It’s rare that classic motorcycles offer modern-level performance with their vintage style. That’s what makes classic BMW bikes popular, for example. And typically, such performance is thanks to larger, multi-cylinder engines. But the Velocette Venom didn’t need an engine the size of the Munch Mammut’s to set a world record. A record that’s still in place nearly 50 years later.
Velocette and the Venom
Although multi-cylinder bikes, like Henderson’s motorcycles and the Brough-Superior SS100, existed by the 1920s, single-cylinders were far more common. Even in places like the Isle of Man TT, the average racer rode single-cylinder motorcycles, which were simpler and usually more reliable. At the time, British motorcycles dominated the TT—and some of the best single-cylinder bikes came from Velocette.
Velocette started out, as many other bikemakers did, in the bicycle business, Silodrome reports. But by 1925, the company had transitioned to proper motorcycles. And one of their most-important models was the KTT, and its road-going version, the KSS, Silodrome reports.
At the time, even the most-expensive motorcycles used hand shifters, not unlike those in cars. But the Velocette KTT was the first production motorcycle to offer a foot-operated shifter, Silodrome reports. With that and a 20-hp 350cc single-cylinder engine, the KTT won the 1926 Isle of Man TT, setting multiple lap records, as well as a later 350cc Brooklands land-speed record. Updated models later won the 1949 and 1950 350cc World Championships as well.
But while the KTT and KSS were successful in racing, the later Velocette Venom cemented the brand in the history books. Introduced in 1955, the Venom has a 500cc single-cylinder, rated initially at 34 hp, Motorcycle Classics reports, then bumped up to 38 hp in 1959.
38 hp doesn’t seem like a lot for 500cc. However, it was enough to set a record. In 1961, a factory-prepped Velocette Venom ran for 24 hours while averaging 100 mph at France’s Montlhéry speed bowl, Mecum reports. It’s a 500cc-and-over single-cylinder record that still stands today.
The Velocette Venom Thruxton
But that wasn’t the end of the Velocette Venom. In 1965, Velocette introduced the Venom Thruxton, Hemmings reports. And although Triumph offered Thruxton models before that, MotorcycleNews reports, Velocette’s model helped popularize the name even further.
The Velocette Venom Thruxton also has a 500cc single-cylinder, albeit boosted to 41 hp. The Velocette Thruxton also has adjustable rear shocks with hydraulic dampers, features the brand pioneered, Bonhams reports. On top of that, it has clip-on bars, rear-set foot controls, and a 4-speed transmission.
Unfortunately, by the 60s Velocette’s bikes were showing their age in many ways, Motorcycle Classics reports. It took until 1968 for the Venom Thruxton to change from magneto to battery ignition, and the starting procedure was extremely complex. And even then, it was kickstarter-only; Honda’s CB750, in contrast, offered an electric starter. Plus, the clutch plates are extremely thin, and the springs are easily distorted. You really don’t want to keep the clutch in at a stoplight.
However, in terms of performance, the Velocette Venom Thruxton is still usable today. In corners, it remains stable and planted. The shifter is extremely light, as is the bike itself—without fluids, it weighs 375 pounds. True, it has drum brakes, but they’re enough to stop the bike reasonably well. And, being purely mechanical, they’re easy to maintain. Plus, the Velocette Venom Thruxton is smooth even at speeds over 70 mph.
Getting one of your own
The Velocette Venom was produced from 1955-1971, which is when the company folded. Of the Venoms produced, 1108 were Thruxtons, Bring a Trailer reports. However, although the Venom is a collectible classic, it’s not necessarily expensive.
A pristine example, Hagerty reports, typically goes for $35,000-$40,000. However, $20,000-$30,000 is the more-typical value, Bonhams, and BaT report. The earlier KSS and KTT models are even cheaper. 2 examples went for $10,200 and $8400 on BaT earlier in 2020.
It is worth noting that a brand-new Triumph Thruxton RS starts at $16,200. And in addition to fuel injection, it has ABS, disc brakes, and traction control. Plus, with 104 hp, it’s noticeably more powerful.
In addition, there’s also the Honda GB500 Tourist Trophy. With its rear-set controls and solo seat, it was specifically designed to ape the TT racers of the 50s and 60s. It even comes with a single-cylinder engine, a 498cc one rated at 33 hp. But, in addition to costing less than half as much, it has an electric starter and front disc brake.
But then, neither Triumph’s Thruxton nor the GB500 are record-holders.
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