1962 Velocette Venom Clubman
Years produced: 1959 – 1970
Number produced: 5,750 (All Venom models, 1955 to 1970)
Top speed: 100mph
Engine type: 499cc OHV air-cooled single
Price then: $950 (1962)
Price now: $8,000-$14,000
John Laughney knows all too well the keep-your-nose-to-the-grindstone task of running a 24/7 company. Challenging? Always. Enjoyable? Sometimes not so much. Which probably goes a long way toward explaining why he thinks taking a 1962 Velocette Venom Clubman down to the bare frame, fastidiously repairing and rebuilding it, is actually good fun.
Most of us, I’d wager, would end up cursing and swearing and throwing things into dark corners when presented with such a challenge. Not John Laughney, who relished the chance to restore this Velocette Venom Clubman. Maybe the hours spent as a student of philosophy back in his college days has something to do with this quasi-meditative labor he so enjoys.
John rides his classic motorcycles, and loves the pure joy of running this big thumper over local roads, startling strangers on modern go-fast machines by thundering past them in the corners he knows so well. A resident of California’s vineland area around Paso Robles, home to some 200 vineyards, John has immediate access to smooth and lightly trafficked roads, where the straight stretches are rarely more than a mile in length. This is perfect Velocette Venom Clubman country. Real pleasure is not in pure speed, but in the balance of man, machine and macadam. He has pushed the needle close to the 100 number on the Smiths speedo, but only to make sure that his work had been properly done.
For John, the lure of the big single has never vanished, the staccato sound of the exhaust, the thrust of the engine, the keyboard that is the transmission. Riding a classic British motorcycle like this Velocette Venom Clubman competently is a skill that most riders today have never mastered because nobody builds motorcycles like this anymore.
Some Velo Background
Veloce Ltd. was never a major player in the British motorcycle world, but made good motorcycles, won races and built an excellent reputation. The company built its first motorcycle in 1905, and in 1913 came out with a 250cc 2-stroke called the Velocette, or Little Velo. The moniker stuck, and the company finally got around to trademarking the name in 1926.
The 1920s were boom years, and Veloce Ltd. had an excellent engineer on hand, Percy Goodman. The son of the founder, Goodman designed Velocette’s early OHC engines and the later “M” series OHV engine, which began in 1933 with the 250cc MOV. The MOV proved popular in those cash-poor times, and it was followed the next year by the 350cc MAC and a year later the 500cc MSS.
In 1954 the new MSS 500 was introduced. With a perfectly square 86mm by 86mm barrel, its broader cylinder head allowed for bigger valves, which was another plus; valve closure was by hairpin springs, considered more reliable than coil springs in those years. The 500 was developed mainly with the U.S. market in mind, where dealers and consumers both felt there was no substitute for cubic inches, and where motorcycles were seen as playthings as much as transportation. The MAC 350 was OK, but the 27hp, 500cc MSS would be even better, and the American importer, Lou Branch, was ecstatic.
The Velocette Venom Clubman Is Born
At England’s annual Earls Court motorcycle show in 1955, a new 500 Velocette was introduced, the Venom. The MSS became the touring bike, while the Venom was the sports version. Running an 8.3:1 compression ratio and rated at 34hp at 6,200rpm, magazine test riders reported top speeds close to 100mph, impressive for the day. Club racing was the rage back then, and before long racing kits with a race-pattern magneto, TT carburetor and even a sodium-filled exhaust valve for better cooling became available. Close-ratio gears were available for the very serious.
A 350 version called the Viper also appeared, and for those wanting to win a bar bet, the Viper was not a hotted-up MAC but a debored Venom, with a 72mm bore and 86mm stroke.
In 1958, a Venom with a few go-fast options was officially clocked at 108mph. For 1959 the Venom actually came in two versions, the standard and the Clubman, the latter having a slightly higher compression (8.75:1), an Amal TT carb and boasting 38hp; this model came with rear-set footpegs, reversed gearshift lever and lower bars. It also had a magneto with manual control.
Wheels were 19 inchers, both running 3.25-inch tires, with the Venom Clubman having a 7.5-inch full-width hub front brake and a narrow 7-inch hub at the back. Our feature bike is running an Avon Speedmaster tire on the front and an Avon Roadrunner on the back; unfortunately, the appropriately named Avon Venoms do not fit these skinny wheels. Wheelbase is a quarter inch shy of 54 inches, and with 3.6 gallons of the highest possible octane gas in the tank, weight is about 380 pounds.
By the standards of the day the handling was very competent. The leading-axle forks were raked at 27 degrees, and the Woodhead-Moore shock absorbers could be adjusted by loosening the top abutment bolts and sliding the shocks back and forth on an 8-inch slot, making this gentlemanly road burner quite adept at “bend-swinging,” as the Brits liked to refer to fast cornering. These could be, and were, ridden hard, with the lusty sound of the famous fishtail muffler echoing off the hills. On a fast nighttime run, the header pipe could be seen glowing.
Minor changes were made over the years. Late in 1960 a bigger, 5.1-gallon tank was introduced for the Venom, as well as the Venom Veeline model. This came with a dolphin-style fairing from Mitchenall Brothers, the Clubman having the sleek Sports Avonaire. In 1961 a well-tweaked Venom with a fairing set a 500cc record by averaging more than 100mph for 24 hours; a third generation of Goodmans, Bertie, was one of the riders.
Girlings were substituted for the Woodhead-Moore shocks in 1963 (John has upgraded his to new Hagons). In June of 1965 the factory announced the Thruxton model, named after a racetrack where Velocette had set records. This was essentially a Venom, but with a brand new cylinder head incorporating larger valves, running a 9:1 compression ratio and claiming 41hp at 6,200rpm. While no race-winner, it was one heck of a sporty ride.
In 1966 the Mark II Clubman appeared, with more complicated gear-shift linkage and a chromed headlight shell rather than the painted cowling. The ammeter stayed in the shell, while the speedo was attached to the triple clamp; a matching tach was optional. In 1968 the company switched to coil ignition, only because Lucas quit building magnetos.
The last Velocette Venom Clubman came out of the factory in 1970 and the last Thruxton in 1971. A mere six years after the doors were closed a pundit in Britain’s Classic Bike Guide wrote: “Only proficient engineers really deserve to own and maintain a Velocette.” Obviously, owner Laughney is a proficient engineer. And he knows that the real fun in riding is to go around a 50mph bend in the road at 65mph — on a 1962 Velocette Venom. MC