A NOD TO HISTORY – THE STORY OF THE NODDY BIKE
VELOCETTE LE MOTORCYCLE - IT'S THE BIKE OF THE WEEK!
The Velocette LE (Little Engine) was made from 1948 to 1970 and saved from oblivion by the good taste of British police force in a triumph of substance over style perhaps?
The design, entrusted to Charles Udall, by Eugene Goodman Velocette's Director, was to be a radical state of the art departure from previous motorcycle design – to be something really different and it certainly achieved that! The focus was on simplicity and practicality, perhaps arising out of a drive to get things done efficiently and with economy of purpose in those grey years after the Second World War. It first graced the stage at Earl's Court British International Motor Show in 1948, bearing the first of it's monikers 'the motorcycle for everyman', sadly though everyman couldn't afford it, economy of purpose did not translate into economy of price.
The Velocette LE was a 'conceived-as-a-whole' design with the engine, gearbox, drive shaft and bevel box all in one unit, with the frame above it, not below. Its engine was a 4 stroke 150cc water-cooled horizontally opposed engine. It had a radiator and boasted a coil ignition for ease of starting. The 3 speed gearbox, engine and clutch were contained in a special steel frame casing and the final drive was shaft mounted in a swing frame with adjustable suspension. It had practical aluminium leg shields, handy to keep the bobbies legs dry, and footboards to rest the boots comfortably on – perhaps some of the features which led to its later success with the police.
Its other advanced features were that the frame was felt-lined and the engine rubber mounted which, along with its water-cooling, kept sound and vibration down – well ahead of it's time and so effective that sometimes owners didn't even know if their engines were running...all the better for sneaking up on crims – the modern electric bikes adopted by many US police forces use the same stealth methods – you saw it here first in 1948!
The bike came equipped with lots of carrying capacity – detachable panniers and a glove compartment – very useful. So what was the down side? Well it was pricey compared to other rides of the day, coming in at a blinding £126 very steep for those days when your average motorcycle was around £80. And sadly because of it's rather unique, metal donkey good looks – it did not ft in with your average motorcyclist's image.
Let's be 'avin you
The Mk11 came out next and improvements were made but it still did not capture the public's imagination and sales just did not take off until it suddenly got noticed by the police force and over 50 police forces bought them to use on patrol - this saved the day for Velocette. Chances are if you see one today it will most likely be an ex-police one – you can identify these by the aftermarket fittings for police radio (behind the saddle - radios were on the large side back in the day - you can see on our one it's been made into a pillion seat) and the manufacturer's data plate being moved to the headstock and, here's a giveaway, the word POLICE being stamped under the generator cover.
Make way for Noddy
It was at this date that the Velocette gained its other moniker - the 'Noddy bike'. This was not, as you might think, because it made an appearance on children's TV with Noddy and Big Ears, because it didn't, but because police officers had to acknowledge senior officers when they passed them, but it was unsafe to take their hands off the handle bars so they were told to nod to their superiors – hence the nodding heads, hence Noddies on Noddy bikes.
By 1958 and buoyed up with police orders, the Velocette Mk 11 LE evolved into the Mk 111 LE with various adaptations to give it more public appeal like an extra gear, and 18 inch diameter wheels, relocated instrumentation which was now in the headlamp. The petrol tank capacity increased. And it carried on advancing getting more reliable and user friendly but somehow it was never really loved and coveted by the motorcycling public – we can't understand it, it's so square and grey – in a good way. Well that's the sightly sad story – the company went into liquidation in 1970 partly due to the police going over to Z cars and not buying Noddy bikes anymore - how could they! When the factory closed Kent County Constabulary bought what was left of the spare parts and kept their Velocettes running until 1974 and then they went off to the back burner of history and we have one in our office – it's a beauty.
NB interesting historical note – a little engine was considered to be a good thing in those days – now bigger is better - engines, tyres, biceps, unless you are a hipster of course, ah the March of Time...!
What do you think of them? A triumph of substance over style or do you, like us, like the styling too?
Share your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org
17/08/19: I own the last one made at the Velocette factory and I'm very proud of it and love it dearly.
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