Owning a Velocette KTT had been the object of my desire for many years, having read copious stories about them, and occasionally seen genuine examples.  Velocette’s production racing model has always been relatively expensive (compared to a road-going Velocette), and only 1000 were built between 1929 and 1950, when the last KTT rolled out of Veloce Ltd’s Hall Green, Birmingham factory.  The evolution of the KTT is a story in itself, as over its 20-year production run, enormous changes were made from the original 1928 MkI model with its rigid frame, 3-speed gearbox, and all-iron engine, to the last MkVIII models of 1938-49, which pioneered the swingarm rear suspension with shock absorber units, although they kept their girder forks to the end, as they simply steered better!  The factory kept building ‘works’ racers for a few more years with telescopic forks, and took the 1949 and 1950 350cc World Championships.

A 1934 Velocette MkIV KTT, as featured in the Sep. 1937 edition of MotorCycling. The MkIV earned many riders their Gold Star at Brooklands: this is a late version with a bronze cylinder head. Note the front and rear number plates: amateur racing (as at the Manx Grand Prix) required the motorcycle to be road registered.  It was also possible to order a KTT with full road equipment, including lights and a generator! Several were delivered thus, especially the early versions. [Dennis Quinlan]
The MkIV variant was produced from 1933 to early 1935, with an engine numbering sequence of ‘KTT 4xx’. The MkIV was distinguished by a new cylinder head (which became bronze mid-way through its production run), new camshaft, bigger carb, new brakes, and a bolt-on lower frame rail from the crankcase to the rear axle that improved handling.  While the MkIV was not a world beater, it was fast and handled beautifully, and was a perfect privateer racer.  Many riders earned their Gold Stars at Brooklands with them, for 100+mph laps during a race, which was rare for a 350cc machine.  They could be tuned to achieve over 105mph running on gasoline, and even more on alcohol, with an open exhaust pipe and high compression piston.  I was timed at 105mph on my own KTT MkIV on a public road in 2000.

Paul d’Orléans with ‘The Mule’, his 1933 Velocette KTT MkIV, which he has ridden on 10 Velocette Summer Rallies, and in the 2012 Motorcycle Cannonball cross-USA rally! [John Jennings]
After years of searching, I was offered two KTTs from the estate for Velocette Club stalwart Eddie Arnold; a 1949 MkVIII (KTT929) and a 1933 MKIV, both of which he had restored and raced.  By the time I drove from San Francisco to Pasadena to buy the MkIV, the MkVIII had already been sold to a known ‘flipper’, so I had arranged to buy the MkIV…and the rest of the contents of Eddie’s garage, which included a 1948 Velocette GTP two-stroke in original paint condition, a 1950 LE MkI also in original condition, a large pile of mostly MAC 350cc parts, and a pile of genuine KTT parts.  The MkIV cost $15,000, and I can’t remember what I paid for the rest of the garage, from which the KTT spares proved invaluable.  All else was sold along, after I got the GTP and LE running, which was simple.  In hindsight, I should have kept them both, but my garage was overfull with cool old bike already.  The KTT had been run on ‘bean oil’, Castrol R, which is proper for racing, but I intended to run the bike on the road, and Castrol R was already scarce in the late 1990s.  I sourced a quart of ‘conversion fluid’, designed to flush out the Castrol R, and the KTT fired easily on the run-and-bump technique – it had no kickstarter as a proper racer.  Thus began a 25 years (and counting) relationship with KTT470.

Only a few weeks after reviving KTT470 I rode her on one of the Velocette Club of North America’s annual 1000-mile Summer Rallies.  I soon discovered the machine was a revelation, weighing only 275lbs but having 35hp, with an instant power delivery that thrust the rider forward in total smoothness, like a very quick magic carpet.  The handling was impeccable and totally intuitive, and I could run rings around brand new motorcycles on the twisty roads favored by the Velocette Club.  A week in the saddle might sound torturous on a rigid-framed racer, but I thought it ideal, and fell in love with Eddie Arnold’s creation.  KTT470 gained the nickname ‘The Mule’ on a Summer Rally (one of the ten it was used on), which I had organized.  A map-making slip-up for the rally included a ‘shortcut’ in far northern California, through the mountains near Red Bluff, just off the legendary Highway 36.  Mule Town Road was not really a road at all, more like a trials course, but as I’d laid out the map,  I thought it prudent to take the road!  Mule Town Road had no signage, and included several confusing branch routes, one of which I mistakenly took, and managed to kill the motor in the soft dirt.  Starting a full-race motorcycle with no kickstarter and high compression requires a run-and-bump technique, pushing the machine with the clutch in and hopping on the saddle to gain traction for the rear wheel.  Despite the 100deg F air temperature, KTT470 fired up immediately, we got un-lost, and all was well.  After the day’s ride, John Jennings, who was visiting from Australia, dubbed my machine ‘The Little Mule’ for its accomplishment – she’s tough!

A filthy little beast! And street legal in California, sans lights, horn, and muffler. [Paul d’Orléans]
Here The Mule is pictured on a dirt road in Oregon in July 2005, during another 1000-mile Velocette Summer Rally.  The map promised the dirt section would only be 8 miles, but it turned out to be 48 miles! The photos show how filthy the bike became, and because the open cambox sheds a bit of oil on the rear of the machine, dirt sticks well!  Not many 75-year old motorcycles are ridden out on the dirt, but The Mule does surprisingly well on rough stuff.  In 2012, I chose to ride her in the cross-USA Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Rally, as she’d already done 12,000 miles of road riding, and another 3600miles seemed a piece of cake.  That required a total strip-down of the machine, a change of gearbox as Eddie Arnold’s choice of a MAC gearbox proved fragile, and a new camshaft.  But as Eddie Arnold noted in the article below, MkIV camshafts are rare things, and my replacement did not arrive in time for the Cannonball, so I rooted through Eddie’s spare parts stash for a suitable replacement, and installed what looked good.  The story of that journey can be found elsewhere: here’s the story on how KTT470 came to be.

KTT470, The Mule, at rest in 2006 during the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours ride. The Mule has no stand so leans where it rests. Visible are the drilled front brake anchor, and evidence of a fall on the fuel tank; fast riding on a light rigid machine on bad California roads… [Paul d’Orléans]

History of KTT 470 – ‘The Mule’

KTT470 was originally dispatched from the Veloce factory on May 19th, 1933, and is one of 3 KTTs sold originally to the United States, although it was supplied as an engine only, to Mack’s Motorcycles in Everett, Massachusetts.  Only five KTTs were sold new in North America between 1928-49, the others being: KTT53 a very early MKI which I owned in the 2000s; KTT102, another MkI sold originally to ‘Oglasud’ in New York (and still in New York today); KTT 454, a MkIV sold to Otto Ling in NY (where now?), and the MkVIII KTT929, which Eddie Arnold owned. As ‘road racing’ was virtually nonexistent in the USA in the 1920s/30s, racing was on dirt tracks, just as it was  in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa – the largest foreign markets for Velocettes.  The European customers (Italy, Germany, Austria, Holland, etc) generally raced on paved roads by the late 1920s, although there were plenty of dirt/pavé combos to race on as well.  We English speakers share a ‘backwater’ history as dirt racers, a tradeoff to our wide open spaces and low population density, and long may it remain so!

A photograph owned by Rick Haner, and AMCA club member in Chico CA, showed his father racing a Velocette for Mack’s Motorcycles before WW2, which is undoubtedly KTT470.  Mack’s was a motorcycle dealer and race sponsor, and KTT 470 was their ‘tool’ in 30:50cu” racing from 1933, installed in a 1928 KSS chassis,  which is how it sits today.  While the standard MkIV engine is reasonably fast when on alcohol, as allowed on dirt tracks in the ‘30s, its competition would have been Harley-Davidson ‘Peashooters’, converted Indian Princes, or Rudge/JAP speedway racers.  The Velo would have been the equal of any of these, at least in the 350cc capacity.  Most speedway racing in the US was 500cc, and so the KTT was at a capacity disadvantage.  How the KTT did in East Coast racing is something I’m still investigating.

The Mack’s Motors International sign from the 1960s. [The Vintagent Archive]
By the 1970s, KTT470 sat in poor condition in a collection on the East Coast, but was rescued by Eddie Arnold of Pasadena, who restored it for vintage racing in California.  Eddie Arnold had been a development engineer for Mustang Motorcycles, and built several 100mph Mustangs with their Briggs&Stratton sidevalve motors!  Eddie Arnold built KTT470 using MkVIII KTT front forks and magnesium wheel hub/brake, while the rest of the chassis is pure KSS, including the rear wheel.  It uses a 1928 KSS fuel tank, which is smaller than a MkIV KTT, and the replica KTT oil tank is fabricated from aluminum.   It uses 19″ wheels front and rear, instead of the 21″ front and 20″ rear wheels as standard, as it was not possible to find racing tires for the larger wheel sizes in 1981.  With a 9:1 compression ratio and 400ccs, the engine produced 35hp, and the bike weighted 275lbs dry.   The bike was geared for a top speed of just over 105mph, which it reaches easily.

Mack’s Motorcycles, Everett MA

Clarence A. ‘Mack’ McConney owned Mack’s Motorcycles in the 1930s-70s in Everett Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, which was a Triumph dealership in the 1930s, among other brands.  He was an active supporter of racing and racers, and built KTT470 as a racer in 1933 from the engine supplied from Veloce into a 1928 KSS chassis.  It’s unknown if he was a Velocette dealer at that early date, or whether he had simply followed the news of the KTT’s racing successes in Europe, and wanted a hot motor.  The racing history of KTT470 under the sponsorship of Mack’s Motors is still being researched; apparently Erwin ‘Pop’ Haner raced the KTT in the 1930s.  Mack was member #1 of the East Coast regional AMA district, and sponsored many races and field events over the years. From his June 5, 1996, obituary in Cycle News:

Mack’s Motorcycles was established in 1917 in Everett MA, and was a Triumph dealer by the 1930s, as this advert shows. [The Vintagent Archive]
C.A. ‘Mack’ McConney, 99, died in Amesbury, MA, on May 23rd, 45 days before his 100th birthday.  McConney was an integral part of early New England road racing in the area and was a member of the original committee that first brought the Laconia races to Belknap Park in 1938.  McConney participated in the sport of motorcycle racing on many levels including dirt track, race promotion, as well as sponsoring and tuning for racers through his successful Triumph dealership in Everett, MA.

Eddie Arnold with KTT470 at a CAMA (California Antique Motorcycle Association) rally in 1975, just after he had restored it. [The Vintagent Archive]

Eddie Arnold

A founder member of the Velocette Club of North America, Eddie was a passionate collector of Velocettes and other British motorcycles.  He finished restoring KTT470 in the mid-1970s, and only when he attempted to race her did he begin the process of improvement that made her into a winner.   Here’s Eddie’s take on that process from the Jan/Feb 1983 edition of Fishtail West, the Velocette Club of North America’s magazine:

“A Vintage Racer the Hard Way

I spent six or seven years getting all the parts together for the ‘32 KTT, both in England and here in the US. Parts were not as hard to find in the early 1970s as now. Add to that another year for restoring it between more important things like cutting the grass, painting windows and all the other crap that comes before one can restore a bike in peace and quiet. I was proud of the finished bike and took it to all the rallies and classic shows. I even took it to riding it around the parking lots, making noises like everyone else. Somehow, the parking lots just didn’t get it. I wanted to really race it. You know, turn it on and scare the hell out of myself and anyone riding near me. I joined the ARRA racing club in Southern California along with my friends Paul Adams and Richard Ong. Paul, ‘Mr Norton’, was riding a Velocette and so was Richard. The first vintage race was at the ‘Big O’; Ontario Motor Speedway. Big, fast and very smooth with banked turns, that’s Ontario. On the first outing I learned that a lot of things would have to be changed if I wanted to be in the running or even finish a race.  Six laps on a two-and-a-half-mile track doesn’t sound too far, but following a bunch of Gold Stars and watching the nuts and bolts bouncing along the track, I wondered what was happening to my bike? At least there was no one behind me to see my parts falling off! I remember seeing Paul go past in a turn, wide open with both wheels drifting. I could even hear the valves hitting the piston. Flying fighter planes and getting shot off aircraft carriers by steam catapults has definitely affected his mind.

Another shot showing Eddie Arnold’s gleaming craftsmanship on KTT470. [Eddie Arnold]
Back to the problem at hand. Being in last place did have some advantages; no one was trying to run over me and I could evaluate the bike, but then everyone in last place says that. I noticed things such as at 5500 RPM the engine started to vibrate and at 6000 the handlebars felt like watermelons. The gearbox was all wrong and the horsepower I had in the parking lots just wasn’t there on the long straights. Coming off the banking and into a tight right hander the brakes weren’t too good, and by the third lap there weren’t any at all. By the 5th lap the revs had dropped to 4000. I found out later that half of the exhaust valve hairpin spring had broken. I ended up asking myself why I was trying to race a 50-year old that you can’t even get parts for, and why I hadn’t stayed a parking lot racer. About all I can say for that first outing is that it sure was fun.

Eddie Arnold flat out on KTT 470 in 1980, during its unbeaten run of victories. [The Vintagent Archive]
Fix time: I took the engine down to the flywheels, which seemed like a reasonable place to start, and checked the balance factor. At 65% it was just right for a tractor. I do remember Jack Connors, ‘the provider of the engine’, saying something to the effect that had been used for a dirt track or Speedway engine in the ‘30s. I changed the balance factor to 71% and took a pound or so off the outside of the wheels. The KTT already has a short rod to help in the midrange. I raised the compression ratio using a mark 8 piston. After cutting the inside drop of the head and some off the cylinder to parallel it, the compression ratio is 9.12: 1.  A new manifold was made up for the head, and I ported it to take a 1 3/16th” inlet valve and an Amal 10TT9 carb. Cams were the biggest headache. Racing cams for the MkIV are just not available anywhere. The cams that came in the engine were of the 30-60-60-30 variety; tractor cams. Starting with early MkVIII cams and using a Norton Radiack, I cut the intake from the exhaust and relocated the exhaust to 75 – 45 timing, I then cut a new keyway for it. I now had the MkVIII timing but with less overlap. The MkIV rockers have 1/8 inch less cam-side length, giving the effect of ‘ratioed rockers’ which give too much of everything, overstressing the valve springs. I made up new rockers from billet, leaving just a little ratio in them. I used MkVIII hairpin valve springs, setting them at 125 pounds seating pressure. I changed the gearbox to close ratios and laced a 19” front wheel to a MkVIII hub for better stopping power. On the back I used Richard Ong racing brake lining, it won’t lock and won’t fade either. I won’t go into all the changes I made to keep the oil in the engine oil off the rear tire.

Velocette importer from the 1960s, Lou Branch (right) and Ellis Taylor at a CAMA rally in 1975, with KTT470. [The Vintagent Archive]
Next race, Willow springs, 1979. Fast uphill, downhill 100mph turns for them that got it. A very unforgiving track; leave it and you get 100 yards of rock of all sizes. If the rocks don’t get you, the things that live under them will. When you get older you think about things that way. In practice the bike ran beautifully at 7400rpm  with no vibration. Braking was excellent and the gearbox felt just right. In the six-lap race that followed the little ‘33 ran perfectly. Paul still passed me in the turns but I could zap him on the straight. It’s easy to win when the bike does all the work.  I ran the 1980 season and won all the races entered. For the ‘81 season they changed the rules and let Triumph 3s, Commandos, Hondas and just about anything else compete. So I retired the bike from racing. It’s not right to expect a 50-year old machine compete with stuff like that. Besides who needs 100 yards of rock… So the next time you ride your bike around the parking lot and wonder what it would be feel like to race it, give it a try. It’s a lot of fun and there’s nothing like old bikes and good friends. Racing does improve the breed.”

Paul d’Orléans crossing Sonora Pass on a Velocette rally in 1999. [John Jennings]
For a Road Test of The Mule, read John Jennings’ report after a 250-mile ride on a Velocette Rally.

KTT470 crossing the bridge over teh Merced ricer on treacherous Wards Ferry Road, just outside Yosemite National Park, in 2001. [Paul d’Orléans]
Paul D’Orleans on his 1928/1933 Velocette MkIV KTT. Motorcycle Cannonball II, for pre-1930 motorcycles. A Coast-to-Coast Endurance Run. Stage 11 – Jackson, WY to Mountain Home, ID. USA. September 18, 2012. [Photography ©2012 Michael Lichter]



Paul d’Orléans is the founder of TheVintagent.com. He is an author, photographer, filmmaker, museum curator, event organizer, and public speaker. Check out his Author Page, Instagram, and Facebook.


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