Velocette Thruxton: A Tale of Two Fishtails

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Before Frank bought them, these two Velocette Thruxtons were owned by father and son Pat and Terry Peddicord.
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Despite its small size, Veloce Ltd., makers of Velocette motorcycles, was known for its advanced technology.
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A Venom with the optional head won its class in the Thruxton 500-mile endurance race that year, and the next year, a new version of the Venom, the Thruxton, was introduced.
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A family operation, for 65 years the Velocette factory built high-quality but quirky motorcycles in Hall Green, Birmingham, England.
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The single-leading-shoe drum front brake was king in its day.
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At 499cc, the overhead-valve single produces 41 horsepower.
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With standard gearing, a Thruxton turned 4,000rpm at 70mph.
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Though later Thruxtons wore Amal Concentric carbs, these 1966 models both wear higher-strung Amal GP2s.
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Owner Frank Recorder enjoys riding both his Velocette Thruxtons, though he’s decided the silver one is the show bike and the black one is the rider.

1966 Velocette Thruxton
Claimed power
: 41hp @ 6,500rpm
Top speed: 110mph (130mph in racing trim)
Engine: 499cc air-cooled OHV vertical single, 86mm x 86mm bore and stroke, 9:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 375lb (168kg)
Fuel capacity: 5.1gal (19.3ltr)
Price then/now: $1,035 (est.)/$20,000-$30,000

A family operation, for 65 years the Velocette factory built high-quality but quirky motorcycles in Hall Green, Birmingham, England. The two sons of founder John Goodman (formerly Gütgemann) had opposing personalities. Percy, a speed enthusiast, developed some of the best race bikes of the last century while Eugene, a proponent of economical transport, designed 2-strokes and overhead valve singles. Interestingly, the ancestor of the ton-up Thruxton, the 250cc MOV, was designed by Eugene.

Despite its small size, Veloce Ltd., makers of Velocette motorcycles, was known for its advanced technology. The first positive-stop, foot-actuated gearchange on a production motorcycle appeared on the 1929 KTT. But the KTT and other overhead cam Velos were expensive to build. After the Depression hit in the 1930s, a cost-effective alternative was needed.

Eugene Goodman responded with the high-camshaft 248cc MOV in 1933. It sold well, and a 349cc version, the MAC, and a 495cc version, the MSS, soon joined it. Continuing Velocette’s tradition of innovation, the 1935 MSS sported automatic ignition advance.

The defining feature of the MOV, and subsequent versions of its single-cylinder engine, was the valve train. The camshaft, sitting high in the cases, spun off a series of gears mated with the crankshaft, and short pushrods operated the rockers atop the cylinder. Keeping the cam high and the pushrods short lessened reciprocating weight and improved valve control.

In 1939 England plunged into World War II and civilian motorcycle production stopped. Velocette built some military motorcycles based on a 350cc version of the MOV, but did not receive large military contracts like BSA and Norton did. As the war ended, Velocette was weakened financially.

The seed is sown

Postwar, small commuter bikes were supposed to be the coming thing, but Velocette’s innovative sidevalve horizontal opposed twin, the LE, although very popular with police departments, was not a success with enthusiasts. Fortunately, someone at Velocette realized that although the market for its docile little twin was soft, the market for sport machines was not. Although Velocette’s postwar plan had been to focus on the LE, production of the 349cc MAC was continued.

Mostly unknown in the U.S. prior to WWII, Velocettes were discovered by American soldiers stationed overseas during the war years. Jack Frodsham started importing Velos to the United States after the war, before selling his operation to Lou Branch in 1949. Velocette had phased out production of the 495cc MSS (and all other models besides the MAC and LE) after the war, but by the early 1950s both Frodsham and Branch were pushing Velocette to build another 500.

In 1953, Velocette introduced an updated swingarm frame for the MAC. Front suspension was by hydraulically damped telescopic shocks, and the rear suspension was easily adjustable for load by moving the top end of the shocks along an ingeniously designed slot. Velocette did not have the capital to redesign the new MAC frame to accept the taller MSS engine, so factory engineer and designer Charles Udall reconfigured the MSS to fit. The result was a square 86mm x 86mm bore and stroke 499cc engine, unusual at the time. Not only did it fit in the existing frame, but it turned out to have better breathing and the capacity to rev higher than previous long-stroke engines.

Introduced in 1954, the new MSS was quickly discovered by California desert racers. Jim Johnson won that year’s Catalina Island GP on an MSS, and Velocette started producing a scrambler and an enduro version of its big single for the American market. Tex Luce successfully flat tracked a reworked enduro MSS built by Ernie Pico.

In 1956 Velocette brought out two sporty versions of the MSS; the 349cc Viper and the 499cc Venom. Evaluating the Viper in 1958, The Motor Cycle, one of the two English motorcycling weeklies, proclaimed it “a remarkably fine motorcycle, all round performance well above the average,” and capable of 90mph-plus.

Both the Viper and the Venom had bi-metal cylinders, with a cast iron liner welded to an aluminum alloy jacket by the Al-Fin process. The heads were also aluminum, enclosing hairpin valve springs. The bottom end ran on tapered roller bearings, and lubrication was dry sump.

Venom, then Velocette Thruxton

The Venom, like all Velocettes, had its share of quirks. Chief among them was “The Starting Procedure,” the subject of a full paragraph in the owner’s manual and a process that had to be followed exactly or the bike would not start. Plate distortion could stop the clutch (which used multiple small springs) from lifting cleanly, and the magneto and generator ignition was hopelessly outdated. But enthusiasts didn’t mind, as the Venom was one of the best of the big British singles — fast, good handling and great looking.

In 1960, Velocette introduced the Venom Clubman, basically a production racer with lights. It sported an Amal TT carburetor, a racing magneto and rearsets. By this time the third generation of Goodmans was running the show, including Bertie, son of Percy and a pretty good racer himself. A factory team took a Clubman to the banked circuit at Montlhéry outside Paris in 1961, and set 12- and 24-hour records of 104.66mph and 100.05, respectively.

In 1964, a racing cylinder head became available for the Venom. Possibly designed by Lou Branch, some sources state it was actually the work of Dick Brown at Modern Cycle Works in Los Angeles. It had a larger intake valve, a revised inlet tract and a narrower valve angle. Velocette built special gas and oil tanks, notched to clear the large 1-3/8-inch Amal GP carb the head used.

A Venom with the optional head won its class in the Thruxton 500-mile endurance race that year, and the next year, a new version of the Venom, the Thruxton, was introduced. Velocette claimed 41 horsepower at the crankshaft — 44 with a megaphone instead of a muffler. The American importer advertised it as “a man’s machine,” possibly because the starting procedure had gotten no easier over the years.

The Thruxton had the standard Venom dual-loop frame with upgraded telescopic forks, clip-ons, rearsets and the Velo fishtail “Brooklands can” muffler. It was good for up to 110mph stock — and a lot more with knowledgeable tuning. With standard gearing, a Thruxton turned 4,000rpm at 70mph.

Later Thruxtons swapped the high-strung GP carb for an Amal Concentric, the compression ratio was raised a bit, and from July 1968 on a battery and coil ignition became available, which might have made starting a tad easier. Color was generally silver/blue, but customers could order their Thruxton traditionally finished in black with gold pinstriping.

Our bike

Our feature bike has a somewhat unusual background. Pat Peddicord was in the business of selling Velocettes in Southern California when he bought our silver/blue 1966 Velocette Thruxton feature bike from a customer in 1968. At the same time his son, Terry, was riding a black 1966 Thruxton.

Fast-forward to about 10 years ago when British motorcycle enthusiast Frank Recoder started looking for a Thruxton. About 1,058 Thruxtons were built in the five years of production (an estimated 60 more were assembled from original bits after Velocette went out of business in 1971), and these are now scattered around the world. Surviving Thruxtons are, not surprisingly, rare, and often get passed from one “Velocettista” to another, so Frank started working his way into local Velocette circles. Eventually, he got a lead on a silver/blue Thruxton, Pat Peddicord’s bike.

Pat had passed on, and his Thruxton belonged to his widow. “Pat had gone for a ride, parked the bike and collapsed. They found him too late,” Frank says. Although the bike had sat for seven years, the Peddicord family wasn’t sure they wanted to sell it, and it took two years for Frank to convince them he would care for the bike as Pat had. At that point, Terry mentioned he had a second Thruxton, apart and in boxes.

Frank took possession of the silver/blue bike (called Deep Blue/Metallic Silver by Veloce), which, while mostly complete, wasn’t running, and set to sorting it out. At first, Terry didn’t want to part with his black Thruxton, but then his wife had a baby, and some four months later Frank took possession of what he says was 70 percent of a Thruxton, including all the sheet metal. He called Velocette specialist Ed Gilkison, who’d helped get the silver/blue bike going, for help.

Ed did the machine work, located missing engine parts, and provided support, advice and encouragement for the project. Eight months after Frank bought the black Velo, it was back together. “Then it took me six months to sort it out and locate all the leaks,” he says.

Since getting both bikes going, Frank has more or less decided the black Thruxton is the rider and the silver/blue bike is the show bike, although he did show the black bike at the 2012 Quail Motorcycle Gathering. This past summer, Frank and his wife, Elizabeth (an enthusiastic pillion rider), rode the black Thruxton to the annual Velocette rally in Arizona. “Five days of riding — 1,000 miles!” Frank says, smiling at the memory.

Frank says owning and maintaining a Velocette Thruxton isn’t too bad, but setting up the clutch is tricky. “It’s unusual — very thin. It has two plates that slide and three driven plates. You have to adjust it by turning the spring-loaded center. The engine has to go through a cycle before the clutch opens. You have to watch first gear and time gear changes or the transmission will make noise. But once it’s set up it works fine. I set the clutch on the silver Thruxton 3,000 miles back and it still works fine.”

Like all vintage bikes, oil changes are frequent on a Thruxton. “I change the oil every time I come back from a rally. I used to put hypoid gear oil in the transmission, but I had problems with a leaky tranny. I read an article in the Velo club newsletter that recommended lighter oil. Oil is kept in the transmission by deflection washers; the return holes are small, and thick oil will clog the holes. I use 50 weight Motul now,” Frank says.

As much as Frank likes his Thruxtons, they aren’t without challenges. Difficult to start when cold, the GP carb has no idle circuit, so once you get a Velocette Thruxton started, you have to rev it until it is warm. Frank says it takes five minutes, but after it’s warm, it’s a sweet engine with a wide powerband and loads of torque. “I normally rev the engine to 5,000rpm,” Frank says. “Max is 6,200rpm. It holds its line on twisties — I can maintain speed, switching from second to third gear and back. It has plenty of power. I can really feel it pulling out of corners. It’s unique — a pleasure to ride and a nice rush. The bike responds to you and repays all the work you have to put into it. Thruxtons are racers. Once you find that sweet spot, about 70-75mph, you can go forever.”

These two 500cc Velocettes are part of two families’ histories and another family’s present. Designed and built by the Goodman family in England, and owned, ridden, repaired and loved for years by Pat Peddicord and his son, Terry, stalwarts of the postwar Southern California motorcycle scene. The Goodmans no longer build bikes, and Pat Peddicord is gone, but these rare classics are still here, now owned by Frank and Elizabeth Recoder, who treasure them both. MC

Read this excerpt from a Velocette service manual to learn How to Start a Thruxton.

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