The original LE
Regarding your story on the Velocette LE (OBA 79); in 1942 Phil Irving was in hospital when he conceived the idea of quiet, clean, reliable transport for people who would have, before the war, had a car. With petrol rationed it had to be economical; the prototype built during the war did this at 130 miles to the gallon. At the same time in Italy, the Piaggio aircraft factory was being bombed. At the end of the war Enrico Piaggio, no longer allowed to build aircraft, gave his aircraft designer the job of designing a vehicle with the same aims (as the LE); personal transport. D’Ascanio was not a motorcyclist, but a top aircraft man who in 1946 came up with the Vespa. Not clean, not economical, but cheap and fun. The Piaggio factory built them by the millions. Phil Irving was not happy when the design of the LE was taken out of his hands and, as he said, complicated, as it seems it was. I believe his original was to be a very wide-angle v-twin – not quite a 180-degree boxer. This might have been because Granville Bradshaw said that no two pistons should change direction at the same time. Both Irving and Edward Turner in 1945 wrote papers in favour of the 1920 ABC, built by Sopwith and designed by Granville Bradshaw. This, I believe, is where the concept of the LE came from. If he had been given a free hand the clutch might have been driven from the end of the camshaft with lots of benefits. The engine might have been split vertically front to back. The crankshaft complete with bearings and seals could have been laid into one half and the same with the camshaft and clutch, then closed by fitting the other crankcase half. It could have been simpler, smaller and cheaper to build. If the police hadn’t bought LEs, Velocette would have been finished in the ‘fifties. In reality, the Vespa and the LE were at opposite ends of the market. Irving envisaged the LE as transport for people like professionals, bank managers etc., because with petrol rationing, the 150 mpg offered by the 150cc engine would have been ideal, whereas the Vespa was just an oily little fun machine.
Andrew Duncan Wilton, NSW
There are many who sing the praises of the esteemed Mr Granville Bradshaw – the ‘B’ in the ABC motorcycle – he of the restless mind of the inventor. Among his non-motorcycling achievements were a portable wardrobe, vandal-proof screws and bolts, ash-devouring ashtrays, and golf balls coated with radio-active luminous paint so they could be located by Geiger counter. – Ed