Ton-Up Club: 1961 Velocette Venom 500 Clubman

Acquired through a chance phone call to an old work buddy, new owner Don Smith has revived this Velocette Venom Clubman to its former glory.

| May/June 2017

1961 Velocette Venom Clubman “Veeline”
499cc air-cooled OHV single, 86mm x 86mm bore and stroke, 8.75:1 compression ratio, 39hp @ 6,200rpm
Top speed:
102mph (period test)
Single Amal 10TT9
4-speed, chain final drive
6v, Miller DC generator, BT-H racing magneto ignition
Single downtube lugged and brazed mild steel tube frame/53.75in (1,365mm)
Velocette telescopic forks front, dual Woodhead-Monroe, Armstrong or Girling shocks w/adjustable preload rear
7.5in (190.5mm) SLS drum front, 7in (178mm) SLS drum rear
3.25 x 19in front, 3.5 x 19in rear
Weight (dry):
375lb (170kg)
Seat height:
30.5in (775mm)
Fuel capacity:
3.5gal (13.2ltr)
Price then/now:
$1,095 (1963)/$8,000-$20,000

On the weekend of March 18, 1961, a team of six French riders plus Bruce Main-Smith of Motor Cycling magazine and Veloce Ltd. Sales Director Bertie Goodman assembled at the famed Montlhéry banked track near Paris, France, with a specially prepared Velocette Venom Clubman 500 single.

Their goal was to ride the Venom to a new motorcycle speed and endurance record. By Sunday morning, the team had covered 2,400.92 miles on the Venom from the time it roared off the start line the previous day, in the process setting two new records, the first for running an average speed of 100.05mph over 24 hours — in spite of a 34-minute stop to replace the gear selector mechanism and rear chain — and a new 12-hour record for an average speed of almost 105mph.

Although missing most of its electrical ancillaries and fitted with a “dolphin” fairing, the Venom was close to stock Clubman specification with 8.75:1 compression, though an Amal GP carburetor and taller gearing had been used. The record bike produced an estimated 40 horsepower and ran most of the 24 hours between 5,800 and 6,000rpm — yet still returned 45mpg!

The Venom

The Venom had its origins in Velocette’s 1933 250cc MOV, which was intended as a sporting lightweight to fill the gap between the utilitarian 250cc GTP 2-stroke and the 350cc overhead cam KSS street bikes. It was to be easier and cheaper to produce, but still reflected Velocette’s engineering sophistication. So while the specification called for pushrod-operated overhead valves, designer Charles Udall placed the camshaft as high as possible in the engine to reduce moving mass in the valve train — leading to the famous “Map of Africa” timing cover. Udall also tried to minimize the width of the crankcase and therefore reduce flexing. To achieve this, he specified a taper-fit crankpin to avoid using lock nuts, and taper roller main bearings. Udall also kept the primary driveline chain as close as possible to the crankcase, minimizing side loads on the crankshaft and gearbox mainshaft. This allowed the clutch to be inboard of the countershaft sprocket, meaning the final drive gear ratio could be changed in minutes.

The MOV’s design became the template for all Velocette overhead valve singles, and its fundamental sturdiness was demonstrated in that the same basic bottom end was retained throughout the engine’s evolution. But the most popular engine size for a sporting motorcycle in 1930s Britain was 350cc, so the 68mm x 68mm MOV acquired a crankshaft with a 96mm stroke to create the sporty 350cc MAC of late 1933. The sidecar-tug market was also important in the 1930s, so Velocette responded with an 81mm bore for more torque, creating the 500cc MSS.

bike on highway

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