Motorcycling Australia Museum

1936 495cc ex-works Velocette

The Monster in name and nature

Stuart Williams was one of Australia’s pioneering Isle of Mann riders, having competed in the TT in 1925, 1930 and 1931. He developed strong ties with the Velocette factory and his family business, P&R Williams in Sydney, became the NSW agents for the Birmingham brand. In 1937, Williams imported the 495cc SOHC machine – engine number KTT624 – that Walter Rusk had used to win the Ulster Grand Prix. Nobody is quite sure who coined the term, The Monster’, but t was probably the first bloke who rode it! Though possessed of a serious turn of speed, the handling and braking required an intrepid pilot indeed.

But the brutal looking creation, with its bronze cylinder head, was just the weapon that P&R Williams’ sponsored rider Don Bain needed. Bain was a tough and seasoned racer who excelled at the Vale circuit near Bathurst, venue for the big annual Easter meeting which variously ran the Australian and NSW Tourist Trophy titles. With four 350cc wins on the fast, rutted and dusty 11.5-kilometer dirt circuit, Bain had long sought the coveted 500cc Senior title and, aboard The Monster, finally managed it in 1937 at the circuit’s final meeting, the Australian Grand Prix. When the annual Easter races moved up the road to Mount Panorama, Bain and the Monster went too, scoring second in the 1940 Senior behind Bat Byrnes’ ex-works Norton.

When racing returned after the Second World War, Bain’s new business partner, Ron Kessing, took over the big Velo and rode it to victory at Bathurst in 1946. At Victoria Park, Ballarat on New Year’s Day 1947, Kessing crashed the bike heavily and received a fractured skull. With ‘Kesso’ out of commission, the Monster was sold to Lloyd Hirst who rode it at Bathurst in 1948, 1949 and 1950 and also at the Australian TT at Lowood, Queensland where he placed third. Jack Hogan was the next owner, who persevered with the now-veteran machine until 1959, when it passed to Goulburn rider Frank Wearn. In it’s first outing, at Bathurst, the conrod snapped, destroying the crankcases.  Luckily, returning international rider Ritchie Thompson brought with him a set of works crankcases that he had obtained direct from the Velocette factory in Birmingham. The bevel housing had been broken in a previous blow-up, but had been crudely welded up. Charlie Ogden, the genius behind many a local racing project, machined the crankcases and also made a new conrod, fitted a new Willis 11:1 piston and carefully assembled the unit. Searching for better roadholding, Wearn purchased the ex-Frank Mussett Mk8 KTT rolling chassis from Sid Willis and installed the Monster’s engine and gearbox and a full dustbin fairing. Turning 120 mph down Conrod Straight at Bathurst’s 1961 meeting, Wearn had the Senior Clubmen’s race shot to bits until the spark plug unscrewed itself, handing the win to Ron Toombs. Bitterly disappointed and determined to make amends, Wearn started in the main Senior GP later in the day and was soon among the leaders when he hit a patch of oil on the mountain climb and crashed heavily, hitting the fence and sustaining spinal injuries. Frank’s racing days were over, and the bike went to his mechanic Gavin Campbell who raced the Velo on both tar and dirt for many years.

Around 1970, Campbell decided to restore The Monster to its former glory. Various bits had been lost or discarded, but Ron Kessing produced a Mk 7 KTT rigid frame which was very similar to the original. The rolling chassis was rejuvenated and painted by Gavin’s talented son and sidecar champion, Peter, in 1974 and the restoration slowly took shape. Admittedly, it did take a few years - 15 in fact - to finally screw everything together again, but the finished article is very similar to its original specification, just as it had been in 1937. One of its period features was the one-piece Dual Seat, an item that Velocette invented and patented before selling the idea to British seat manufacturers Feridax. Although the original unit has long since disappeared, a replica was created in the name of authenticity. The Campbells sought to reproduce the bike as close as possible to the form it was when Kessing won at Bathurst in 1946, even down to the signwriting on the faithfully reproduced front number plate with his racing number 3. A complete and living Monster once more.

The Campbell clan decided that a fitting resting place would be the scene of its greatest triumph, Bathurst. In 2002 the completed machine was donated to the National Motor Racing Museum at Mount Panorama; the bequest officially in the name of the Western Suburbs Motor Cycle Club (of Sydney), many of who’s members had straddled the famous and sometimes notorious Velocette in the previous sixty five years.

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