Eldee Ve­lo­cette

A me­chan­i­cal marvel

Classic Racer - - WHAT'S INSIDE - Words and pho­tographs Chris Swal­low

Ea­gle-eyed ob­servers vis­it­ing the Honda mu­seum in Motegi, Ja­pan, will notice soon after pay­ing their yen there is a rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cle de­void of the fa­mil­iar winged Honda vec­tor. The em­blem is dis­tinctly Ital­ian and proudly in­forms that you are ogling over an ‘FB MÒNDIAL’: made 1957, Mi­lan, by the Counts Boselli (‘FB’ be­ing Fratelli Boselli or Boselli Broth­ers) and their firm Mon­dial.

The ma­chine in ques­tion is a gear driven dou­ble over­head cam (DOHC) 125cc sin­gle cylin­der Grand Prix mo­tor­cy­cle, bought by one Soichiro Honda, di­rect from Count Boselli shortly after it won the 1957 world ti­tle. 1957 was the year the Ital­ians (with the ex­cep­tion of MV Agusta) all pulled out of Grand Prix rac­ing due to cost. Prior to this they had been lead­ing ex­po­nents of high revs, high per­for­mance and high re­li­a­bil­ity – char­ac­ter­is­tics clearly en­dear­ing to Mr Honda and his fledg­ling mo­tor com­pany. In 1958 Soichiro Honda vis­ited the Isle of Man TT for the first time, then re­turned in 1959 with five rid­ers and his first bikes: 125cc gear driven DOHC twins. They won the team prize, with a best re­sult of sixth, came back in 1960 for a best re­sult of fourth, then scored a dou­ble vic­tory in 1961 be­fore pro­ceed­ing to re­write the his­tory books as to which man­u­fac­turer should win the most mo­tor­cy­cle races (and see­ing off the an­ti­quated Bri­tish bike in­dus­try in the process….). But back in 1953, way be­fore 1957 and Mr Honda strip­ping his DOHC Mon­dial into its con­stituent com­po­nents, a tal­ented 32-yearold Ve­lo­cette-en­thused South Aus­tralian had long been aware that a series of gears driv­ing two camshafts was the way to go – and he had just fin­ished his first ex­am­ple of such. His name was Les Diener, and he gave his ini­tials, LD, to his cre­ation: the Eldee. Les Diener be­came hooked on bikes at the age of 13 when he and life­long friend Keith Hamil­ton would pool their pocket money to ride (and fall off) an old sin­gle-geared, belt drive Le­vis two-stroke. A year later Les came by an old V-twin, side valve JAP en­gine which was the ba­sis for his first bitsa and of­fered am­ple op­por­tu­nity for the hon­ing and de­vel­op­ment of his clear en­gi­neer­ing tal­ent. The next step for­ward was a 350cc OHV New Im­pe­rial Jap, then a trade-in for a 1936 Dou­glas, fol­lowed by the ac­qui­si­tion of a quite spe­cial over­head camshaft (OHC) 500cc CS1 Wal­ter Moore Nor­ton at the age of 17. When a 350cc OHC KCR Ve­lo­cette, brought out from Eng­land by Rex Til­brook, came up for grabs, the Wal­ter Moore had to make way and a life­long pas­sion for the mar­que was born. Les be­gan rac­ing with the Atu­jara MCC in 1938, pre­dom­i­nantly in scram­bles and beach rac­ing and showed a cer­tain speed and deft­ness from the off. The KCR Ve­lo­cette was sold in 1939 and re­placed by a 1934 model 250cc MOV Ve­lo­cette which be­came his main in­ter­est for the next 15 or so years as a racer and as a tuner. De­spite many wins and South Aus­tralian cham­pi­onships, Les re­alised he could ex­tract no more power from the MOV’S pushrod con­fig­u­ra­tion and so gave some se­ri­ous thought at the end of the 1952 rac­ing sea­son to con­vert his beloved MOV into a dou­ble over­head camshaft racer: thus Eldee 1 was born in 1953. In­spired no doubt by the Ital­ians, fel­low Aus­tralian Sid Wil­lis grafted a DOHC fac­tory Ve­lo­cette head onto his 250cc Ve­lo­cette racer and proved very dif­fi­cult to beat in the late 1940s and early 50s, tak­ing his bike to a fine fifth in the 1953 250cc Lightweight IOM TT. Fol­low­ing in these foot­steps, Les and fel­low com­peti­tor at the time Ted Carey both got busy on their own con­ver­sions, in Les’ words, “work­ing and rac­ing to­gether on sep­a­rate projects,” (in­ci­den­tally Ted pro­vided the pis­ton and head for Eldee). Eldee 1 ma­tured into ‘the bike to beat’ and was a tes­ta­ment to Les’ in­ge­nu­ity and en­gi­neer­ing ca­pac­ity, clock­ing up a mul­ti­tude of wins and plac­ings and fa­mously see­ing off the works 250cc Moto Guzzi of Fer­gus An­der­son when he came out for a visit. The en­gine re­tains the stan­dard MOV bore and stroke of 68mm x 68.5mm and the dou­ble over­head cams (camshafts made from 60 ton steel, cams from oil hard­ened 12% chrome steel) are driven by a series of nine Ve­lo­cette tim­ing gears, with the in­ner tim­ing case be­ing welded to the crank­case. Oil reached the cam faces via a .030 inch jet and drained through the dis­tinc­tive ‘Y’ pipe to the sump. Valve tim­ing vari­a­tion of three de­grees is catered for by vernier ad­just­ments on the fi­nal gear wheels (more on this later….), a two-piece crankpin dis­sects a Symco rod and is hugged by Les’ turned mild steel fly­wheels. Ex­haust valve was sodium filled and the in­let chrome-moly, both run­ning in bronze guides and brought back to seat by 140 pound springs. Valve to pis­ton clear­ance was min­i­mal at just six thou’, and tap­pets were set at eight thou’ in­let and fif­teen thou’ ex­haust with Les prac­tis­ing and rac­ing with­out check­ing mat­ters as he was con­fi­dent that “with the dou­ble-knocker en­gine, they were guar­an­teed to stay put.” The pis­ton (made by Ted Carey) is a slip­per type run­ning a “mod­er­ate hemi­sphere up top and a com­pres­sion ra­tio of about 10 or 11:1,” (on methanol). Les had prob­lems ini­tially with the al­loy cylin­der he made to cou­ple with a cast iron liner. He found he was los­ing com­pres­sion un­der load as the mo­tor got hot. He worked out that the iron liner had no flange to sit on top of the al­loy cylin­der and due to the cylin­der head joint be­ing partly on alu­minium and partly on iron, as the vari­able ex­pan­sions oc­curred, com­pres­sion pres­sure was be­ing lost down be­tween the two met­als un­til the en­gine cooled again. He re­lated this back to Ve­loce Ltd in the UK who promptly sent him a patented Alfin bar­rel with a bonded-in liner – end of prob­lem. The chas­sis was in Les’ words: “the best

of two worlds” be­ing a home-made frame with a front end di­men­sion­ally sim­i­lar to Mc­can­d­less’ Featherbed and the rear end sim­i­lar to that of the 7R AJS. With a sin­gle top tube favoured in­stead of the Featherbed’s twin rails, Les hand beat a 4-gal­lon tank into what I con­sider a lovely, svelte and ta­pered shape al­low­ing the jockey to get him­self ‘tucked right away’. Forks were from a BSA C10 but short­ened by four inches to keep the whole head as­sem­bly low and then fit­ted with Les’ own de­sign of damp­ing rods. The gear­box was four-speed with orig­i­nal Ve­lo­cette ra­tios as stan­dard, though Les had al­ter­nates that could be changed de­pend­ing on the cir­cuit. At Mil­dura, in 1956, Eldee 1 was re­splen­dent in a full dustbin fair­ing. Although Moto Guzzi knew not at the time, Bill Lo­mas was ‘per­suaded’ to loan the works Guzzi to Mel­bourne boys Bob Edmunds and Char­lie Rice who plas­tered around the wind tun­nel tested fab­ri­ca­tion be­fore mak­ing a glass fi­bre copy from the en­su­ing plug. In this guise, Les clocked a very ad­mirable 116mph (186.6kph) at 9,000rpm down the mile-and-a-half long straight. He also records how “stream­lin­ing was all very new to me,” and how “when I put on the big­gest front sprocket I could find (a 21T up from his usual 19T, over­all gear ra­tio of 5.1:1), I didn’t re­alise at all how fast I was go­ing,” un­til he left his brak­ing far too late at the end of the straight and “up the es­cape road I went!” A clean break from rac­ing was taken after a ma­jor crash in 1957 at Port Wake­field when a gear­box seized while ly­ing sec­ond in the 500cc race on a 350cc Manx Nor­ton. Dis­il­lu­sioned, Les loaned the Eldee to Ken Rum­ble who raced with some suc­cess un­til 1961 be­fore it was sold to ful­fil other ven­tures. It only took 26 years for the rac­ing bug to


bore back into Les’ psy­che and he picked up where he left off with the Atu­jara MCC in 1983 on an ex-tom Med­low 1939 Ve­lo­cette MOV rigid racer, win­ning most races he en­tered in the post­war class. How­ever, it was 1987 and an in­vite to be guest rider aboard a newly re­stored Eldee 1 at the New Zealand Clas­sic Rac­ing Reg­is­ter’s fes­ti­val meet­ing that links most to this story and the sub­se­quent con­struc­tion of a replica: Eldee 2. Les ad­mits to hav­ing “oft thought of build­ing a replica of his beloved Eldee racer,” and it seems the stars aligned to foster req­ui­site mo­ti­va­tion as was re­quired for such a project at Pukekohe, Auck­land, 1987. Ve­lo­cette en­thu­si­ast Peter But­ter­worth had ac­quired a Ted Carey head (as used on Eldee 1) from Aus­tralian Den­nis Quin­lan. Hav­ing no im­me­di­ate use for it, Peter passed it on to David Rogers, who showed it to Les at the fes­ti­val who im­me­di­ately recog­nised it as be­ing iden­ti­cal to the head in use on Eldee 1. Les, still per­haps a tad un­sure about com­mit­ting to the project, didn’t ac­quire the head there and then, lead­ing David to ring Peter that night to en­quire whether the pro­posed new des­tiny was a good di­rec­tion. The next morn­ing, when Les left his digs, there was the head, on the doorstep ready for hand lug­gage back to South Aus­tralia, and so the Eldee 2 project was born. Twenty-four years later, that head ar­rived back to New Zealand but this time full of life as a com­po­nent part of Les’ fan­tas­tic replica of his orig­i­nal ma­chine. I am proud to say that I am in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with Eldee 2 hav­ing be­ing trusted as jockey on such a re­mark­able rac­ing mo­tor­cy­cle by owner Phil Price. With Nick Thom­son on the span­ners and in the work­shop, I feel we’ve done a good job of hold­ing true to Les’ ob­jec­tive of get­ting to that che­quered flag first. But more of that later… Orig­i­nal pat­terns for the cam box and tim­ing cover cast­ings were in the hands of Ade­laide en­thu­si­ast Peter Wester­man who prof­fered them for use for the replica, or Eldee 2, at the start of 1987. The tim­ing side crank­case is stan­dard MOV with ob­vi­ous mod­i­fi­ca­tions to ac­cept the train of gears, which were orig­i­nally mod­i­fied BSA items but now com­pletely re­made and hot from the Thom­son work­shop, all run­ning on nee­dle rollers. The drive side crank­case is a cast item recre­ated by Ade­laide foundry Castech in CP601 alu­minium al­loy. Per­haps not as ele­gant as cer­tain Ital­ian items, though the webbed ribs on the out­side do of­fer strength to ac­com­pany the heat treat­ment. Se­cu­rity of camshaft to gear is via a pin vernier, an item we have had fail, re­sult­ing in a bent ex­haust valve (ul­ti­mately to be turned into my wed­ding ring…) and sheared the key lo­cat­ing the gear on to the camshaft . Nick has re-en­gi­neered the camshaft to ac­com­mo­date an over­size key in ad­di­tion to an in­creased di­am­e­ter pin into the

fi­nal gear and ini­tial runs show good. Valves are Su­per­al­loy now, re­plac­ing the Eso Speed­way com­po­nents Les fit­ted, the ex­haust be­ing 17⁄ 16” and the in­let 1½”. Les’ note­book de­tail­ing the early tests of Eldee 2 show a plague of oil from the coil valve springs (on the ad­vice of Bill Lo­mas, valve spring seat pres­sure was set at 90lbs re­sult­ing in 160lbs pres­sure at full lift, show­ing horse­power in­crease and no loss of valve con­trol) a prob­lem which we suf­fered from too. Nick has been suc­cess­ful in cur­ing this prob­lem by mak­ing ec­cen­tri­cally turned caps to ac­com­mo­date and en­close the valve gear, springs and ex­posed push­ers, in ad­di­tion to fit­ting an oil feed to drain pres­sure from the now capped area. The con rod is a hefty ti­ta­nium num­ber that wouldn’t look out of place in a 350; it is ‘I’ beamed and trimmed sub­stan­tially and con­nects on the south­ern end to a big end nee­dle roller pressed be­tween high ten­sile steel fly­wheels bal­anced to a fac­tor of 80%. We feel gains could be made up­ping the bal­ance fac­tor, find­ing a sig­nif­i­cant ‘rough­en­ing’ and in­crease of vi­bra­tion at around 8,200rpm. The en­gine will rev to 9,000, but is dis­cernibly smoother be­low 8,200 and seems to labour more ob­vi­ously after this point. The lit­tle end con­nects to a pis­ton re­cov­ered from some Les ‘made back in 1956’ and when he set up the en­gine for ini­tial test­ing it was on petrol with a com­pres­sion ra­tio of 8:1. It is now on methanol with a com­pres­sion ra­tio in the re­gion of 10:1. With a large dome and fairly long skirt, the pis­ton shows ex­ten­sive work­ing in­side to re­move ex­cess ma­te­rial, clearly the work of a ded­i­cated tuner. The pis­ton res­onates in the same ‘square’ bore di­men­sions as Eldee 1, 68 x 68.25mm, the bar­rel be­ing the favoured Alfin type, mod­i­fied in this in­stance from a later 350cc MAC Ve­lo­cette com­po­nent. Hubs and brakes were cast to 1938 MK.VIII KTT Ve­lo­cette spec­i­fi­ca­tion after Les had a chance en­counter with a re­tired pat­tern maker who of­fered to as­sist with the project ‘for a chal­lenge’; the re­sult­ing alu­minium items are laced to 18in Akront al­loy rims shod in sticky Avon rub­ber. The twin lead­ing shoe front brake is lined with high grade cen­trifu­gally cast iron and works very well in­deed, the lin­ings be­ing green in colour and prob­a­bly not worth in­hal­ing near. The en­tire rear hub is made from the same ma­te­rial and it too works very ef­fec­tively: soft and pro­gres­sive and none too harsh. Such cast­ings would per­haps have been bet­ter in mag­ne­sium as they are bulky af­fairs with great wall thick­ness and the choice of alu­minium weighs heavy for a 250cc: the over­all weight of the bike is around 270lbs (122kg). The chas­sis is sprung suf­fi­ciently on the rear by heavy Koni items and up front are Nor­ton forks, with beau­ti­fully crafted

lightweight al­loy yolks and ta­per roller bear­ing head races. The orig­i­nal fork springs have been dis­carded in favour of heav­ier weights, as Les must have been some­what lighter than me and we have also added ad­justable dampers sup­plied by Lans­downe En­gi­neer­ing in the UK, giv­ing us ef­fec­tive con­trol of both com­pres­sion and re­bound damp­ing. The front end has al­ways felt vague to me, with a ten­dency to pat­ter ex­it­ing cor­ners, de­spite many ef­forts to cure this. We made a fork brace which helped, but I think the weight of the lumpy front hub plus a not quite sorted spring rate is ac­cen­tu­at­ing a bounce, but we’ll get there. The frame is a mod­i­fied Nor­ton In­ter­na­tional model, sport­ing Les’ own rear sec­tion, nickel-bronze welded to the front cradle and re­sult­ing in a low­ered seat­ing po­si­tion, a fac­tor that may also con­trib­ute to the un­set­tled front end with my heftier bulk aboard. At the back it sports a stan­dard cased Ve­lo­cette gear­box, hid­ing six speeds to keep the lit­tle gem on the bu­gle. A low level ex­haust pipe stays clear of the track and protests by crack­ing when se­cured at the orig­i­nal three mount­ing points, so we leave mounted at the head and be­fore the mega­phone ta­per and it seems happy enough. Sparks are pro­vided by a Les Diener wound mag­neto that now ac­cepts an elec­tronic trig­ger­ing de­vice from a Mit­subishi car and such sparks set fire to a mix brought in through a faith­ful Amal 15⁄ 32” car­bu­ret­tor, with a num­ber five slide and jets to suit cir­cuits. Nee­dle is a Dave Ke­nah com­po­nent with ad­di­tional ad­just­ment slots for height po­si­tion­ing. The fair­ing is a dou­ble bub­ble Morini item shroud­ing an aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing pack­age, con­trib­uted to by the light blue 12-litre tank made by UK com­pany Lyta, held down along the mid­dle by Les’

Right: A front wheel land­ing for Bill and the Eldee at Bal­laugh.

Above: Les Diener gets hands-on back in the day.

Be­low – Bill ply­ing his trade Down Un­der on the KTT.

Above: Fa­ther and son Velo rac­ing duo, Chris and Bill Swal­low with the naked Eldee.

Bill Swal­low tips into the Creg with one of the most iconic TT course back­drops be­hind him.

TT course veteran Bill Swal­low presses on aboard the Eldee Ve­lo­cette.

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