This splendid photograph of the prototype L.E has been provided by our new President. Pauline Arculus is posed with FON 898 in 1975, just before the freshly restored machine was donated to the Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry.
I explained in Looking Back 17 (OTL No.423 – October 2003) that the prototype had resurfaced in 1973, when it was bought by George and Ethel Denley – Veloce’s retired directors. The by then neglected L.E. was spotted for sale by motorcycle author Jeff Clew and was restored by Dennis Webb, himself a stalwart of the factory’s service department. This photograph was taken at the Denley’s home in Boden Road, Hall Green – a few streets away from the Veloce factory site.
A detailed check of FON 898 shows that it’s specification is much changed from the machine’s 1944 prototype layout. The engine – intriguingly stamped 200/1001 and with a frame number of 1001 – is an all plain bearing affair, generally to early 1955 specification. A Miller rather than a BTH generator can be clearly seen – of course the former was not fitted to the L.E. until 1951 – and a pressure release valve below the right hand cylinder confirms the engine’s plain rather than ball and roller bearing layout.
Not all the machine is from 1955. Although unseen in this photograph, the crankcase has the original wide necked oil filler, which was deleted after the first few Mk.II L.E.s had been produced. The frame is a real hybrid. The lower strengthening plates – both types – are pop riveted in place, along with the gear lever aperture, all of which are to 1955 specification. The pillion seat bracket is pinned in place and the battery box has its sides cut away, giving better access to the speedometer cable – again, all 1955 season features. However the rear number plate bracket is spot welded to the mudguard and features a narrow LE319-type registration plate topped by a Miller type 36 light – all pre-55 practice. The gearbox is firmly of 1955 origin. The gear lever mechanism is spring loaded – making for an easier change from first to second – and the handstart lever has no locating hole for connecting to the stand retraction mechanism, deleted years before. Instrumentation on the right hand legshield top comprises a later type single Miller six position switch and ammeter, rather than the double switch either side of an ignition warning light used on the first L.E.s. Incidentally my inspection of the machine some years ago also confirmed that the Miller generator was to AC4 specification with a ballast resistance on the ignition circuit.
Thanks to member Mike Payne, I am able to confirm that FON 898 was once owned by Bernal Osborne, Midlands editor of Motor Cycling. Mike sent me recently an October 1957 issue of this magazine in which Osborne describes a visit to the Metropolitan Police, joining them on patrol with machines from their first L.E. fleet, delivered earlier that year. He recounts riding FON 898 from the Midlands to his Police appointment in west London. Osborne refers to his machine by its registration number – adding that it was fitted with, “engine number 1 and spent the late ‘40s and early ‘50s as a works hack-cum-experimental model.” Bertie Goodman, Veloce’s sales director, was also on hand – riding one of the earlier demonstration L.E.s provided for the Police to evaluate. Both Osborne and Goodman were, “disappointed there were no burglars to chase.”