The Spring Sale / The ex-Les Graham, Swiss Grand Prix-winning, 1948 Velocette 348cc KTT MkVIII Racing Motorcycle Frame no. SF 121 Engine no. KTT 973
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The ex-Les Graham, Swiss Grand Prix-winning
1948 Velocette 348cc KTT MkVIII Racing Motorcycle
Frame no. SF 121
Engine no. KTT 973
1948 Velocette 348cc KTT MkVIII Racing Motorcycle
Frame no. SF 121
Engine no. KTT 973
• Raced by Les Graham throughout the 1951 season and into 1952
• Known ownership history
• Present ownership since 2005
• Last run in 2012
• Kept on museum display for the last 10 years
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 in 1939 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. Despite its pre-war origins, the MkVIII KTT proved good enough to provide Freddie Frith and Velocette with the 350cc World Championship in 1949, a year in which he won every Championship round, though in most cases courtesy of a special works twin-cam engine. Just 49 MkVIIIs were constructed prior to WW2 and a further 189 up to the end of production in 1950. Today the MkVIII KTT is one of the most sought after of all British racing motorcycles.
Previously believed lost, the 1948 example offered here is Les Graham's Swiss Grand Prix-winning machine. Factory records show that this machine - engine number '973', frame number 'SF 121' - was sold new on 21st May 1948 to Fearnly's, a dealership in Manchester. Despite passing through a number of hands, it has remained in the North West of England for almost its entire life.
Born in Wallasey, Cheshire in 1911, Les Graham began his racing career in the late 1920s but it was not until the late 1930s that a succession of good results on a home-prepared OK-Supreme got him noticed, leading to a job with the company. During WW2 Les Graham flew Lancaster bombers and was awarded the DFC. De-mobbed in 1946, he was approached by fellow racer and ex-RAF man, Wing Commander J M 'Jock' West, who offered him a job at Associated Motor Cycles that included riding the new AJS 'Porcupine' and 7R. After a difficult 1948 season bedevilled by unreliability and handling problems, Les won the first ever 500cc World Championship in 1949 aboard the improved Porcupine. He continued with AJS for 1950, finishing third in both the 350cc and 500cc World Championships, and at the season's end was offered a contract by MV Agusta. The Italian team was not contesting the 350cc class at that time, so for '51 Les used what was still, despite its age, one of the most competitive Junior-class mounts: the Velocette KTT. Riding the Velo, Les achieved good results at Mettet and Floreffe and finished 2nd at the Spanish Grand Prix, before triumphing over treacherously wet conditions to win the Swiss Grand Prix at Berne's Bremgarten Forest circuit. Les went on to win many more 350cc races in the 1951 season and the prize money the little Velo netted him was in excess of £5,000 (approximately £165,000 today).
A further two Grand Prix wins in 1952 saw Les finish 2nd in the 500cc World Championship that year while he continued to race the KTT in the Junior class. In 1953, Les finally broke his Isle of Man TT 'duck', winning the Lightweight 125cc race for MV. Sadly, he was killed during the Senior event later in the week (see Classic Motorcycling Legends No. 6 'The Les Graham Story').
Les Graham's Swiss GP-winning KTT was owned by Manchester-based tuner/entrant Reg Dearden during the whole time that it was ridden by Les, and indeed was built by Reg specifically for Les to use in the 1951 season as his contract with MV was only for a 500cc ride. The bike proved to be extremely quick following modifications designed and made by Reg, to such an extent that Bertie Goodman (of Velocette) asked if he could take the engine for bench testing. This they did but not before Reg had replaced the special cylinder head with a standard one! Bertie could not understand why it was so quick, as it only produced a couple more brake horsepower than their factory models. Needless to say the secret was in the valve train!
As far as Reg Dearden's son Nigel is aware, the only other person to ride the KTT after Les Graham's death was another of Reg's many riders, George Costain. Interviewed in Classic Motorcycling Legends (Issue 2), George Costain recalled riding it in the Southern 100.
The KTT remained in Reg Dearden's hands until he sold it to Lancashire-based collector of classic racing motorcycles, Eric Biddle, circa 1968 (four years before Reg's death) on the understanding that Eric was to restore the machine and if it was ever offered for sale Reg would repurchase it. Sadly, this did not happen as Reg died in January 1972.
As pictured in the catalogue, the bike is somewhat different from how it was when purchased by Eric Biddle. Notably, the front mudguard had two light alloy valances riveted onto each side to stop spray, and the seat was a one-piece affair, made by Les himself, with a rough hide top to stop him sliding about on it in the rain.
On 9th March 1985, Eric Biddle sold the ex-Les Graham KTT to the late John Logan Thompson. John Logan Thompson's personal logbook records work carried out after acquisition, including re-bushing and repainting the forks, and fitting new head races, front/rear mudguards and exhaust system. As far as is known, the machine was not used while in John Logan Thompson's ownership.
The current vendor - ex-patriot American, well-known classic racer and former podium finisher in the 125cc World Championship, Robert Lusk - purchased the ex-Les Graham KTT when the J L Thompson Collection was sold at Bonhams' Stafford Sale in October 2005 (Lot 381). The KTT was immediately despatched to Velocette guru Ivan Rhodes for re-commissioning to race-worthy condition, and then actively campaigned by Robert and his friend, Peter Crew.
A formidable competitor, Crew rode the 350cc KTT to respectable finishes against 500cc opposition in the 2006 and 2007 Goodwood Revival Meetings, only for the gearbox to fail in 2008 when the Velo was being shared by Robert and his son Chester, himself also a former 125 GP racer. Peter Crew found a suitable replacement gearbox and the rebuilt KTT was ridden by the late Colin Seeley at the Festival of 1000 Bikes at Mallory Park in August 2010, featuring on the front page of Old Bike Mart. Robert continued to race the Velo at CRMC meetings for the next few years before deciding to retire the machine from active competition while it was still in good condition.
Displayed at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2010, the KTT last ran in 2012 at the CRMC's Donington Park meeting and since then has been kept on static display in the vendor's private museum; re-commissioning will be required before further use. Accompanying documentation includes various photographs (some copies showing the KTT racing in period); the two aforementioned copies of CML; and Peter Crew's maintenance, race settings and results logbook for 2006/2007 (Mallory Park, Oulton Park, Brands Hatch, Goodwood FoS, Lydden Hill, Donington Park, Goodwood Revival). By time of sale the KTT will have featured in Classic Racer magazine's March/April 2022 edition in an article by Alan Cathcart.
Velocette MkVIII KTTs with important race history rarely come to market, so this Grand Prix-winning example, ridden by one of the sport's most respected Word Champions, represents an opportunity of enormous significance for collectors.
Offered without key
All lots are sold 'as is/where is' and Bidders must satisfy themselves as to the provenance, condition, age, completeness and originality prior to bidding