You might imag­ine that ev­ery farm­house, hen­house, out­house and dog­house in ex­is­tence must surely have been emp­tied by now – but no. Still more old mo­tor­cy­cles emerge from the depths of ne­glect so that peo­ple like Stu­art Fran­cis can re­build them..

Real Classic - - Contents - Pho­tos by Stu­art Fran­cis / RC RChive

You might imag­ine that ev­ery farm­house, hen­house, out­house and dog­house in ex­is­tence must surely have been emp­tied by now – but no. Still more old mo­tor­cy­cles emerge from the depths of ne­glect so that peo­ple like Stu­art Fran­cis can re­build them…

The story starts in 2014 when Mossy, a lo­cal char­ac­ter with an eerie abil­ity to un­earth old mo­tor­cy­cles, told me and my friend Don­ald about a stash of ‘barn find’ mo­tor­cy­cles that the owner wanted to sell. To whet our ap­petites he had a cou­ple of pho­to­graphs of the ma­chines. I call them pho­to­graphs, but they looked like they were taken at the bot­tom of a dis­used coal mine with a box Brownie us­ing a fail­ing torch for il­lu­mi­na­tion. Even so, Don­ald and I were suf­fi­ciently in­ter­ested to quickly ar­range the 10 hour trip across New Zealand’s South Is­land be­fore any­body else stepped in. I was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the near-com­plete 1938 Velocette MAC which the owner said was vir­tu­ally ready to run.

We ar­rived at the ap­pointed time to find the owner wasn’t there but would be back in five min­utes. He turned up two hours later. The place was a boat re­pair yard, car cus­tomi­sa­tion yard, scrap­yard and rather dis­or­gan­ised. After squeez­ing our way into the dark re­cesses of the boat re­pair shed we were shown into a large un­lit store room where the ma­chines were lo­cated. Half an hour later we had some lights and found a trea­sure trove of ma­chines ripe for re­build­ing or restora­tion. I bought the Velocette, a 1924 L24 BSA and a 1915 Dou­glas, Don­ald bought a 1918 BSA and a 1924 Dou­glas CW. After spend­ing half an hour cut­ting a path through dense un­der­growth around the back of the boat shed, we were fi­nally able to ex­tract the ma­chines and load them onto our trailer.

In case you’re un­fa­mil­iar with Ve­loce’s range of ohv sin­gle-cylin­der road­sters, the first M-se­ries Velocette, the 250cc MOV, was in­tro­duced in 1933 and this so­phis­ti­cated, well-en­gi­neered ma­chine sold well. Velocette quickly in­tro­duced the 350cc MAC which con­tin­ued in pro­duc­tion, rel­a­tively un­changed, un­til 1951, when a new alu­minium cylin­der head and bar­rel were in­tro­duced. The al­loy MAC con­tin­ued in pro­duc­tion with a swing­ing arm frame, tele­scopic forks and a new gear­box un­til 1960. The 500cc MSS was in­tro­duced in 1935, housed in the stronger KSS frame, and it con­tin­ued to 1948. An up­dated MSS was in­tro­duced in 1954 with a swing­ing arm frame and a new alu­minium cylin­der head and bar­rel, con­tin­u­ing un­til 1969.

Back to my MAC. A week later I fi­nally got the Velocette up on the work bench and had a re­ally good look at what I’d bought. It was at this point I started to have doubts. The heavy­weight girder forks were only loosely as­sem­bled, the steer­ing col­umn was back to front, the lower frame was a cast­ing like the mil­i­tary model and the frame num­ber had a dif­fer­ent suf­fix to what I ex­pected. I did check the engine num­ber in the gloom of the store­room, but now re­alised what I thought was a 3 and 2 were ac­tu­ally an 8 and 7. After a bit of head scratching and de­tec­tive work, I found out I had a 1946 MAC, one of a batch shipped to NZ just be­fore Velocette in­tro­duced Dowty forks.

My next step was to check over the engine and gear­box. Turn­ing the engine over showed lit­tle com­pres­sion and it made a slight click­ing noise. Checking for a spark produced an anaemic glim­mer which ap­peared oc­ca­sion­ally. Hop­ing for bet­ter from the gear­box, I could only find three gears and a clutch that did not seem to want to sep­a­rate.

I had al­ready de­cided that this was go­ing to be a re­build, not a restora­tion, re­tain­ing as much patina of the bike’s age as I could. The first thing I tack­led was the lack of com­pres­sion. Re­mov­ing the rocker cov­ers re­vealed the rea­son: the in­let valve was par­tially stuck open and the click­ing noise was the pushrod that had jumped off of its rocker end. A light tap with a drift and the valve snapped back in to place.

I then de­cided to whip off the head, redo the valve seats, ream out the valve guides and check the in­let pushrod for da­m­age. I was pleas­antly sur­prised with the state of the head, with only a tiny bit of rust in the in­let guide, the prob­a­ble cause of the sticky valve and an in­di­ca­tion that the ma­chine had been stand­ing for a long time. The in­let port had been pol­ished and opened out slightly. The pushrod was also in good con­di­tion with just a cou­ple of small witness marks.

The cylin­der bore was in rea­son­able con­di­tion, but the ear­lier type bar­rel, with less finning, had a num­ber of dam­aged and cracked fins. For­tu­nately I had a later bar­rel in the pile of spares that came with the bike. After a quick hone and a new pis­ton it looked good. A quick check for end float and big end wear in­di­cated the bot­tom end was OK.

The next job was the mag­neto. Tak­ing off the tim­ing cover, I no­ticed that one of the screws was only held by gasket goo. Velocette mag­ne­tos have to be on top form to get a good start­ing spark as the low geared kick­starter only turns the engine over at about half of the speed of most other ma­chines. A good clean up then re-- mag­netis­ing fol­lowed by re­plac­ing the pickup and re-set­ting produced a very healthy, slow speed spark. The mag­neto was run on my home­made test bench for an hour to make sure ev­ery­thing was OK. The loose tim­ing cover screw was a bit of a pain. The lug it screwed into had split but a re­pair with plas­tic metal soon had it fixed.

The gear­box was a bit of a mys­tery. Ev­ery­thing seemed to be in the right place with per­haps a touch too much end play. How­ever the gear shaft bear­ing re­tain­ing cup and nut on the end of the gear shaft were miss­ing. A care­ful re­build, get­ting the end float just right and mak­ing a bear­ing re­tain­ing cup, produced all four gears and a smooth gearchange. The clutch was an­other mat­ter al­to­gether: bro­ken springs, badly re­paired clutch plate drive dogs, fric­tion in­serts miss­ing and home-made clutch

Above: Don­ald wran­gling the five mo­tor­cy­cles on the large trailer. The MAC is on the right

Be­low: The ini­tial strip­down: the bike’s ac­tu­ally from 1946 rather than 1938

Fin­ish­ing off the wiring. Not that a bike that age car­ries much in the way of wiring, but ev­ery lit­tle helps

Two views of the MAC cylin­der head. Clever cast­ing and coil springs

Above: Search­ing for the spark. The mag­neto tester in ac­tion

Left: Ev­ery shed needs spares. Here are some of them

Be­low: Fin­ish­ing touches time. The Velo is al­most back to be­ing road le­gal … with a few bits and pieces to carry fuel and lighten the dark­ness of course

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