With the versatile Velocette KSS Mark 1 Special on the move

On the move: Velocette KSS Mark 1 Special

The versatile 30s racing machine

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A racing bike for the road or a production motorcycle with racing components – the unique Velocette KSS Mark 1 from Jeff Craig holds some secrets. Does she reveal this while driving?


The KSS Mark 1 feels even lighter than the 118 kilograms suggest.

If there is any American fan of English motorcycles, it is my buddy Jeff Craig. I met him in London at the end of the wild 1960s, during the Beatles era and everything that went with it. Jeff had already toured Europe a lot at that time, on a BMW R 69 S – German reliability and the cardan had probably convinced him. However, his heart beat much earlier and more passionately for British motorcycles, especially Norton and Velocette. He now owns an enviable collection of English bikes housed in a stylish 18th century house in the middle of the scenic north of Philadelphia. All vehicles are regularly moved, in the vicinity, or in rallies that Jeff have partly taken to Canada. One copy of his collection, however, keeps him brooding with its mysterious story to this day, 30 years after the purchase. It’s a Velocette Special that he bought in 1981 from an older American classic enthusiast who had bought this bike in England twelve years earlier.

Just the circumstances that led to the possession of this Velocette would be worth telling in a separate story. In Jeff’s words, it happened like this: “One Sunday morning the phone rang and out of the blue a voice asked me if I was interested in buying a Velocette KSS Mark 1. The owner told me that he had had three heart attacks and could no longer start them, but he wanted them to be in good hands and had heard that I was interested in Velocette bikes . The price mentioned sounded fair, so I decided to go to Long Island and take a look. ”As it turned out, the voice on the phone belonged to flight engineer Alec Ullman, a legendary figure in North American motorsport, founder of the famous Sebring International Raceway Florida racetrack and promoter of the first American Formula 1 Grand Prix race in 1959. Ullman owned a fine collection of classic cars and motorcycles, all housed in his country estate not far outside of Manhattan. “To our meeting, he drove up in a classy Bugatti Type 40 Coupe, which he used as an everyday car. For special occasions he used his Hispano-Suiza King Alfonso XIII – a rarity that was already worth over a million dollars back then. So money didn’t seem to be an issue. Anyway, the Velocette made a good impression, it started on the first try, so I wrote a check, loaded the bike and rode home, ”recalls Jeff Craig. Back at the ranch, however, a closer look at the achievement revealed a few inconsistencies, starting with the frame, which was definitely a classic piece from the 1920s. The KSS engine with the number 4938 and overhead camshaft, however, speaks for a rather late model. KSS stands for Kamshaft (= camshaft) Super Sports, whereby the spelling with "K" indicates the German origin of the Goodman family: Company founder John Goodman was once called Johannes Gutgemann and came from the Rhineland. In addition, a Webb Girder fork was used at the front, which Velocette only installed on the commercially available KTT Mark 1 racing models (Kamshaft Tourist Trophy) from 1929, where it replaced the weak Brampton fork. The gearbox also seemed to be a racing version, because one day Jeff discovered the inscription "TT" on the main shaft while screwing.


The flat petrol tank mounted on Jeff Craig’s bike is one of the last of its kind, before the rather bulky saddle tank was used from 1930, which noticeably disrupted the sleek racing silhouette.

The switch box held more surprises in store when Jeff drove the KSS for the first time. Ullman had claimed that the bike had a three-speed gearbox, like all KSS models before 1930. "I shifted into third, turned the gas to the limit and wondered: Is that all about?" Recalls Jeff. "The hell I thought I’d just try another upshift – it worked and the bike pushed again so I had to cling to the handlebars. "For more information and security, Craig consulted brand specialist Ivan Rhodes. His answer confirmed it: Jeff actually owned a rare special model, mainly made of KSS parts, but with some KTT parts. The factory documents that were in the possession of Rhodes showed the engine as a copy from a 1933 KTS model (Kamshaft Touring Sports), a street offshoot of the KTT version. The frame, on the other hand, comes from a KN model from 1929. Whatever the case, the marriage, ie the installation of the engine in that frame, was likely to have taken place in the mid-1960s, as numerous invoices from previous owner Ullman show, which also prove that one the previous owner had already put a lot of money into small parts. The Mark 1 KTT started the long line of production racers that descended from the first ohc machine, which debuted at the Isle of Man Junior TT in 1925. The appearance of the Velocette with its 348 cc four-stroke engine in a class that until then had been dominated by light two-stroke engines caused a real surprise. Even if the premature failure of all three bikes started dampening the mood. But Velocette learned from it, and in the following year 1926 Alec Bennett celebrated the first victory of a machine with an ohc engine in the 350cc Junior TT – with a speed record and a clear ten-minute lead. The TT was also won in 1928 and 1929, and so encouraged, the Goodman family decided to offer the first real production racer for dirty to everyone.
Hundreds of race wins followed.


Those who work hard can also sweat: the aged racing engine sprays some oil mist from the valve guides. The Amal racing carburetor provides a performance-enhancing gasoline / air mixture.

The KTT was regularly improved and updated during the 1930s. Not least from this, Velocette drew the know-how to advance to a pioneer in terms of technical development in the pre-war period. Not only did they launch the first real foot control with a ratchet mechanism, they were also among the first to use a spring-loaded frame. The engine in Jeffs Craigs Velocette Special is therefore an unmodified KSS engine, with camshaft drive via vertical shaft and bevel gears and with valve guides made of a bronze alloy. So far everything is normal, but if Jeff should ever take a look inside the engine, he might discover traces of engine tuning, because a BTH competition magneto ignition system and a 30.2 millimeter Amal racing carburetor are suspicious.

It is important to find the secret. The single cylinder is cranked by sliding start, a pinch of choke and about half of the available advance ignition are sufficient. With a good amount of vibrations, the engine turns towards the maximum speed of about 6000 turns, which is enough for a little over 80 miles per hour, i.e. almost 130 km / h. At least that’s what the speedometer of the accompanying Morgan Plus Four says, because there are no instruments on the bike itself. The gearshift works properly for the conditions at the time, even if the driving claws seem a bit worn. But once the bike rolls along in top gear, with this wonderful shot from the beautiful Brooklands pot, it embodies the classic racing motorcycle par excellence almost perfectly. The steeply standing handlebars with their worn rubber grips allow an aggressive sitting posture, ready for real racing pace, if the pilot so wishes. However, the driver should take an upright posture again in good time before bends, so that he can better put his full weight on the pedal for the rear brake, because the front brake is pretty ineffective.


With an overhead camshaft and four-speed footshift, the Velocette racer offered technical highlights in the early 1930s.

Hard work, even if the bike (without gasoline) only weighs 118 kilograms. A lightweight, undoubtedly, but the extremely light-footed handling of the open cradle frame can still surprise, as is the easy and precise steering via the 21-inch front wheel. In addition, I was more than happy with the attached steering damper when I shot over a hill at high speed for the first time and the front wheel began to knock out clearly on the front wheel, which was becoming easy. Such events, however, also testify to the full thrust provided by the 350cc engine.

In conclusion, it would appear that Jeff Craig’s KSS Mark 1 Special was built according to the rules that governed classic cars in England in the late 1950s and early 1960s. And even if Jeff would certainly like to find out more about the origin and history of his mysterious bike – ultimately, one thing counts for him as well as for all motorcycle enthusiasts: having fun driving this fascinating piece of motorcycle history.

Technical specifications


The manufacturer is proud of his country of origin.

Air-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke engine, an overhead camshaft driven by a vertical shaft, two valves, bore x stroke 74 x 81 mm, 348 cm³, compression 8.5: 1, 25 hp at 6000 rpm, 30.2 millimeter Amal carburetor, BTH magneto ignition, multi-plate dry clutch, four-speed gearbox, chain
Landing gear:
Double-tube cradle frame made of steel, trapezoidal fork, unsprung two-arm swing arm made of steel, wire-spoke wheels, tires 3.00 x 21 at the front, 3.00 x 21 at the rear, simplex drum brake at the front, Ø 178 mm, simplex drum brake at the rear, Ø 203 mm
Measurements and weight:
Wheelbase 1397 mm, weight 118 kg (without petrol)
Driving performance:
Vmax about 130 km / h

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