Memorable MC Venom Thruxton

November 2, 2004
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

In the then new sport of  Production Racing   the Venom was equally good and in 1964 Velocette took the 500cc class award in the Thruxton 500 mile race - the blue riband of production races. In doing so  the  Venom Thruxton  was born.
In the then new sport of “Production Racing”, the Venom was equally good and in 1964 Velocette took the 500cc class award in the Thruxton 500 mile race – the blue riband of production races. In doing so, the “Venom Thruxton” was born.

By 1965, the Velocette factory in Hall Green, Birmingham, was on its last legs. After sixty years of being a world leading innovator and manufacturer Velocette were beginning to look like a living industrial museum with designs and production techniques which dated back to the 1930s.

If an observer could have gone back in time, he would not have credited that this once famous marque could have fallen so far from grace. In 1926, Alan Bennett rode a 350cc Velocette to victory in that year’s TT by an astonishing ten minutes. Three years later, Velocette invented the positive stop, foot change, gearbox which is still in use today by virtually every manufacturer in the world. By 1932, the factory had introduced automatic lubrication on all their two-strokes. Supercharged twins, overhead cam race and road bikes, water-cooled four-strokes – Velocette did it all.

After the Second World War, the factory found itself short materials, innovation and inward investment. In short, the depredations of six years of war had taken a terrible toll. Velocette were also weak in terms of worldwide distribution. The marque could be bought in almost every corner of the globe – and particularly so in the old British Empire – but distribution was haphazard, low scale and amateurish.

The flagship product was the Velocette Venom – a woefully old fashioned motorcycle by 1965, Equally, it was a stunning example of its genre. The Venom’s 500cc, push-rod engine is still arguably the best example of a hyper sports, British four-stroke single. The high cam motor has a short push-rod which gives much of the advantage of an OHC engine without the costs and the extremely narrow crankcases result in a very stiff, efficient crankshaft.

Depending on how one looks at it, the brazed-lug frame is either a living example of 19th century bicycle manufacturing techniques – or a superb piece of motorcycle design resulting in some of the best handling in its class. In fact, both statements are true.

The rest of the Venom was an equally contradictory series of Velocette’s own novel engineering – or outdated anachronisms which should have long since ceased to exist. What could not be denied was that a meticulously assembled Venom was both fast and durable – a fact writ large when in 1961 an Anglo-French team took the world 24 hour record, averaging over 100.05 mph in one session.

Supercharged twins  overhead cam race and road bikes  water-cooled four-strokes - Velocette did it all.
Supercharged twins, overhead cam race and road bikes, water-cooled four-strokes – Velocette did it all.

In the then new sport of “Production Racing”, the Venom was equally good and in 1964 Velocette took the 500cc class award in the Thruxton 500 mile race – the blue riband of production races. In doing so, the “Venom Thruxton” was born.

The Thruxton was an even hotter version of the existing Venom Clubman’s model and there is no argument that Velocette did a no-holds-barred job on the bike. A simple twin leading shoe conversion for the existing 8″ front brake transformed the stopping power whilst a close ratio gearbox – still a four-speeder – and upgraded suspension showed that the factory was serious in building a true production racer.

But the big effort was reserved for the motor. The cylinder head was gas flowed by hand and bigger valves were fitted. A 1 1/2″ Amal GP carburetor and race cams let the motor breath effectively. The result was a genuine 120mph road burner with handling as good as a BSA Gold Star.

Around a 1000 Thruxtons were built and owners loved them. The booming single, with its evocative fish-tail psuedo-silencer, goes as well as it looks and is a comfortable match for a BSA Gold Star. Had Velocette produced this bike in 1954 – which they could easily have done – instead of 1964 then the factory still might have been with us.

By the swinging ’60s, the mass of customers wanted electric start bikes which were easy to use and ultra reliable. The Japanese knew this and prospered. Velocette refused to acknowledge the facts of life and faded away. 

Share your thoughts on this article in the MCUSA Forum. Click Here

Facebook comments