bottom end, which due to minimal flex happily holds high revs for long periods – a feature of all four-stroke Velocettes which followed through to the end of production. Designed to mount in an existing Velocette two-stroke rolling chassis, the new light model was unveiled at the autumn 1924 Olympia Show.
Two models ridden by George Povey and Gus Kuhn started the 1925 IoM Junior TT, but not only were they well off the winning pace of Walter Handley’s Rex-Acme but both suffered mechanical failure due, history states, to poor rocker castings. However, oiling must have been an issue as Goodman revised this using a submerged internal pump for a recirculating system pumping 10 gallons (45 litres) per hour.
Despite minor hiccups the basic design was superb and with further detail development proved a good-un but with a total of only 141 ohc (K and KSS) machines built in 1925 and sold as Veloce (Velocette was the factory accepted name for the two-strokes only) there was clearly public resistance to the new model. In fact Veloce needed a boost as overall production had slumped to just over 700 units, a drop of almost 400 in a year.
Although having an advanced, fast product, their marketing needed help. In part help came a year later in the form of IoM Senior winner Alec Bennett heading a team of three comprising himself, George Povey and Gus Kuhn. Bennett set fastest lap and won by over 10 minutes from Jimmy Simpson (AJS) and Handley’s Rex-Acme, both proven fast men. Better still, all three Velos finished with Kuhn fifth and Povey ninth.
However, Veloce remained off the pace for the enthusiast in the street and it took their agents to set them right. Despite the TT entries being recorded by the weeklies as Velocettes, those supplied to the dealers were branded Veloce. Suitably educated by the agents, all Veloce motorcycles from then on regardless of a presence or absence of valves, had Velocette in gold script on the tank. Now instead of the job being a good-un it was job done. Production of the kamshaft models rose to 431 (K, KS, KSS and KT) for 1926 from a total production of just over 1050. Suitably confident, Veloce planned their move to York Road, Hall Green, Birmingham.
Kammy production increased again for 1927 but two-strokes, which had become dated, were dropped and replaced after an interval with the saddle tank model 249cc U for 1928. A season later the U sired the Super Sports USS and Velocette added an over the counter racer (KTT), a machine like the factory boys raced…well, almost! Against this background, racer and development engineer Harold Willis had joined the Hall Green works c1927 and developed the world’s first positive stop gearbox, which he tried in anger on his 1928 IoM TT Junior mount. He finished second behind winner Alec Bennett, who scored Velocette’s second IoM win.
Another year, another model; the twin port saddle tank coil ignition two-stroke GTP launched for the 1930 season. Almost 8000 were built up to WWII and in 1946, when almost 250 were completed. Not every Veloce concept was a winner. An overbored 407cc version of the KTT racer was developed for speedway, though just 22 were sold.
Velocette, in common with rivals, battled for sales as the vintage era closed. Over 3300 machines were built in 1930, dropping to under 1400 the following year. Again, like many the products were good – but the market place wasn’t. Hall Green knew it needed another model range, between the GTP and the Kammy machines. In fact, Veloce were to revisit past dreams for a simple rugged motorcycle for Mr/s Everyman.
The story behind the M-series high camshaft pushrod singles is lengthy but in essence Australian design engineer Phil Irving designed a 350cc side-valve single which was installed in a light sturdy frame to take advantage of then current motorcycle taxation legislation. By late 1931 a prototype had been built which ticked many of the boxes – but it was too gutless for the Goodmans. Development continued but eventually the model coded the Model M (M 350cc side-valve) was abandoned, although some of Irving's ideas were adopted.
During 1932, engineering apprentice Charles Udall continued with the project to draw a new engine for Mr Everyman’s motorcycle – though no doubt he had input from Eugene Goodman (works director), Percy Goodman, Harold Willis and others, as well as his own following studies of car and rival motorcycle engines. The result of his labours was the 248cc (68 x 68.25mm) MOV (M Overhead Valves) engine, which was installed in the earlier M rolling chassis. The first production models left Hall Green in late May 1933 and, war years apart, continued in production until 1948, by which time over 4500 had been built.
Late in the 1933 season, Veloce created the 349cc MAC by lengthening the MOV's engine stroke to 96mm. A favourite with many, the MAC was built with a rigid frame until 1952 and redesigned with a spring frame for 1953 until 1960. Two years after the launch of the MOV/MAC models, Hall Green unveiled its first series production 500, the 495cc MSS, again with the high camshaft engine and frame design derived from the racing ohc models. It was to prove popular with fast road riders and sidecar fans. The rigid MSS remained in production until 1948 and reappeared with spring frame in 1954, continuing until almost the end of Velocette production. Although the high camshaft M range was intended as a roadster they were prepared – often by clubmen – for off-road and road racing roles.
Although Hall Green was busy during the Thirties developing the high camshaft models, the K range was steadily updated alongside, which with its familiar iron barrel/head engine remained in production until 1935. Year-on-year model ranges variously included the KE – Economy, KES – Economy Sports, KN – Normal, KNS – Normal Sports, KS – Sports, KSS – Super Sports, KTP – Touring, KTS – Touring KSS and KTT – racing. Production models gained a four-speed gearbox in late 1932, initially with the option of hand change or the Willis design four-speed positive stop gear change.
While the ohc roadster range proved popular, Veloce designed a new alloy cylinder and cylinder head with nclosed valve gear to create the KSS MkII engine. Installed in a MSS rolling chassis, it became the KTS with valanced mudguards and 19in wheels, which was unveiled at the 1935 London Show.
In February 1936 came the KSS MkII with 21in front, 20in rear wheels and blade type mudguards. Both KTS and KSS used engines with the prefix KSS and remained in production until 1940. After WWII, the ‘kammy’ models were manufactured in 1946 as the KSS (including 8 KTS) and another 1250 KSS in 1947, the kammy roadster’s final year.
Velocette racing successes of the Twenties included Bennett’s 1928 and Freddie Hicks' 1929 wins – Hicks’ was his only win. Over the next 20-plus years both nationally and internationally Velocettes (private, dealer entries and works models) enjoyed countless racing victories in 350 and at times 500cc capacities. Highlights included Irishman Stanley Woods’ second in the 1936 IoM Senior TT to split the works Nortons of Jimmy Guthrie and Freddie Frith, plus Woods’ wins in 1938/39 IoMJunior TTs (Ted Mellors, Velocette, was second in 1938).
Post-WWII, Velocette 350s scored more IoM TT wins with Bob Foster 1947 (on a re-worked pre-war model) and Freddie Frith in 1948 and 1949. Internationally, Velocette’s record on the Continental circus was superb and they shone at Brooklands, Donington Park, Crystal Palace…
However, perhaps the firm’s finest hours were in the 350cc 1949 and 1950 Grand Prix Motorcycle Championships of the World. In 1949, former Lincolnshire stonemason Freddie Frith was unbeatable with five wins from five starts to take the first world championship, with Bob Foster on another Velo runner-up. A year later Foster was crowned 1950 World Champion. Top drawer performances, from a top drawer maker.
For over two decades Veloce Ltd built over the counter production KTT racers, which at times weren’t far removed from the works machines. With these tough little 350s countless clubmen as well as national and international stars scooped many, many wins and top places, in events ranging from sprints and hill climbs to long distance races like the IoM TT.
The models were updated year on year, often with experience gained from developing the works models. The development, design and successes of the KTT would easily fill a large book. Instead, detailed are just a few landmarks, omitting many interesting models including the 1930 ‘long stroke’ 68 x 96mm KTT and the so called MkIII which officially never existed, but had many detail engine differences from the MkI which it is officially recognised as.
Veloce Ltd launched the ohc 348cc (74 x 81mm) three-speed KTT for the 1929 season. Known as the MkI it was in production until 1931, with a few late examples leaving Hall Green with four-speed gearboxes. The MkIV with four-speed gearbox ran 1932-34 followed by the MkV 1935-36. The KTT gained alloy head/barrel in 1936 to give the MkVII, which was in production until 1939 – works models usually had a spring frame, but the frame was rigid for production models. The final version, the MkVIII, with swinging arm rear suspension, appeared during 1939 and after WWII ran 1946-50 with a couple of machines finished in 1951 and the last one the following year.
With the outbreak of WWII, it looked as though Velocette would build no motorcycles during the war. Although able to undertake other engineering work for the allied effort, there wasn’t the capacity to build motorcycles in the huge quantities demanded by the British MoD. Previously the Ministry of Supply had evaluated the MSS and MAC, rejecting the 500cc MSS as too powerful for their DRs.
In 1940 the French Government placed an order for a military version of the MAC. Modifications included a steel sheet under-crankcase bash plate, lower compression ratio and first gear, plus detail changes. Before they were delivered, France was invaded by Germany. Known variously as the MAC (WD) or MDD due to its engine/frame number prefix, 1200 models (MDD 11001-12200) were subsequently delivered to the British Military and another 200 may have been supplied.
Further development led to an order of another 2000 machines by the British Military. These were coded MAF and developed from the MDD/MAC. Production was slow and the contract terminated by the military after 947 had been supplied by September 1942, coded MAF1001-1948. Numbers are quoted as civilian MACs have in the Eighties/Nineties been converted to military trim and passed off as the genuine article.
After WWII Veloce listed four models – MOV, MAC, MSS and KSS. By late 1948 only the MAC survived and Velocette followed its dream of building a motorcycle for Mr Everyman by launching a new model. The factory hoped the LE would be a runaway success and once the order books were full, the MAC could be dropped too.
Launched in October 1948 to a startled audience, the LE (Little Engine) – largely designed by Charles Udall and developed into production by Eugene Goodman – had a water-cooled shaft drive three-speed hand-start 149cc side-valve transverse flat twin engine installed in a pressed steel chassis with full suspension. Standard trim included foot boards, legshields, glove box, panniers and readily adjustable rear suspension – in effect a motorcycle aimed at hitherto non-motorcyclists.
Unfortunately, Joe Public is fickle and sales were slower than hoped. However, the LE was later to attract the attentions of service users, most notably the police.
Although the 149cc LE wasn’t the sales success envisaged/hoped for by the Goodman family, it did sell modestly well. But it had one major problem – it lacked power. This led to the 192cc LE MkII, unveiled in November 1950. This model with modifications to the 149’s gear ratios and other details, remained in production in three-speed form until 1958. All water-cooled 192cc Velocette flat twin engines had one Achilles heel – an appetite (albeit modest) for cylinder head gaskets as the size increase was reached by over-boring the 149cc model from 44 to 50mm, therefore reducing cylinder/head mating surfaces. All experienced LE riders carry cylinder head gaskets and a bottle of water as changes can be performed quickly at the roadside.
Velocette dropped the remaining pre-WWII design, the rigid 350cc MAC, in late 1952 for a swinging arm version with essentially the same engine unveiled at the 1952 London Show. A few examples of the rigid version were supplied to the American market until 1954 and the swinging arm MAC remained until 1960. A year later came true joy for Velocette fans with the launch of the 499cc MSS, with swinging arm suspension and all square engine dimensions 86x86mm. With updates, it remained listed until the factory closed in February 1971.
From planning a one model range, Velocette suddenly got the bit between their teeth in the Fifties, leading to much development work and a succession of models: 500 (499cc) Scrambler based on the MSS engine 1954-69 (UK to 1963), 499cc Venom Endurance 1955-69 (UK to 1963), 350 (349, 72 x 86mm) Scrambler 1956-69 (special order only from 1965). Also in 1956 came the air-cooled ohv transverse flat-twin Valiant, which used a tubular frame. The 70mph twin stayed until 1963 with a Veeline version running 1958-60.
In 1956 came another all-time favourite, the Venom, which although quick in standard trim was prepared by many for racing or fast road use. Thanks to the engine design, Venoms were tough motorcycles, able to withstand high speed work year in, year out.
The downside was that the higher the state of tune, the more difficult the kick-starting technique became (not helped by kick-start gearing), but once the art is mastered Venoms are a joy for big single fans. Later modifications included glass fibre engine cover in 1958, Veeline (upright fairing) option in 1960 and larger tank in 1962. The Venom and Venom Veeline remained in production until factory closure.
Another landmark model, the 349cc Viper, was also unveiled in 1956, looking much like the Venom with smaller cylinder bore but the same stroke as the 499 model. It should be noted that the Viper has differing engine dimensions to the MAC. Again a glass fibre engine cover was introduced later and then the Veeline option as per the Venom. Viper production ended in 1969.
In December 1957 the LE, although selling steadily, was given a thorough update. Coded the LE MkIII it gained a four-speed gearbox, kick-starter and 60mph top speed. Later updates included 12v electrics in 1966 and the model remained in production until 1971. Although used by many authorities it became best known as the local bobby’s transport gaining the affectionate name Noddy Bike.
Veloce launched further hot machines in September 1959 – the 90mph-plus Viper Clubman and 105mph-plus Venom Clubman. Both had close ratio gearboxes, high compression engines and rear-set footrests. Veeline versions were on offer a year later and the models continued until 1966. Their racing potential wasn’t lost on many and in 1961 a near-standard Venom Clubman became the first motorcycle to exceed 100mph for 24 hours. The task was performed at Montlhery, France, with the riding team including Bertie Goodman, journalist Bruce Main-Smith and legendary father and son record breakers Georges and Pierre Monneret. With further updates the Clubman models became the MkII in 1966, continuing until 1969.
Breaking away from their proven markets Veloce launched the 248cc Viceroy scooter in December 1960. Hoping to steal some of the Italian’s share of the scooter market, the Viceroy – powered by a transverse horizontal flat twin two-stroke with electric start – was arguably too good in some respects, especially handling, for many fashion conscious scooter riders.
The result was a larger than average machine, on bigger than usual 12in wheels, which was faster than the competition and could out corner almost every scooter on the market (except perhaps the German Maicoletta). Unfortunately, the market didn’t want its game lifted and manufacture ended in 1963. A few Viceroy engines found their way into small hovercraft.
From 1962-69, Veloce built in small quantity ‘cut price’ Venoms and Vipers branded Venom Special and Viper Special. Finished in light blue, they had minimal chrome plating. In February 1963 came another unusual model, the Vogue, which was in effect a LE MkIII engine/gearbox unit mounted in a tubular frame clad in Mitchenalldesigned glass fibre bodywork and panniers. With twin headlights, a screen, indicators and much more, it was a sophisticated model, which later gained 12v electrics. Manufacture ended in 1968 after less than 500 had been built, making them sought-after pricey collectors' items today for LE fans.
By the mid-Sixties, the days of the big sporting road-going single were almost over – even BSA had already dropped its Clubman Gold Star. That made the timing of the launch in December 1964 of the sporting Velocette Thruxton seemingly bizarre.
Some dealers – including notably L Stevens – were doing their bit with advice and bolt-on goodies to update the big single Velo range. Reg Orpin (for dealers L Stevens) created what he considered the ultimate road burning and production racing big single should look like. Based on the Clubman Venom it had even closer ratio gears, 13⁄8in Amal GP carburettor and much development. Velocette were shown the machine and with further work put it into limited production as the Thruxton – engines were prefixed VMT.
The Thruxton was to give Velocette one last TT victory when Neil Kelly (standing in for factory nominated rider Dennis Craine) won the 1967 IoM 500cc class Production race. After an appalling start – the machine would not fire – Kelly hustled his single round the Island at amazing speeds, clocking 119.2mph at the Highlander speed trap and a race average of 89.89mph, faster than all but two of the 750s (ridden by John Hartle and Paul Smart). Likeable northern race star Keith Heckles was second on a Geoff Dodkin prepared model, less than a minute behind Kelly.
The final Velocette update was thanks to an Italian/American co-operation. American Floyd Clymer bought c100 Thruxton engines and gearboxes, for building into motorcycles by Italjet. Unfortunately, Clymer died with the project still ongoing and respected London dealer Geoff Dodkin was involved to see the last models through to completion and sell remaining stock.
This dash through the Velocette marque illustrates what diverse and enterprising designers worked at Veloce. There were many models worthy of research which never made the production stage, including 1928 Spring Heel Jack, pre-WWII spring frame MSS, the Roarer supercharged sohc 496cc vertical twin, 580cc ohv vertical twin Model O, planned dohc transverse four-cylinder racer, c1961 250cc ohc roadster, 225cc LE engine and more. Additionally, the factory ran many superb works race models including the so-called Dog Kennel models (1933/34) and dohc racers, which were a development of the Dog Kennel models.