In this year of fiftieth anniversaries – the Beatles, James Bond – 1962 is also important to us, because this month marks 50 years since the Vogue received its first public showing at the annual Earls Court Show in London. Pictures of the prototype on the Velocette stand – and beforehand being admired on the terrace outside its creator Doug Mitchenall’s home in Wiltshire – are well known. The sliding French doors and Venetian blinds at the latter location look almost like the set of a contemporary James Bond movie.
But this colour view has not previously been published. It was donated to the Club by Desne Dodkin who, as one of the few staff remaining at Hall Green after liquidation, swept it up with a bundle of discarded photographs as the Velocette factory was about to close. It shows Doug astride his creation at the Avon factory in Durrington on Salisbury Plain. The Kodak print is dated on the reverse, December 1962 – the date when a positive print would have been produced at the film maker’s own laboratory, as was the practice at the time.
By 1962, Mitchenall’s Avon company was at the height of its success, supplying fairings and other glass fibre components to practically the whole UK motorcycle industry. But the prototype Vogue’s bodywork was created, not in glass reinforced plastic (GRP) but hand beaten steel sheet. Complex glass fibre mouldings came later. The most obvious difference from production Vogues is the lack of any mountings for the direction indicators.
It is well known that the idea for a deluxe L.E. was discussed by Bertie Goodman and Doug Mitchenall over a lunch date, with table napkins making do as sketch pads. The Avon boss was given a free hand to style the new machine, using his prodigious wood and metal forming talents, which had been honed during WWII when the youthful Mitchenall was put in charge of a team building motor torpedo boats. In the early 1950s, Doug foresaw the commercial opportunities presented by GRP and was an early customer of the Northamptonshire firm Scott Bader who manufactured the all important polyester resins.
Thirty-two years later, and after he had sold Avon, Doug talked to me at length about the Vogue. Running his hand over the sleek bodywork, he remained pleased with his efforts, although he wondered if the tail section – with its abbreviated fins designed to mimic Fifties American cars – was rather over the top. There is little doubt that the high quality, all embracing bodywork, makes the Vogue look a modern machine today. I’ve had many onlookers mistake one of my own restored examples as a contemporary machine, rather than appreciating its true identity as an early example of motorcycle GRP technology that was launched 50 years ago.
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