September 2014

Ice cream, pumps and boats: Dennis puts on a display at the Club’s Annual Rally, telling the story of Veloce’s Industrial Engine

Over the years many people have remarked that the L.E.’s water cooled power unit would make a first rate marine engine. But did the factory ever get round to exploiting the boating market? The answer is they did, but not before Veloce produced a L.E. derived stationary engine designed to power an ice cream van’s refrigeration compressor, followed by a portable pump.

Hall Green developed their L.E. based Industrial Engine in 1962 for a firm called Morrison’s, who made ice cream vans. The Southampton based company wanted a compact, quiet engine that could be fitted to a transportable sales kiosk – powering the refrigeration unit and fluorescent lighting. The order was destined for Australia.

The specification of the standard L.E. power unit was uprated to include hardened steel timing gears running on Torrington needle roller races. The crank was supported on ballraces, with a cut-away centre disc fed by a jet from the oil pump and caged roller big-ends developed from the Viceroy Scooter engine. A redesigned crankcase – its centre section giving the biggest clue to its L.E. history – was secured to a cast iron oil sump with four large mounting lugs. Speed was governed to a constant 3,000 rpm, while a Siba Dynastart meant that starting could be achieved by the turn of a key.

Once the ice cream order was completed, Veloce thought about other uses for their new engine. A few were produced as water pumps and electricity generators, but in 1964 Peter Goodman – himself a keen sailor – adapted one engine for marine use. The coil ignition system was replaced with a magneto, while a rope start pulley combined with a water pump occupied the space previously designed for the speed governor. A marine gearbox was designed with 2:1 reduction and a sliding cone clutch. Reverse drove through a small intermediate gear. Changing from ahead to astern was handled by an adapted kick start lever from one of Veloce’s single cylinder machines.

The marine engine was tested in a small boat once owned by Sir John Black – onetime managing director of the Standard Motor Company. Black and the Goodmans, along with a number of other West Midlands industrialists, owned holiday homes near Harlech in mid-Wales, and Peter borrowed one of Black’s 12ft tenders to test out the prototype marine engine. He once told me: “the engine pushed this boat along at a fair whack, but because of its light flywheel the slow tick over speed was erratic.”

Sir John Black (right) lands his 12ft tender at Pensarn near Harlech in the early 1950s.
Photograph courtesy of Nick Black.

The engine was returned to Hall Green and it seems that the marine engine project foundered after only a single power unit was made. Years later this green painted engine was re-discovered on top of a pile of scrap during the Veloce factory’s demolition in June 1972. I have written about coming across this prototype power unit in the early 1980s, and of Peter Goodman’s surprise at seeing it again after a gap of over 20 years. When I asked if he thought the boat in which the engine was tested was still around, Peter dismissed my question as fanciful. He explained that small working boats usually ended up as firewood once their usefulness was exhausted.

T/T Mochas back on the water after a 20 year restoration. The inboard remains work in progress.

But the boat did survive. I found it on the same Welsh beach where it had first been launched in the 1940s, still owned by Sir John Black’s boatman. T/T Mochras has taken me over 20 years to restore, but last summer I took it out on the water again, now powered by a Stuart Turner two-stroke engine of the type the boat had fitted when new. It will be a while yet before the Veloce engine can again be substituted. Its short life under test included raw sea water as coolant and the resulting corrosion has meant that few of the engine’s internal parts are saveable.

Industrial Engine display at this year’s Annual Rally. Centre is a complete engine – a water pump version. On the right is the gearbox from the one off marine version, with – centre – this power unit’s exhaust system. Note the familiar L.E. type exhaust flanges.

The story of Veloce’s Industrial Engine is intriguing and seemed like to a good subject for a rally display. My stall at last Sunday’s Middleton Hall event included key parts of the tale. There was a complete engine – a water pump version reportedly used by the Fire Brigade in Sussex. Also on show was the marine engine’s gearbox, made in the Hall Green tool room, where the quality of the gear cutting was admired throughout the Black Country. When the Club bought the remaining factory parts stock and paperwork from the Littlejohn family in 1992, thousands of bundled together papers included – remarkably – a number of documents and drawings relating to this unique engine. On display from this collection was the gearbox drawing, and a sketch of the marine engine’s exhaust system – a familiar mixture of L.E. pipes and flanges.

Dennis Frost