Esteemed French photographer (and Vintagent Contributor) Laurent Nivalle visited the workshop of Atelier Chatokhine in the village of Ouerray recently, to document the resurrection of the Richard Vincent racing Velocette MSS.  This historic machine was raced in Southern California in the mid-1960s by Richard, who lived in Santa Barbara and was a surfer, photographer, filmmaker, pilot, and motorcycle racer in the golden days of the ‘Endless Summer’ generation.  We documented some of Richard’s story on The Vintagent with our short film ‘The Ended Summer’, by David Martinez, and Richard’s motorcycles and surfboards were exhibited at Wheels&Waves California in 2016, and Wheels&Waves France in 2017.

Zoe David tightens the axle nut on the MSS as the chassis is cleaned and refreshed – not restored [Laurent Nivalle]
Richard’s Velocette racer is a very special and historic machine, with a Lou Branch cylinder head of the type that was later adapted by the Veloce factory for its ‘Thruxton’ production racer.  The head is easily recognized, with a huge 1 1/2″ Amal GP racing carburetor angling down towards the inlet valve, stuck out on an extended inlet tract. The setup gives an ideal 8″ distance between the carb’s fuel jet and the inlet valve itself, and the valves in the head are set at a shallower angle than the Venom head; the result is a significant horsepower increase, with much better breathing than a standard Velo head, and is the reason why a Velocette Thruxton won the Isle of Man Production TT in 1967, with a motorcycle design that was essentially 15 years old, barring that head, which had come from California race tuners!

Frank Chatokhine looking after the MSS, with Cyril Dubois looking on [Laurent Nivalle]
It isn’t known how many such cylinder heads were built for racers by Lou Branch (the LA Velocette importer) between 1962-5, when the factory began offering its own version, but there can’t be many!  Richard’s machine has a fantastic patina, being totally original and as-last-raced from 1967, when he was drafted into the Army.  A rocket blast in Vietnam put Richard in the hospital for a year, and injuries to his arm and eyes meant he was no longer able to compete at the level he wanted, so he laid up his Velocette and Triumph racers for almost 50 years, until he was prompted by his son to literally drag them out of the barn!

The special Lou Branch cylinder head can be seen clearly; it’s welded-up, not cast as with the later Veloce version. The frame of this Velocette racer is basically stock, although the fork internals have been re-valved, and the shocks are aftermarket [Laurent Nivalle]
Bringing the Velocettes (and Richard’s photography and films) to light is an ongoing project at The Vintagent, and it’s inspiring to see his motorcycles brought back to life at Atelier Chatokine (for the Velos) and the workshop of Hayden Roberts in Ventura (for the Triumph).  Give our film a look, enjoy Laurent’s photos, and there’s more to come!

The engine revealed; the flywheels have been narrowed and skimmed to keep the rims out of crankcase oil, for less oil drag at high revs. The piston is significantly domed for high compression [Laurent Nivalle]
The Velocette M-series engine is built like a watch, with fine-pitch helical cut gears in the timing chest, and plenty of oil circulation on the camshafts, which are at the top of the timing case, with short aluminum pushrods. Robust enough for 100mph for 24 hours! [Laurent Nivalle]
Banging out the custom-made short reverse-cone megaphone exhuast [Laurent Nivalle]
Frank Chatokhine assembling the forks with new rubber gaiters [Laurent Nivalle]
Zoe David adjusts the tachometer drive; it’s a trick to align the drive tang into its mating slot in the magneto nut, in order to install the timing cover [Laurent Nivalle]
The gearbox reavealed: the four-speed Velocette ‘box was designed in 1933, and was basically unchanged until the factory closed in 1971. Thus the internals from a 1971 gearbox can be directly slotted into a 1934 model – which makes finding spares very straightforward. It’s the smoothest and lightest-shifting of all British gearboxes [Laurent Nivalle]
Cyril Dubois installing the original fiberglass rear fender made by Richard Vincent, who used his surfboard-making skills on his motorcycle! The ‘100’ number is his original [Laurent Nivalle]
Checking the ‘truth’ of the frame before the swingarm is installed; as the Velocette swingarm is a 3-piece assembly, an accurate point of reference is required to properly align the two tapered legs of the swingarm, which clamp onto a hard-ground tube running in bronze bushes within a frame lug.  Velocette invented the swingarm frame as we know it in 1937, for the factory racers and MkVIII KTT model, and the M-series street bikes use identical geometry to Velocette’s GP racers.  Which is why Velocettes handle so well – lots of racing experience, and feedback from riders like Stanley Woods! [Laurent Nivalle]
50 years of caked-on grease, which acted as a protective coating. [Laurent Nivalle]
If the frame isn’t straight, the bike will never handle properly; likewise with steering head and swingarm bearings, which are easily rectified on old machines like this; infinitely repairable, definitely not disposable technology.  It may look ‘black’ not ‘green’, but it was designed to last forever [Laurent Nivalle]
Zoe David works on cleaning grime from the gearbox, in preparation for a rebuild [Laurent Nivalle]
Removing the gearbox cluster with gears and shifter forks in place [Laurent Nivalle]
Cyril Dubois at work [Laurent Nivalle]
The Atelier Chatokhine team (minus papa/founder Roland Chatokhine); what a pleasure to dig into an interesting vintage racer! [Laurent Nivalle]
Assembling the rocker arm cover, held on by small screws [Laurent Nivalle]
Atelier Chatokine in the house! [Laurent Nivalle]
 

 

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