L.E. VELOCETTE PROTOTYPE (on test)

After its official photograph, (see below), the completed L.E. prototype was ready to begin its road trails. The first job was to register the machine for the road at Birmingham’s vehicle licensing office. Registration FON 898 was allocated — from a sequence that began in August 1941. No record survives of the date this registration was issued, but we know it must have been in the spring of 1944. For marks in this sequence to have remained unallocated after nearly three years, appears surprising. In the late Forties, a batch of registrations like this would have been exhausted in less than a year. But this was wartime, when precious few new civilian vehicles were available to be road registered.

With petrol strictly rationed, Veloce had to apply for a special fuel allowance, available for road testing prototype and development vehicles. The L.E.’s designer Charles Udall undertook the first ride — a rain soaked outing to Derby, visiting members of his family. The journey was trouble free.

 

 

(Click on picture to view larger image)

 

This view, from Peter Goodman’s photograph album, shows his father Eugene — then works director — with FON 898 in the summer of 1944. Peter believes the location is Shrewsbury, with Eugene most likely en route to visit his sister in Dolgellau. As the driving force behind Veloce’s, ‘motorcycle for everyman,’ makes notes — an essential part of any test program — a young garage attendant recharges the L.E.’s fuel tank. The hand operated petrol pump and the steel cupboards, containing cans of motor oil, are typical attributes of a wayside petrol station of the period.

 

As well as its new registration number, the prototype has gained another component — essential before its release on to the road — a horn. Fixed inside the right-hand legshield, the electrically operated horn looks to be of car origin. Wartime austerity meant that few other alternatives were available.

 

This photograph also shows that the test programme had already isolated one problem — the inadequacy of single level footboards. Charles Udall told me this had become obvious as soon as the machine was ridden. It wasn’t simply that a pillion passenger couldn’t reach the boards, the rider’s position was uncomfortable too. A welded on higher rear section transformed the footboards to their familiar, two level layout — the design used in production. We all know that the most comfortable way to ride an L.E. is with one’s feet straddling the sloping section between the footboards’ upper and lower levels.

 

The abbreviated pillion seat bracket has yet to be fitted with a cushioning pad, suggesting that the machine was tested largely as a solo. When a pillion was carried, the flared out arcuate rear suspension mountings rubbed uncomfortably against the passenger’s thighs. Removing these — and incorporating the adjusting slots within the mudguard pressings — solved the problem and made for a much tidier rear mudguard.

 

Dennis Frost

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