Not generally noted for off- road sport, Velocette nevertheless had their dalliances in the dirt.
A visit to our archive turned up this superb Velocette-based scrambler… okay, so it wasn’t what the editor went in for… but hey…
The way of the magazine world is fascinating in many respects, especially where an archive is involved. Here at Mortons the archive is probably the company’s most valuable resource and also its most enticing department. You see, going in to search for pictures involves looking through boxes of images and magazines too. That’s when things innocently change the course of a search. Take this Velocette-based scrambler for instance – there I was, looking through boxes for, of all things, a Panther sidecar outfit when the photo of the young lad checking his rear brake fell from the folder. Clearly working on a scrambler and a pretty neat looking one too, interest was piqued. The information on the rear of the image showed it entered the Motorcycle editorial offices in September 1964, and hauling out the back issues revealed the picture was one of five used in a feature on the bike.
First of all, the young lad – Mike Winwood – was making a bit of a name for himself in the West Midlands, with several wins, seconds and thirds in the two months since the bike was ready to race. The pictures accompanying the article showed what a neat motorcycle this actually was and while labelled a ‘special’ there are different levels of special. This proved to be very special indeed.
The writer of the original feature interviewed Mike and his dad Ray, who did the bulk of the work on the machine, to find out more about the bike’s background. First question was ‘why a Velo?’ Ray admitted to having a soft spot for the marque but allowed the availability of spares and the reliability of the motor to be deciding factors. The 500cc Venom engine was in standard road trim and produced the right sort of power from zero revs right the way up the range.
Most special builders for scrambling or MX at the time were using a BSA frame of some description, be it a Gold Star or an A7/10 version and the Winwoods said they had been influenced by BSA for their frame but had made it entirely themselves.
When initial plans to slot a 500cc motor into a C15 frame were scuppered because there wasn’t room for a separate engine/ gearbox set-up, the Winwoods simply used the dimensions such as head angles and tube bends to make their own frame from Reynolds 531 which would hold the engine and gearbox in a cradle made from 12 gauge one inch diameter tube. While they were at it they took influence from a certain Ariel trials bike and made the three-inch diameter seat
tube hold the engine oil too and lighter 16 gauge but still one-inch diameter tube made the rear sub frame.
Unwilling to use a Velo clutch for scrambling, the pair settled on an AMC Burman type gearbox with its tough clutch. The primary drive was housed in Royal Enfield chaincases and needed a little alternative thinking to line everything up. Doing away with the standard engine shaft shock absorber, Winwood senior made a bearing carrier to house an extra bearing and spigotted it to the crankcase and then used a Villiers engine sprocket on the original shaft. The reasoning was the Burman clutch had shock absorbing rubbers inside it so should take the stresses out of the drive train. Mounting the engine and gearbox was done using 3⁄8in alloy engine plates with the advantages of being stiff and light.
Carrying the wheels at either end is handled by a BSA swinging arm and modified BSA forks. The rear is reasonably conventional with the swinging arm mounted as normal and the popular Beezer qd type hub with a scrambles size rim laced on.
However up front things get a little more interesting. On the face of it the forks are standard telescopics but on closer inspection there’s a gas-filled Girling damper fixed to the fork yokes and the damper rod is worked by a brace on the mudguard. Why the complication? Ray explained in the cut and thrust of a scramble the oil can overheat in standard forks and all damping is lost. So, the forks hold only enough oil to lube the bushes and the damping is by the Girling unit which originated from a car. The gas keeps its cool all through a scramble and works as well at the finish as it did at the start.
Another feature not often seen on a scrambler is a roadrace style steering damper tying the forks in to the frame. The reasoning here being fast downhill sections on uneven ground could cause the steering to twitch which slows a rider or worse degenerate into a massive tank-slapper and the rider could come off, the steering damper just prevents that and makes for a less tiring ride too as Mike said in the article.
Clearly a lot of thought had gone into this motorcycle with the fabricated parts looking very well done. The air filter is covered by a light alloy sheet, accessed from under the small scrambles seat which also covers the oil filler cap. A two gallon alloy petrol tank is both small, neat and big enough for racing while a 500T Norton front wheel is lightish and powerful enough to haul up the machine which only tipped the scales at 285lb and had a reasonably short wheelbase of 54in. So, the bike not only looked good but worked well too? Well, almost, Ray is quoted as saying the standard Burman/amc clutch shock absorber isn’t quite man enough for the job and maybe an extra absorber in the rear hub might be needed to avoid gearbox problems. The big question is: are the Winwoods still around – and does the bike still exist? We’d love to hear from anyone who knows. )
Clearly a lot of care was involved with this build and even the parts from several makers fit together nicely.
Note the substantial engine plates, and the well formed alloy sheet making up the side panels. Mike Winwood, are you still out there?