When I was an apprentice diesel mechanic in the 1960’s a Velocette Thruxton cost around £420* which was was out of my price range so I had to make do with a Velocette MAC followed by a very quick Velocette Viper both were 350cc single cylinder machines.
In 1992 I saw a Velocette Venom SP advertised in a classic bike magazine. It was located in Crewe and after many telephone calls and faxes, I hired a Ford Transit and drove up to buy it. It was all there but in a sorry state but at least it started and ran OK. Little did I know that it would be 27 years before it ran again and it still hasn't been out on the road - yet !
While we were loading the Velo into the back of the Transit, I casually mentioned that I really wanted a Thruxton but this Velo would have to do.
“I know where there’s a Thruxton for sale” said the vendor, “but all I know it's in pieces” After a lot of persuading, he gave me a telephone number in Pontefract and as I headed South back home, many thoughts were running through my mind - I really wanted a Thruxton as it was an incident previously in 1968 that cemented my desire.
In 1967, I left the UK and went to work for Smith & Youngson on the Hell Run in Zambia and on my first long weekend break the following year I drove down to Salisbury in Rhodesia with two fellow truck mechanics taking our housekeeper Mrs McCartney to visit her son.
As there were terrorists in the area we were not surprised to encounter our first road block. We were commanded to stop by a loan soldier standing in the road who asked us where we had come from and where were we going. We told him of our plans to visit Salisbury and asked him how he was expected to apprehend us on his own by standing in the middle of the road. He smiled and nodded at a bush set back from the edge of the road, a hand popped up with a wave and then we spotted the large machine gun trained on us !
After a stopover at Chinhoyi Caves, we continued on our journey to Salisbury (Now Harare in Zimbabwe) with no more drama apart from a bull elephant blocking our way until he decided to let us pass.
After a couple of beers at his house the talk got around to bikes and he mentioned that he had a bike in his garage. We went to take a look and to my astonishment, there stood a brand new Velocette Thruxton !
This was even more astonishing, as since UDI, there was a very strict embargo imposed by Harold Wilson's government on Rhodesia and no imports were permitted from the UK.
How did he acquire it ? Well, being Ian Smiths personal bodyguard must have helped.
Before heading back to Lusaka in Zambia, we treated ourselves to some culture by booking a table at a well known night club and restaurant know as Le Coq D'or. Now this establishment not only supplied good foods but entertainment as well. Imagine our surprise when a well built young lady took to the floor with tassels attached to her breasts. She then proceeded to rotate the tassels to the music while we three mechanics looked on in wonderment as neither of us could comprehend how she managed to get the tassels to contra-rotate without the aid of a hand start.
Forward to 1992, once I had unloaded the Venom I was straight on the phone to a Mr Kendall in Pontefract, the owner of a Thruxton in bits. He didn't really want to sell it but he did say I could come and see it. So the next week I jumped into my car and headed North to Pontefract
I paid £3,800 for a box of bits, loaded the big lumps into the boot and the frame across the back seat of the car. I must admit that I drove home feeling a bit worried - was it a genuine Thruxton? Only just over 1,000 were made ?
When I got home I phoned a Mr Ray Thurston who is the Keeper of the Thruxton Register. He asked me for the engine, frame and gearbox numbers which I gave him. it seemed an age before he came back on the phone to tell me it was indeed a genuine Thruxton and it was first registered in December 1965
I had a Thruxton at last but now I needed to rebuild it but that’s another story….
I never rode it….
And the Velocette Venom SP (Special) looks a lot different now. Here are some before and after photographs.
You can read more of my adventures on my Blog at :-
* Raymond Sparkes £427-0s-0d in 1967 from Geoff Dodkin, East Sheen.
* Michael Love Update - in March '68 317.14.10 + 82.7.0 p.tax = 400 pounds 1s 10p! I couldn't afford one either .. until 1971 when I bought a s/hand beauty.
Thruxton History - I cant remember where I copied this from so obviously someone owns the copyright
The 'Thruxton' version of the Velocette Venom ridden by Dave Dixon and Joe Dunphy won the Thruxton 500 endurance race. (In 1965 the race was actually held at another disused airfield, the Castle Combe Circuit). In 1967 two Velocette Venom Thruxton motorcycles, ridden by Neil Kelly and Keith Heckles gained first and second places in the Production TT that was first staged at the Isle of Man that year, with Kelly also recording the fastest lap at 91 mph. Prepared by London Velocette dealer Reg Orpin, the winning motorcycle was far from standard, for as well as being in 'Thruxton' trim, the valve gear included titanium tips to the pushrods and valve caps. A Norton Manx piston had been specially engineered at Velocette's Hall Green Workshops, and it had cam followers on needle rollers as well as light alloy timing wheels. It was nearly all for nothing, however, as Kelly failed to start and the rest of the field left him struggling to kick start the Venom. Orpin managed to start it just in time, and, despite the poor start, Neil Kelly caught up with the other riders within three miles and went on to win the 500 cc class, recording 121 mph as he passed the Highlander speed trap.