Travels with a MAC. By Rob Jones.

“It was twenty years ago today Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play.” So sung The Beatles.

Well, it was thirty years ago in 1983 that I became the proud owner of a 1953 rigid Velocette MAC registration number PNK52. And it was all the fault of my ex wife.

Some three years earlier, Sue, a friend, had called at our house riding her Honda moped, and explained that she had bought it for use back and fore to her office. Helen, my wife, thought that it would be a good idea if she bought a moped for her daily three mile commute and I could use the car for my drive to the school in which I taught. While agreeing that the idea was sound, I disliked the thought of her riding a 49cc through the local traffic and persuaded her that a proper motorcycle of 100cc would be better. There were better brakes, double the capacity to get her out of trouble and being a proper looking motorcycle and not a step through, I could ride it also. (I thought at least it would have a bit of street cred.) So at the ripe old age of 27 we bought a second hand T reg, blue Suzuki A100M and I became a motorcyclist for the first time. (Approaching the age of sixteen, in 1970, I had badgered both my parents for a moped. But my father, although having ridden Douglas Vespa scooters with me as pillion, put his foot down. “Leave it a year and I’ll teach you to drive and you can borrow the car.” He said. The car was a one year old Ford Cortina 1600 Super in Saluki Bronze. The car won.)

The wife did use the bike back and fore to work, and I borrowed it also, until she became pregnant. Then she had the car and the bike became my premier form of transport. I fitted a rack and top box to carry my lunch, my school books and clothes, and a handle bar fairing in matching blue.

About the same time we were holidaying in our caravan in Saundersfoot and accidentally one Sunday morning, found the VMCC Saundersfoot Rally on the harbour. The old bikes looked very interesting and the people were very welcoming, explaining about the run. Looking at the bikes and chatting to the various competitors, from all of the country, I found out that to ride in the event one had to be a member and have a bike of over 25 years of age. The beginning of an idea was forming deep in the dark recesses of my mind.

Growing up in Aberdare in the 1960s I was well aware of motorcycle racing in The Park, my cousin Jimmy had owned a BSA Road Rocket, used it to go to the Island and my father had owned two Vespas on which I had pillioned.

The idea crystallised in to having a British bike and having a gentle run down in the Saundersfoot Rally. To pursue this dream a few obstacles needed to be crossed. Firstly I needed to pass my test as I was still riding on L plates. Secondly I need to get a British bike. BUT how to get the cash and how to decide which bike it was to be?

Passing the test proved easy. At the time I was completing my Degree course and worked out that with the pay rise that went with it and selling the Suzuki I would have enough cash, about £500, with which to buy a British bike. The wife agreed. BUT which bike to get? I had bought a selection of the then new Classic Bike magazines but was still no wiser. It was suggested, by my wife, that I talk to a Roy Howard in her office and get his opinion. He had, after all, given advice about riding an underpowered moped. So calling into the office I was given the advice which was to profoundly and inexorably change my life!

“Triumphs, and BSA are ok but run of the mill.” Said Roy, “Vincents are really special but complicated and expensive. Velocette made good, reliable and well engineered bikes and they are always looked different.” The die was cast!

What I knew of Velocette could have been etched on the top of a pin and still have left room for a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I don’t think I had ever heard of them and was quite amazed that with a name like that they were made in Birmingham. I needed to find out some information, so back to the magazines. Even there I didn’t find too much.

Looking through the for sales in the current copy of MotorCycle News an advert jumped from the page and smacked me in the face.

For Sale 1953 Velocette MAC 350cc in good
condition. Some spares. £500 ono. Swansea

I phoned Bryn Thomas, a name I had been given, in Merthyr, as he knew about Velocettes. I introduced myself and explained why I was ringing. His advice was that the price wasn’t too bad if the bike was a swing arm but if it was a rigid it might be a bit too much. Showing my ignorance I had the term rigid explained. This was certainly turning out to be a sharp learning curve.

Next I needed to see the bike and take someone sensible with me. Cousin Jimmy in Swansea answered the phone and was more than happy to come with me and look at the Velocette. So after a few more phone calls to the seller a date and time was arranged. I do like it when a plan comes together.

At the appointed time we turned up, in Dunvant, to be met by the owner who informed us the he could not get the bike to start. “It was ok last week when someone else came to see it but today nothing. You can still have a look around it and I’ll sort it out later” He said. The bike did look in good condition with a dual seat and panniers. These hid the rear of the bike and on close inspection I could see no suspension units. The bike was a rigid. The owner explained the reason for the sale when he showed us an immaculate Road Rocket undergoing a full restoration. The money raised from the Velocette would finish the BSA. We agreed on another visit when he could sort out the starting.

The following week we were back. It turned out that the plug lead had a crack inside the core and replacing the lead had cured the problem. The bike was wheeled out and started. It sounded as lovely as it looked, with a great sound emitting from the fishtail silencer as the throttle was blipped. It sounded even better when the owner rode it up the street and back before stopping next to the curb. Next it was my turn to start it. What a palaver! Do I really have to do this every time I want to start the bike! The sharp learning curve suddenly got steeper. After a few attempts following the instructions the bike eventually fired up. Climbing on I took it down the street, executed a feet up u turn at a tee junction and back up the hill changing gear as I went. Up to the top and back down a few times and I knew I was hooked. The smile on my face was wide as I pulled up. A wad of notes to the tune of £400 exchanged hands and I was the proud owner of a Velocette.

After the previous visit Jimmy and I had discussed the bike, He was happy with the way it looked and he had moved it around the drive and given it a good checking all over even though it had no MOT. So we came to the conclusion that if it ran well, with no strange sounds and I could ride it then I would buy it. As Jimmy later remarked, “The grin on your face as you came up the hill was enough to tell me that you’d be taking it home.” We loaded the bike into the back of Jim’s transit, put all the assorted spares in as well and headed home with me sitting on the bike all the way from Swansea to Aberdare quite unaware that the steep learning curve was to continue.