Brian and a mate bought an old Morris ambulance and went touring around Europe. Returning home, Brian found that, tired of the Venom frame and forks in the way, his stepfather had chucked them in a skip™ Fortunately, the engine, gearbox, wheels, petrol tank and oil tank survived the clear out.
In the early 1970 s, Brian met a lovely Manx girl at the Isle of Man TT, fell in love, got married and moved to the island. The remains of the Venom were moved from Shropshire shed to Manx shed, where it stayed until 2010, when it was decided something really needed to be done with it … which is where I come in. I’d just bought a i960 Venom. It was rusty, crusty and quite horrible – but it had a V5.
With the donor bike and the parts Brian had stashed away, we might have a complete bike, and so we began a game of ‘correspondence bike chess’ in which he would send various bits to me in Kent, while I posted stuff over to the Isle of Man so he could cherry pick the best bits with which build a complete engine and gearbox.
Eventually, Brian and his wife, Maureen, came over for a holiday and he brought the best of the bits, which went to Nick Payton to work his magic on the bottom end. I tried to keep the look of the bike very much as Brian had it in the ’60s, hence the silver tank, red piping on the seat, etc, although I did use some artistic licence of my own. The oil tank, by the way, is an aftermarket one sold by L Stephens, the London Velocette dealer, back in the 1960s.
Now, I knew nothing about the various idiosyncrasies of the Velo engine and there was only so much help Brian could give over the phone. So a friend put me in touch with a chap in the Huntsman MCC who made regular trips to my workshop to piece it all together and get the thing fired up. Take a bow, Mr Tim Bailey! What a gem of a gentleman.
Finally finished, the bike was taken to the Isle of Man for the Manx Grand Prix in 2012. The bike took pride of place at a party to celebrate Brian’s 70th birthday in the hotel foyer and the next day, he rode two track sessions at the Festival of Jurby in glorious sunshine. I also got to ride the Venom in the Parade Lap on the following Friday … in torrential rain.
So that’s the main part of the story, but part two of this tale is why the engine broke, all those years ago.
Brian, in a never-ending quest for speed, had spent a lot of hard-earned shillings (about £38, a fortune back then!) on a desmodromic valve kit from Ilford-based dealer, BMG. This, apparently, didn’t give a huge increase in horsepower, but it did enable you to forget about the 6ooorpm redline and just rev the thing until it stopped pulling. As a bonus, missed gear changes were no longer a potentially catastrophic mistake. In 1963, BMG actually patented the principle, although contemporary reports suggest the benefits of the kit were rather exaggerated.
Indeed, Brian’s engine lasted for a couple of race meetings, but then a cam follower snapped while he was riding the forty miles to work one morning. Here, forty or so years on, here’s that desmodromic kit. Sadly, the passage of time has taken its toll, but Brian’s shed is close to the Irish Sea, after all.
So, what to do with the desmodromic kit? It needs to be restored as I think it’s a very rare and interesting piece of Velocette history. Are there any others around? There’s one fitted to a cutaway engine in Australia, and occasionally kits come up for sale. I’m open to sensible offers or maybe loaning it to a museum, or you’re welcome to inspect it and figure out if you can make your own!