The beauty of build­ing a bitsa is that in­spi­ra­tion can be un­leashed by an en­gi­neer’s ex­per­tise and in­ge­nu­ity. Harley Richards re­veals a Velo MAC which blends the best of pre-war style and 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy…

The beauty of build­ing a bitsa is that in­spi­ra­tion can be un­leashed by an en­gi­neer’s ex­per­tise and in­ge­nu­ity. Harley Richards re­veals a Velo MAC which blends the best of pre-war style and 21st cen­tury tech­nol­ogy…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Harley Richards / RC RChive

MikeH, the builder and owner of this fine Ve­lo­cette, is by no means a purist. He is how­ever a very tal­ented ma­chin­ist, which means that when he de­cided it was time to dip his toe into the world of bob­bers, his first thoughts weren’t of small Honda twins or air-cooled BMWs, but rather a 1930s Velo.

It’s perhaps worth not­ing that Mike has some­thing of a track record where Ve­los are con­cerned. He’s re­built and re­stored dozens of Hall Green’s finest over the years, so util­is­ing a Velo from the era when bob­bing first took place wasn’t quite the odd choice it might ap­pear. Mike’s ob­jec­tive was sim­ple: build a light ma­chine with some mod­ern touches like de­cent brakes; lose the electrics ex­cept for the mag; fit large di­am­e­ter, skinny wheels, and ex­tract enough poke from the en­gine to keep life in­ter­est­ing – all with the ex­ter­nal ap­pear­ance of a pe­riod ma­chine… to the ca­sual ob­server at least.

Be­fore any Velo fa­nat­ics start pen­ning abu­sive let­ters about ru­in­ing a per­fectly good clas­sic, rest as­sured that what you see is a col­lec­tion of parts from any num­ber of bikes. Surely it’s bet­ter to have one run­ning ma­chine out on the road than to have ran­dom parts qui­etly rust­ing away in dark cor­ners? Any­way, with a 350 MAC mo­tor al­ready lurk­ing un­der his work­bench, the build proper got un­der­way with the ar­rival of a frame. With all un­nec­es­sary lugs re­moved and rearset footrest lugs welded on, Mike con­tacted the Ve­lo­cette Own­ers’ Club for a dat­ing cer­tifi­cate.

He found that the orig­i­nal bike had been bought some four days af­ter leav­ing the fac­tory on 21st Septem­ber 1938, from the agents Jor­don of Hull by a Mr J McDon­ald of 3 The Grove, Gar­den Vil­lage. One can vi­su­alise a young man, perhaps with a few sav­ings, see­ing the forth­com­ing world war on the hori­zon and think­ing: ‘Sod it, I may never come back’, then head­ing down to his lo­cal Ve­lo­cette dealer to buy some two-wheeled fun be­fore it was too late. What­ever his rea­sons, Mr McDon­ald made a wise choice.

The de­sign of Ve­lo­cette’s high camshaft en­gine, which first saw the light of day in 1933, can trace its roots back to the 250cc MOV model. Blessed with nearly square di­men­sions of 68 x 68.25mm bore and stroke, the ini­tial rigid framed, girder fork sin­gle was grad­u­ally stroked and bored; given Dowty Oleo­matic front sus­pen­sion, an al­loy en­gine and swing­ing arm rear sus­pen­sion, and gar­nered fame and for­tune in Viper, Venom and Thrux­ton forms. Although the orig­i­nal 250 was very well re­ceived by the mo­tor­cy­clists of the day, and tuned to reach over 100mph by some pri­va­teer rac­ers both in UK and Aus­tralia, a 350 was de­manded. Thus was born the MAC, of which over 22,000 were pro­duced.

Due to the small bore of the 250 MOV, and the sub­se­quent place­ment of the bar­rel re­tain­ing bolts, Ve­lo­cette weren’t able to sim­ply bore the bar­rel out to cre­ate

a 350. In­stead they in­creased the stroke, sig­nif­i­cantly, to 96mm. De­spite these de­sign con­straints, Mike felt that there was still room for im­prove­ment inside the mo­tor and set to in search of some ex­tra power. Af­ter a pe­riod of care­ful mea­sur­ing and head scratch­ing, the MAC’s en­gine un­der­went some se­ri­ous surgery. The bar­rel was bored out to 73.5mm to take the ca­pac­ity up to 400cc which, along with pol­ished Thrux­ton bot­tom rock­ers, an M17/4 cam, a lip seal on the drive side main bear­ing and a pos­i­tive pres­sure oil feed, pro­vided the sort of ad­di­tional oomph that Mike was af­ter.

That oomph finds its way from the en­gine to the gear­box via a very dis­crete mod­ern up­grade in the shape of a Kevin Thurston belt pri­mary drive, which al­lows Mike to run a dry clutch. This was im­por­tant be­cause a pre­vi­ous ac­ci­dent means that Mike finds it dif­fi­cult to change gear with his right foot. The belt drive re­moves any need for fluid in the pri­mary case, so he could re­verse the gearchange link­age and route it through the mid­dle of the pri­mary chain­case. It’s one of those lit­tle touches that’s easy to miss on first in­spec­tion but is so well ex­e­cuted that you find your­self won­der­ing if it was a fac­tory in­stal­la­tion.

Ve­lo­cette was a small fam­ily busi­ness and would use what­ever was on the shelf for their lat­est de­signs, a rather cu­ri­ous mix of Ger­manic ef­fi­ciency and York­shire can­ni­ness! As an ex­am­ple, cranks and rods from ear­lier mod­els would of­ten find their way into new mod­els, bring­ing end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties to those who think out­side the box. In Mike’s case, be­cause Velo stuck to the same gear­box bear­ings for many years, it en­abled him to take the wider close ra­tio gears from a later Type 12 model and nar­row them down to fit the ear­lier MAC shell – giv­ing him the gear­ing of a Mk8 KTT. This ex­er­cise, for the avoid­ance of any doubt, was a lot more com­plex than it sounds…

If any Velo purists are con­sol­ing them­selves that at least the bike uses pre­dom­i­nantly Velo parts, they might want to look away now. With a left hand gearchange it made sense to use a rear wheel which has its sprocket on the left side and its brake on the other – thus only need­ing a sim­ple rod to hook up the brake pedal to the brake ac­tu­at­ing arm. A quick in­ter­net search sug­gested a unit from a Yamaha XT250 would fit the bill per­fectly and, stick­ing with the Ja­panese theme, Mike sourced a sim­i­lar sized front hub from a Yamaha SR250. Pow­der coated black and laced to black 21” x 1.60” al­loy rims, you would re­ally have to know your clas­sic Bri­tish ma­chin­ery to re­alise they weren’t fac­tory stock.

Of course, the Yamaha wheels and brakes pro­vide more ap­pro­pri­ate stop­ping power for to­day’s roads. That in­crease in stop­ping power led Mike to re­in­force the spin­dle lugs and brake sup­port plates on the forks (1938 mid-weight Webb gird­ers) as a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure. Fin­ish­ing off the front end are a set of 5” rise Ren­thal bars and a Chrono­met­ric speedo shell which con­tains the work­ings from the same Yamaha SR250 that gave up its front hub – waste not, want not!

The rest of the rolling chas­sis fol­lows the

same theme of pe­riod Velo bits (petrol tank, pipe and si­lencer) mixed with mod­ern parts (al­loy mud­guards, self­con­tained LED brake and horn) to give it the spindly, yet pur­pose­ful, look that Mike set out to achieve. With over 30bhp on tap, good brakes and weigh­ing just 100kg, this is a feisty ma­chine which has ful­filled all his ex­pec­ta­tions.

Ah yes; the name. ‘Sixpence’. Mike had been given the five digit reg­is­tra­tion CMN 6D and had al­ready made up a pressed al­loy plate in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the build when a vis­it­ing friend saw the plate and said ‘sixpence!’ The Velo was of­fi­cially chris­tened. For our younger and over­seas read­ers, ‘6D’ is a throw­back to the days of pre-dec­i­mal cur­rency in the UK when prices were fixed in pounds, shillings and pence (or ‘LSD’ for short – I know, it’s con­fus­ing and based in Latin deriva­tions but we built an em­pire on such stuff ). Hence, six pen­nies would be writ­ten as 6D and, if you look closely, a 1938 six­penny piece has been sunk into the top cross piece of the forks, a neat touch.

And that would prob­a­bly be the end of the story were it not for the fact that Mike is, by his own ad­mis­sion, a se­rial builder and is now think­ing about the next project. Garage space con­straints mean a sale may soon be on the cards so, for the right per­son of­fer­ing the right price, Mike might be pre­pared to let Sixpence go to a new home. Se­ri­ous en­quiries through RCHQ please.

Un­mis­take­ably Ve­lo­cette. Ob­serve how the gear lever is ac­tu­ally the rear brake lever

A close-up of the gearshift, its re­lo­ca­tion made prac­ti­cal by the belt pri­mary drive Although its ap­pear­ance is nicely in-pe­riod, in fact the brake comes from a Yamaha Right: The front end in­cludes 1938 Webb girder forks, suit­ably re­in­forced Looks like a neatly stripped back, stock-ish pre-war Velo, yes? No, not re­ally… It would hardly be a Velo with­out a large fish­tail si­lencer. This one rather neatly ob­scures the Yamaha rear brake

For com­par­i­son pur­poses, here’s a pre-war MAC which sold at auc­tion a cou­ple of years ago. Spot the sub­tle (and not to sub­tle) dif­fer­ences with Mike’s spe­cial… A Ve­lo­cette drive side is as recog­nis­able as the tim­ing side, with its un­usual out­board fi­nal drive sprocket. Ob­serve the gear lever…

Front end re­in­force­ment ex­tends to the brake an­chor­age – and the brake is not en­tirely Ve­lo­cette The rear end is a study in light­ness and sim­plic­ity Left & be­low The bike’s en­ti­tled ‘Sixpence’. Check out the reg­is­tra­tion num­ber…

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