Thursday, August 23, 2012

1951 Velocette MAC 350

1951 Velocette MAC 350

The only American ever to ride an internal-combustion motorcycle to victory on the Isle of Man is Dave Roper. Since starting as an AMA novice in 1974, Roper has raced motorcycles that most riders have never laid eyes on. This 1951 Velocette MAC is one.

Affectionately called the “Silver Bullet” by its owner Gary Roper (no relation), the bike came into Gary’s life at a church gathering. The minister introduced Gary to a fellow parishioner, Ron, who shared an interest in bikes. Amazingly, both had owned and ridden similar Velocettes years before.  Ron revealed he still had a Velocette of sorts, in a box. Ron and Gary made a deal – Ron would supply parts if Gary would assemble the bike.  More than anything, Ron just wanted to hear it run.

Velocette never built the MAC to be a racer, so Gary’s goals were simplicity, lightness, and keeping the engine and transmission from self-destructing in the races.  He had a headstart with the engine; years before it had been breathed upon by someone known only as the “Mad Scientist.”

Upon completing the bike, Gary knew just what to do – he contacted Dave Roper to see if he would like to race it.  Dave asked if it had been raced yet.  Gary confessed it had not, but was quick to point out he’d ridden it about the Southern Oregon countryside until it stopped leaking oil and losing parts. Dave was in!

When raceday arrived, the bike ran well for the practice sessions but broke an oil line during the final practice lap. With a quick repair to the oil line and some welds to the exhaust to stave off impending cracks, the bike was ready to race. The MAC was pitted against a favored BMW, a Manx Norton, a Vincent Gray Flash, and a Matchless--all 500s against the little 350. 

Dave had a phenomenal start and, within the first several corners, had made it past all but the BMW.  By the end of the first lap, Dave was in the lead.  For the rest of the race the little MAC was stretching a lead that just kept growing. Dave took the checkered flag with a 1/2 lap lead over the next closest bike. 

Gary stood in utter amazement that his underdog Velo won by such a solid margin, untested and built by his own hands - a first-time racebike builder.  As he packed up the van at the end of the day, the bike rested proudly on its race stand – a passerby whispered to a companion:  That’s the Velocette!”

Roper shows no sign of slowing down.  He will arrive in Portland on August 4th, and will check the Velocette out of the Gallery to race it at PIR!  Join us at Graeter Art Gallery the evening of August 4th to hear from Dave about his racing career and how the MAC performed that day.

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