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…
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. Part Two, in which he rides it!
Pulling apart the poor Viceroy was an interesting exercise simply because it was all new to me, plus its design and layout were way off the norm. It is certainly not a Venom or a snortin’ Norton. It is also totally different to the Lambretta models that I am very familiar with, as we used to sell and service 30 a month of them way back when.
All the Viceroy’s components except the gearbox were stripped down for examination, and repair if required. Everything I opened
up was as-new and consistent with the previous owner’s claims that the bike was very low mileage. Mr Smiff’s instrument showed only 700 and a bit miles covered from new. Another example of little use: the brake shoes were not yet worn in to make full surface contact.
The only anomaly was the mystery of the engine having plus-20 pistons. The bores were perfect and still showed the fine grind marks. My guess is that the bike had spent its life in a wet and soggy environment which caused rust seize on both barrels. The wet and soggy theory is also supported by rust here, there and everywhere. To add insult to injury, the poor thing was full of dents to all its tinwork.
To find out just what we were dealing with, my industrial power sandblaster was applied to expose the evils of a drive-by paint job, applied on top of the rust by the previous ‘restorer’. Due to years of doing all my own paintwork, I have become allergic to the poisonous fumes in modern two-pack paints. I am however fortunate to have a most caring friend who owns a huge, state of the art bodyshop; Dave’s Autobody and Glass in Rockford,
Washington. Dave generously set me up in a corner of his shop for me to do the timeconsuming prep work. Dents were done on the spot by Mike, a magician in the art of tin bashing.
After far too many hours of noise, dust and blistered fingers, all the tin parts and wheels were ready to go in the painting booth for the attention of another artist, Dean, of the very highest quality.
The Viceroy appeared to have been red originally, or maybe red and black. I decided the finish needed to be tarted up a bit with modern metallic silver and red. Both colour codes were taken from a rather stunning new Chrysler car. The result is most pleasing yet not over-done. The red looks better in natural sunlight in a way that can’t be accurately represented in print. It needs to be seen!
During the assembly, all went fairly well. It needed the usual tweaking of support brackets here and there to get the 3/16” bodywork and footboard holes to match up perfectly. The rat’s nest wiring had been ‘improved’ by previous owners for reasons that are past my comprehension. Several yards of ball wiring had to be cut out and tossed into the bin. Additional earth wire had to be made for the fairly heavy draw 12V starter. Eventually, after much trial and considerable error, it all seemed to work as it should. It even has an operable ‘emergency start’ position on the Lucas ignition switch.
My main challenge came from the footboard running strips. These strips appeared to be fabricated from a red garden hose. They looked dreadful. A local auto paint and bodyshop parts supplier had a roll of half-round black strip body moulding that was fairly close dimensionally and matched the silver very well. Velo had gone to all the trouble of making very neat end pieces for the ends of each of the ten strips. All twenty alloy end pieces had to be polished on my shop buffer – a pig of a job as they are too small to hold without losing your fingertips!
The battery carrier also needed considerable attention. Originally the Viceroy had two 6V Lucas batteries. On mine, one battery slot was sealed off while the second had been enlarged for a more substantial single 12V unit. Unfortunately the person who did this had simply used an acetylene torch to enlarge the rectangular hole. The hole was nowhere near the correct dimensions; no two sides were the same as each other. I consulted various battery charts and located a modern dry battery just sufficiently large enough for me to square up the hole with a hand file and small electric grinder. Next was the fabrication of a support for the underside of the battery. It all came together nice and ship-shape.
The tyres are the original Dunlops which of course are showing their considerable age. Internal inspection found both to be sound and reasonably serviceable in dry conditions for club runs and a wobble down the pub. New tubes were of course fitted. Above all, I was keen to retain the OE tyres to retain the bike’s provenance and originality.
The ignition consists of two good size 6V coils and a single contact breaker. Both cylinders fire at once with no dead spark as it is a two-stroke. The factory marks on the flywheel could not be clearly seen on my strobe so I put a spot of white paint on each of the punch marks. The timing fully retarded is just a bohair BTDC (Glaswegian for very small) but I wanted to check that the full advance was accurate.
An old trick for strobing the ignition timing is to use the flywheel teeth to mark the degrees. Example, 120 teeth on the flywheel is 360 degrees. 360 divided by 120 = 3 degrees per tooth. The marks below are 7 teeth apart, ie. 21 degrees, which is the range of the automatic advance mechanism. That, plus the initial bohair degrees static advance gives a gnat’s whisker over 21 degrees at 4000 revs – as stipulated by the flat-cap wearing Brummies who designed the thing. ( Yes, TDC on this engine is at the root of a tooth.)
The most exciting part of a restoration
is the first start-up. The Viceroy was no exception but it proved to be painless. It needed half a tank full of uncontaminated petrol mixed with synthetic two-stroke oil at 20:1. I fiddled about through the aperture in the service panel on the right side to turn on the fuel and close the choke. The ignition goes ‘on’ at the panel switch. You push forward by hand or foot on the starter lever which protrudes from the left side service panel. The first action of the lever pushes the starter bendix into mesh with the flywheel teeth, then a little more movement operates the solenoid to set the starter into motion. Surprise! After only a couple of revolutions, the motor fired up with a pleasant burble.
So I bumped it off the bench for an exploratory bumble down the lane. Pull in the light clutch with the engine on idle. A gentle push on the heel gear change pedal, click it into gear. No clunk, no fuss, no muss. Smooth clutch take-up on a whiff of throttle – and away we go!
In many ways the Viceroy reminds me of my much-loved Ariel Leader which I had new in 1959. In fact the Viceroy feels more like a normal motorcycle than a scooter. If it had a dummy tank between my legs like on the Leader, I would find very little difference. Handling, brakes, suspension performance are all very similar. As with the Leader, the Velo’s cruising speed is about 55mph, top speed about 70. Comparing the specs of the Leader and the Viceroy it is not surprising that the Viceroy is more ‘motorcycle’ than ‘scooter’. Exclude the panniers of the Ariel, the weights are the same at 305lb. The Viceroy is two inches longer at 53”. The engine bore and stroke are 54mm by 54mm on each. Power about the same but the Viceroy has a bit more grunt at low revs and perhaps a little less at the top end. Both have the engine ahead of the rider. The fuel tank on the Leader is below the seat while on the Viceroy it is ahead of the rider, resulting in 50/50 weight distribution.
So why did the Viceroy not sell? It’s interesting to look at similar models of reasonable quality and advanced design, such as the German Maicoletta, Heinkel and Zündapp. The front end styling of the Viceroy is very close to these three. All three sold in economically viable quantities over virtually identical production years of 1953 to 1965. The Viceroy had a production run of only 18 months from 1960 to 62. So what went wrong?
Timing had a lot to do with the Viceroy’s lack of sales success. No one seems to know the exact production numbers but, going on their extreme rarity today, it would seem that only a handful were made and sold. My model is the only one come to light so far in the US. Who imported it and when is shrouded in the mists of time. In UK the scooter boom had peaked by 1960, so the Viceroyoy arrivedarrived justjust tootoo late.late
The second big issue was price. The Italian scooters which dominated the market were built very much with cost in mind, simply because the scooter market was very price sensitive. The Viceroy was built from the start by Velo as a top class piece of engineering at a premium price for the top end of the scooter connoisseur. Unfortunately these top end buyers were virtually non-existent. Looking at the three German examples, the Viceroy might have hit its intended market if it had been built five to ten years earlier. We will never know!
Above: Setting the timing is made easier if the manufacturer included timing marks…
Right: Look very closely… …and add a few drops of white paint to aid the strobe
Right: Here’s the complete machine. Velocette plainly had their own views on styling
Above: Scooter restorers should be warned against a certain footboard obsession
Above: A rare sight in the USA. In fact … a rare sight anywhere!
Below: Huge amounts of work, time and effort went into making exact footboards
The engine – a flat twin – is tucked neatly away. Above it is the hefty starter motor
Below: A simple exhaust system, no expansion chambers here. It’s quiet, too
Above: Flying instructions
Right: Helpful instructions…
Left: The dash is neat and simple, and very scooter-like. The fuel filler is behind it, with the tank in front of the rider
Left: Beauty, eye of beholder, things like that
Above: The seat lifts to reveal a bigger battery. Roger needed to dress a little metal to make it fit. There would originally have been a pair of 6V batteries, and if the picture’s big enough you may be able to see the closed-up hole where the second cell would have lived
Right: Removing the left-hand service panel reveals the carb and fuel feed – and the mixture enrichment device
Left: This is – remarkably – the starter lever. Roger explains the How! and the What! in the story
Our hero! Roger Slater prepares for flight
Below: Poised. In the land of the mighty V-twin, Roger Slater’s flat twin 2-stroke Velocette may be unique