The ex-Ernie Thomas
1950 Velocette 348cc KTT MkVIII Racing Motorcycle
Registration no. KAD 410
Frame no. 264 SF
Engine no. 1083
With its deep petrol tank, massively finned overhead-cam engine and purposeful appearance, the MkVIII KTT is unquestionably one of the most beautiful racing motorcycles ever made. The talking point of Velocette's new racer on its introduction at the 1938 Earls Court Show was swinging-arm rear suspension, an innovation first seen on the works bikes in 1936. By now tried and tested, the Velocette rear suspension comprised a pivoting fork made from tapered tubing and complemented by a pair of Dowty Oleomatic air-sprung struts. The rest of the cycle parts remained much as those of the rigid-framed MkVII. The engine, while basically the same as its predecessor's, incorporated a number of improvements intended to enhance power and reliability, and despite the springer's increase in weight over the rigid model, its superior performance and excellent handling made the MkVIII KTT a formidable competitor. Indeed, the production version differed little from the works bikes that had dominated the 1938 Isle of Man Junior TT, Stan Woods leading home team-mate Ted Mellors to break Norton's seven-year stranglehold on the event. Woods repeated his win the following year.
Despite its pre-war origins, the MkVIII KTT proved good enough to provide Freddie Frith and Velocette with the 350cc World Championship in 1949. Frith won every round, though in most cases courtesy of a special works twin-cam engine, while in 1950 Bob Foster won three out of six to bring the 350cc World Championship back to Hall Green for the second successive year. Only 49 MkVIIIs were constructed prior to WW2 and a further 189 to the end of production in 1950. Today the MkVIII KTT is one of the most sought after of all British racing motorcycles.
Surely the ultimate steed for a weekend club run, this rare, road-registered KTT MkVIII comes with its original buff logbook issued on 6th May 1950. Velocette KTT motorcycles take their identity from the engine and this particular MkVIII, engine number '1083', was invoiced on 19th April 1950 to A Williams of Cheltenham (the supplying dealer) for rider Ernie Thomas. 'E R Thomas' is recorded as '1st change' of keeper, dated 30th December 1950 in the accompanying original logbook. A Williams is recorded therein as first owner and all seven subsequent changes of ownership are recorded, the last licensing date being 1965. Velocette authority Ivan Rhodes advises us that this machine's original frame was '249' while '264' left the factory fitted with engine number '1087'.
Ernie Thomas had started racing with a 'cammy' Velocette roadster back in 1926 and was soon on good terms with the factory. In 1929 he was invited to join the works team as reserve rider at the Isle of Man TT, finishing 14th in the Senior race riding an experimental 350, a highly creditable achievement on a Junior machine. In the mid-1930s he was offered a job at the Hall Green factory developing and testing racing machines while continuing to compete. Ironically, his best-ever TT result 3rd in the 1937 Lightweight race was gained riding a DKW.
The brakes fitted to this particular MkVIII KTT are of special interest being of two-piece construction with holes in the flange. Ivan Rhodes advises us that this is the first production machine to have this arrangement and possibly the only one. Quite likely it was supplied to Ernie Thomas for evaluation. Ivan himself rode the ex-Thomas MkVIII at Cadwell Park in the 1960s when it was owned by Adrian Richmond, whose name is the last listed in the aforementioned logbook. An old-style Swansea V5 comes with the machine also.
- We are advised by Mr. Don Daly that he swapped the front wheel, to include the brake, for a MK VIII Conrod with Mr. Adrian Richmond c.1966. It came from a collection of parts in Hadleigh, Essex, that had some connection with the Rutherford Brothers, who were associates of Geoff Duke. Mr. Daly believes the front brake is either a pre-war production or works item.