VELOCETTE VICEROY

Real Classic - - Contents -

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…

NEXT TIME:

what’s the Ve­loce su­per scooter be like to ride? If, of course, it can be per­suaded to start…

Pho­tos by Roger Slater, Galen Bliss, RC RChive, Mor­tons ar­chive (thanks to Jane!)

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

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