Veloce manufactured a remarkable lightweight motorcycle during the years 1949 to 1964. It was a flat twin of 150 to 200cc, with water cooling and shaft drive.
Its uniqueness, for its day, has never been surpassed. Three model variations were produced beginning with the 150cc MKI which had a three speed hand change gearbox and hand start lever. The MKII was increased to 200cc and retained the three speed hand change gearbox, hand start lever and shaft drive. The MKIII retained a capacity of 200cc but the gearbox was increased to 4 speed foot change and a kick start replaced the hand starter system. The remainder of the specification remained largely unchanged.
In the lean years following the conclusion of the Second World War, rationing and all manner of shortages were still prevalent. It was these factors which influenced Velocette's chief designer, Eugene Goodman, to propose a radical motorcycle design for the masses. It was decided that a design had to appeal to both sexes, all physiques and ages. From these parameters Eugene came up with the L.E. (little engine). It was radical for the day, with all the details as listed below show, but it did not make a very attractive motorcycle to a lot of people's eyes.However, ownership proved differently as the features came to the fore. Velocette were so enthusiastic about the design that production at their factory was mainly dedicated to this product, whilst manufacture of their famous singles was given a back seat. This particular decision later proved significant in the demise of the company. The average motorcyclist of the era looked upon the L.E. as a strange oddity and not a true Velocette by named reputation, and shunned it for the more conventional motorcycles, such as the B.S.A. Bantam etc., which, by specification, were cheaper.
But Velocette were not too bothered, as their main target was a new sector of the public wishing cheap to run transport. The initial MkI was introduced at the 1948 Motor Cycle Show as the "Motorcycle for Everyman". It had masses of new and innovate features such as: A four-stroke, side valve, water cooled, horizontally-opposed twin cylinder engine with a forward mounted radiator to cool its cylinders and heads. A generator and coil ignition was provided, unheard of then for small engines, which aided easy starting. Primary drive gearing fed a car type multi-plate dry clutch into a three-speed gearbox. The engines, primary gear, clutch and gearbox were housed in integral castings. The final drive to the rear wheel was by shaft drive. This shaft drive was mounted in a swing frame with coil spring suspension that could be adjusted from the outside of the rear mudguard, another first for Velocette. Carburation was unique to this engine with a specially designed Amal unit based on car type principles, i.e. multi-jets and butterfly valve. This carburettor was mounted on a manifold common to both heads.
Eugene was following his basic concept of a bike for all and it was thought that changing gears and kick starting with your shoes would scuff them, and what about ladies' in high heels? Legshields in polished aluminium were provided along with footboards rather than rests. This was both with a view to weather protection and ease of riding, as the rider was able to move his feet while travelling. Heat from the cylinders provided comfort in cold weather. The overall riding height was built to give 28" from the sprung saddle to the road, thus giving a low centre of gravity, again for easy riding. At the top of the leg shields the instruments were mounted. Initially there was a speedo and trip recorder, lighting switch and ignition switch. Built-in pannier frames were provided for carrying luggage within quick release canvas bags. The overall weight was about 260 lbs., which was very good for the day considering it carried water-coolant and 2.5 pts. of oil in the wet sump.
The overall ride was and still is superb, the pressed steel frame giving very good strength. The engine was mounted on rubber to deaden vibration and the underside of the steel frame lined with felt to remove any traces of drumming. In combination with the four stroke water-cooled side valve engine and good silencer, a quiet and purring note was obtained. In traffic the only way you knew that the engine was running was by noticing that the ignition light was out. In these early days, before the compulsory use of helmets, it was possible to ride in the countryside and see and smell as well as hear. This combination of superb specification and Velocette's obsession with fine engineering, made competition with other manufacturers somewhat difficult to achieve, the MkI selling at £126.00 against the B.S.A. D1 Bantam at £76.00. This cost was high due to Veloce's obsession with fine engineering. however, its unconventional looks ensured that overall sales and initial targets were not achieved.
The initial 150cc L.E. Mk1 produced 6 bhp with an overall top speed of 50 mph and gave a return of approx. 95 mpg. Built-in luggage space in the shape of integral pannier frames and bags, a hinged glove compartment/toolbox forward of the petrol tank, a quick detachable rear wheel and battery accessibility gained by lifting the hinged seat, and even a built-in licence holder, are among the bike's features. A glove compartment? Instruments, switches and an ignition light, all mounted dashboard-like on top of the legshields? A radiator to top up? A car-type wet sump? A gear stick? A car type clutch? All these show the lateral thinking involved in the L.E. This was, in effect, a two-wheeled car, yet the full-sized wheels, the excellent rigid chassis and the exceptionally low centre of gravity meant that none of the motorcycle's virtues had been skimped. Titch Allen, the famous columnist, described the LE as "an economy lightweight which ended up as the most sophisticated pure design in motorcycle history"
Source: Alan Britch (minor edits July 2021)
N.B. Phil Irving is credited with the original concept of the LE. See this article: L.E. Velocette Prototype