Customers were buying cheap ’n’ cheerful Lambrettas and Vespas like hot cakes. So Veloce developed a top quality, beautifully engineered British equivalent. Why wasn’t this snazzy scooter a runaway success? Roger Slater investigates…
Ihave to confess that I have several bad habits, one of which is a complete lack of resistance to taking in stray dogs and motorbikes. To support the latter part of this habit I have been known to furtively scan fleaBay and other online time-wasting amusement. In order to cut out all the modern riff-raff and get to the core, I often type in UK manufacturers’ names from A to Z. When rummaging about in the Vs for Vindec, Vale Onslow to Vincent, up popped a big surprise in the form of ‘Velocette Viceroy Being Ridden’. The video not only showed the scooter being ridden round the block, it also showed it being started up during what was described as a ‘restoration’. This of course received my undivided attention. The Viceroy is rare enough back in the UK, it’s almost unknown here in the USA.
After a bit of due diligence it seemed the video had been posted online for years. Which raised these questions: where is the scooter now and can it be bought?
I emailed the person in California who listed the video, asking both questions. Back came the disappointing advice that the bike had been sold three or four years ago. With dimming hopes I asked the seller if he would be kind enough to impart who he sold it to. This resulted in the name of a scooter shop in Cleveland, Ohio. So far so good, but unfortunately it all went pearshaped from there on.
An email to the scooter shop resulted in a ‘not for sale and if it was you couldn’t afford it’ reply. I had to ask: what is the ‘can’t afford it’ price? ‘Oh it is virtually brand new, covered under 100 miles
Customers were buying cheap’n’cheerful Lambrettas and Vespas like hot cakes. So Veloce developed a top quality, beautifully engineered British equivalent. Why wasn’t this snazzy scooter a runaway success? Roger Slater investigates…
from new, it is my all-time favourite, would hate to let it go.’ My request for detail photos fell on deaf ears. Clearly I was dealing with a professional, high-pressure salesman who left a bad taste. I should have followed my instinct and walked away. Lust however won the day. Far too many presidents’ heads were handed over via the trucking company after the driver had the bike loaded.
I should have known better. Upon arrival, the little Velo was a disaster. It had not been run for years, the paintwork passed off as ‘restored’ was all lifting off and blistered over the rust spots. Clearly it was just a drive-by paint job with a bass broom and a bucket of barn paint. The paint went over the existing muck and rust. The saving grace was that the bike did appear to have covered very few miles from new. The tyres were the original Dunlops, still with the moulding bumps unworn, but with the inevitable age-related cracks on the walls.
The photo I’d seen online didn’t show the messm of dents, badly applied body filler and r ust. The body beading and foot-plate rubbers werew horrid pieces of garden hose. The seat baseb was badly rusted and the foam was bone hardh and crumbling. The original pair of 6V batteryb compartments had been converted to a single one of larger dimensions to take a 12V battery. Problem was, the cutting had been done with an oxyacetylene cutter by someone who had no idea what they were doing.
With the bodywork removed, I could see that the poor thing had been hand painted over the rust patches and accumulated dirt, complete with long-dried paint runs. The wiring was a bird’s nest of added wires and confusion that had no hope of being sorted without ripping it all out and starting from scratch. The fork top covers were a mass of dents and painted rust. Clearly it was time to start from scratch to do the jjob properly.pp y
Before getting into the nitty gritty, let me try to explain why Velocette got into the scooter market in the first place. Velocette of course were better known for excellent, high performance single-cylinder four-strokes built to a very high standard of engineering and quality. Their various forays into small capacity ‘everyman’ runabouts, with the possible exception of the quirky LE, were all marketing disasters. In my humble opinion these failures could be explained by the firm being made up of engineers, with beancounters and marketing not being their strong suit. The result was an end product of high quality and design, but one with little concern about production costs.
This resulted in a high retail cost that the market couldn’t up with put. To make this worse, the market failures were blighted with small capacity engines. It is a fact that it costs no more to build a larger capacity engine from the same design. It is also a fact that the market will always tolerate a higher price for more performance from a larger engine, even if everything else is unchanged from a smaller capacity version. Small bikes equal small prices and disproportionately high costs.
In the late 1950s and early 60s the scooter market in UK was going great guns. The principle players were Vespa and Lambretta. Both suffered from some basic engineering faults stemming from cost of production strictures to ensure a competitive market price. This cost-driven engineering resulted in the engine, clutch, final drive, wheel, etc, all being built as one unit. All of this heavy lump was mounted at the rear.
I still remember my mother and wife on a Lambretta both being tossed off the back when the front end lifted on a steep bit of road – combined with mother giving it too much wellie. Worse still, the Vespa had the weight not only all on the rear but it was considerably misplaced off the chassis centre line. This generated the same effect as stuffing your mother-in-law into one pannier of your Kawhonsuz with nothing in t’other side. Velocette decided that they could do much better. And they were right.
Just look at the superb weight distribution of the Viceroy. The engine is mounted as far forward as possible, while the clutch, gearbox and final drive unit are mounted at the back
with a propeller shaft between the two. The wheelbase is longer than the two Italian competitors giving excellent stability and road holding, which is aided and abetted by a proper monoshock suspender at the rear and the most excellent Velocette telescopic front forks up front.
The Viceroy’s engine is a 250 flat-twin twostroke. This was considerably larger and more powerful than the market standard simple single of 125 or 150cc. The flat twin layout also lent itself to a low C of G. The Velo’s frame consists of a large diameter single tube with simple lugs hither and yon to attach the various bits and pieces. The engine, for example, has just three mounting points, which means it can be lifted out within thirty minutes. The rear drive assembly is likewise easily accessible. With the exception of Girling rear suspender, Joe Lucas elctrickerty and Mr Dunlop’s tyres, the whole thing is typical of Velocette in being all designed and manufactured in-house.
If you need proof that this Velo was built by engineers and not bean-counters, just cast your eyes over the front and rear brake mechanism. The standard method of a stamped-out lever mounted directly to the square drive end of the brake cam spindle would cost perhaps a couple of bob. The far better way of doing it by the lads of Hall Green cost probably more like two quid.
The bodywork is very nicely done, made of good stout heavy-gauge steel, no plastic to be seen. The front end is a bit on the wide side from an aesthetic point of view; being more function over form it keeps off the rain very well indeed. The gear foot change is a natty heel and toe lever to ensure one’s best Sunday boots do not get marked. There are no removable sidepanels as was the norm
on scooters of the day. The Velo solution is a simple one-piece design of the whole rear end that lifts off completely after undoing a few fasteners. To get access to the components around the engine for servicing, the electrics and carburettor, there are two quickly detachable side covers held in place by three per side half-turn cam fasteners.
The Viceroy’s wheel size was another departure from scooter norm as it was fitted with much larger 12-inch diameter wheels with four-inch tyres. The wheels are interchangeable front to rear, and both drop out easily once the spindle’s removed. Yet another luxury over the scooter norm of the day, the Viceroy is fitted with a super effective Joe Lucas 12V starter. Hang the expense, give the cat the goldfish! No more kicking away at a lethal lever which would only stop when it made jarring contact with the road surface…
what’s the Veloce super scooter be like to ride? If, of course, it can be persuaded to start…
One ultra-unusual Viceroy, as collected by Roger Slater TheT speedo is certainly showing a very low mileage. Whether it’s the mileage for the entire bike or just the speedo…
Ancient brochure pics don’t scan too well, but you can only admire Veloce’s view of their super-scooter. A line drawing gives a view of what lies beneath the glamorous panelling
StStrippingii ddown ththe ViViceroy revealedld a very well-llconceivedid machine.hi Frames rarely come more simple than this one
What could be a better-balanced propulsion device for an attempt at a scooter so noble that it carries the glorious Velocette name? A flat-twin stroker, obviously. The cutaway shows off the unusual engine’s finer points
While one side of the engine carries the carb, this side handles electrical duties: one of the two coils, a scary rectifier and – most importantly – the beefy Lucas starter motor
‘Mechanical simplicity, plus technical characteristics that make a scooter reliable and economical with minimum owner-attention, are built-in features of the flat-twin two-stroke, Viceroy’
A rear three-quarter view shows the rest of the frame, most of it devoted to mounting the footboards and bodywork. Nothing here is at all delicate, and the dirigible at the bottom right of the image is the silencer
Behind the engine is its external flflflywheel, as was common practice on cars at the time, and the somewhat indelicate coupling for the drive shaft. The teeth on outside of the flywheel are for the starter motor to grip
And a special tartan edition, for picnics north of the border, perhaps? The entire transmission – here on display for those who can read exploded diagrams – pivots to permit rear wheel movement
This is the single swinging arm, removed. Left to right are the hypoid bevel drive and brake hub, centre is the gearbox, right is the multiplate clutch
Did you believe that single-sided swinging arms and monoshock rear suspension was in some way modern? Think again. Here it is, Veloce-style