The Odd Man Out
1958 Velocette Valiant
Engine: 192cc air-cooled OHV horizontally-opposed twin, 50mm x 49mm bore and stroke, 8.5:1 compression ratio, 12hp @ 7,000rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 60mph (factory recommendation)
Carburetion: Two 16mm Amal Monobloc
Transmission: 4-speed foot shift, shaft final drive
Electrics: 6v, coil and breaker point ignition
Frame/wheelbase: Dual downtube steel cradle/51.25in (1,302mm)
Suspension: Telescopic forks front, dual shock absorbers w/adjustable preload rear
Brakes: 5in (127mm) SLS drum front and rear
Tires: 3.25 x 18in front and rear
Weight (wet): 255lb (116kg)
Seat height: 29in (740mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 3.6gal (13.6ltr)/55-70mpg (est.)
Price then/now: $265 (1957/approx.)/$2,500-$5,000
Stateside fans of Velocette singles are well aware of the marque’s early racing history at the Isle of Man, and its sporting 350cc and 500cc single-cylinder roadsters of the 1950s and 1960s. Less familiar here in the U.S. are the Birmingham firm’s more utilitarian models like the Vogue and Viceroy scooters, and the horizontally-opposed twin LE and Valiant.
Like most of Europe, England’s crippled postwar economy created the need for inexpensive transport, and most builders responded with small-bore singles. Velocette took a different approach with the 1948 LE. Powered by a liquid-cooled 149cc side-valve flat twin, the LE (the letters standing for “little engine”) found wide use among city police forces throughout the country. Civilian sales lagged however, since the LE was much more expensive than bikes like the 2-stroke BSA Bantam, also introduced the same year. For 1951 the engine grew to 192cc and the price was lowered, but other than the constabulary, the market for the little Velo remained flat.
While the LE remained in production as an econo-commuter and civic utility machine, Velocette conceived the Valiant as a sporting lightweight. Introduced at the Earls Court Show in 1956, the Valiant’s 192cc opposed-twin engine was based on the LE unit, but it was air-cooled instead of liquid-cooled and featured overhead valves. Rated at 12 horsepower and equipped with a 4-speed gearbox, the 260-pound machine had a top speed of 70mph.
Dave Mooney’s Valiant
Owner Dave Mooney of San Luis Obispo, Calif., has restored a number of British bikes over the years, usually with the help of his son Brett. Currently, his garage includes a show-quality Triumph Bonneville and a 1953 Vincent Rapide. “The Valiant was restored some years ago in England,” he says. “They don’t usually over-restore them, though; I just get ‘em back on the road.”
The Valiant, a 1958 model, was part of a buy that included two other Velos; a Viper and a 1964 MSS. A few years ago Dave bought a Vincent Comet from Bonneville legend Marty Dickerson. Marty, who lives in the area and knows a thing or two about British bikes, came by to check out the Velocettes. “Marty said the Valiant engine was really well engineered,” Dave says. “He told me that the only thing you could hear when the engine was running was the points opening and closing.”
Mooney takes the little twin out for exercise now and again, usually for the regular lunch meetings of the other old-timers in town. “I ran it up to 60 the other day on the way home,” he says, “the engine sounded just fine.” The wet sump engine breathes through two 16mm Amal Monobloc carbs, and external oil return lines from the heads aid in keeping temperatures down. The shaft drive and easy access for valve and point adjustments make routine maintenance fairly simple.
In 1959 Velocette offered a full fairing as an option on the Valiant, but the market never warmed up to the little twin and sales never reached a point to justify increased production. By 1963, faced with the advent of inexpensive lightweights from Japan, the flat twin was discontinued, although its LE sister stayed in production thanks to continued police orders. Velocette carried on for another seven years, producing the 500cc Venom and Thruxton singles, considered by many — including this writer — as the smoothest running thumpers ever made, until calling it quits in 1971.