The Vincent was not just any ordinary bike but a record breaking, ground shaking legend in its own lifetime, The Vincent HRD 998 Black Shadow series being the most famous.
In its day, the Vincent was the world's most exclusive and technologically advanced motorcycle. The bike was the brainchild of motorcycle enthusiasts and engineers Phillip Vincent and Phil Irving. They both had a passion for quality and workmanship and only wanted to offer the best. They succeeded in realizing their dreams and visions with the advent of the Vincent Black Shadow.
Founders and motorcycle visionaries Phillip Vincent and Phil Irving pose by their first machine. However, these two gentlemen did not devise the bike from scratch, they bought into an already existing design, the story of which is published below.
During the First World War, Howard Raymond Davies, a young British flying officer was shot down by the Germans and taken into captivity. Whilst in captivity Davies dreamt of building the best motorcycle in the world. Six years after the end of the war in 1924, he teamed up with an engineer called E. J. Massey and together they began to construct the first HRD motorcycle to Davies specifications.
Howard Raymond Davies 1895 - 1973
Below is an immaculately preserved Vincent Black Shadow HRD 998. These bikes are today avid collectors machines and fetch a high price. It was once said that a Vincent was the Rolls-Royce of motorcycles...in many ways...maybe it still is.
These new motorcycles looked stylish and modern for the time and were powered by Rudge or J.A.P engines. J.A.P being short for J. A. Prestwich & Co, who were large engine manufacturers at the time. The motorcycles were advanced for their day and many new features were employed that set the standard for motorcycle manufacture throughout the 1930's and onwards.
Below is a well used Vincent, these bikes are maintained and ridden by enthusiasts the world over. They stimulate interest whenever they are seen and are always great conversation bikes by whoever sees them.
It must also be noted here, that in 1925 Howard Raymond Davies won the Isle Of Man T.T (Tourist Trophy) on his own designed bike and set a new speed record of 66.13 mph. Sadly Davies's HRD company floundered and his company closed in 1927.
Below is shown a well preserved Vincent Black Shadow 998 HRD, these bikes are often sought and bought by collectors...especially in this condition.
Whilst all of this was going on a young man by the name of Philip Vincent was also displaying great interest in building an innovative new motorcycle. In 1928 when Vincent left Cambridge University, this interest was realised when he acquired the HRD trademark and stock for the sum of five hundred pounds, he then set up in Stevenage, Herts, U.K.
The company logo was altered to reflect the new ownership and Vincent HRD & Co was born. The first logo had a large 'HRD' with a small 'Vincent' over the top. This remained until 1949 when The Vincent Company started to look at America as a bigger market and Harley-Davidson could create some confusion with similar initials.
HRD could look as if it was associated to HD or even a Harley Davidson itself, so the initials were dropped just to leave the name ' The Vincent' on a gold scroll as the logo.
Seven different models of The Vincent were available by 1934 and four of these motorcycles used The Vincent made 499cc single cylinder engine. This basic reliable and robust engine never changed in design, as they say " If it works don't fix it " Philip Vincent did however love to experiment with different bike designs and new features.
Below is an old Black Shadow that has seen a fair few miles of enjoyable bike riding for its proud owner. With a little TLC this bike could be restored to pristine condition.
Phillip Vincent was a man of vision and was not afraid to incorporate lots of new ideas into his bikes. For six years between 1928 and 1934, over twenty new designs were introduced, this is about three new designs every year. Another successful variant was the Vincent Comet, as seen below.
Of course it is when you are out on the road that these bikes come into their own league, just get your head down and open up that eager throttle. With good road holding and great stability the Vincent Comet proved to be quite a successful adaptation of the Black Shadow.
The Vincent Comet was indeed quite popular amongst the already growing crowd of Vincent enthusiasts and many orders were soon put in for the bike.
In 1931, an acclaimed engineer by the name of Phil Irving joined Vincent as the companies Chief Engineer and by 1936 he had developed the first Vincent HRD Twin Engine motorcycle by putting two 499cc engines together on one bike. This new bike was called The Vincent Series 'A' Rapide. and an excellent example of this bike is seen below.
This bike used the first fully suspended rear frame with a triangular rear frame with springing under the seat a feature that was used on all Vincent motorcycles. As usual for Vincent Motorcycles there were many new design features incorporated, including a foot shift, four speed gearbox and a side stand.
The 45 horse power 998cc V-Twin was an air cooled configuration that had a top speed of 110 mph. In its day The Vincent was looked upon the same way as the Honda Fire-blade was admired just few years ago.
Below is the " plumbers nightmare " as the engine was known, due to its complexity and great attention to detail of every working part.
Of course the 1954 Vincent Black Shadow HRD 998 also offered the rider unparalleled performance and with a big clear speedometer to remind you when you were travelling at those rapid speeds. The milometer only shows one mile in the image below, perhaps this is a restored bike, or a restored speedo!
Phil Irving left The Vincent Company to work at Velocette in 1937, where he developed a new seat spring configuration, but he returned in 1943 to develop a new bike to supersede the Series A Rapide, which he did with the Series B Rapide.
This was also a 998cc V-Twin, but any comparison the series A ended there. The series B Rapide was a totally new developed bike from the ground up. New engineering concepts were employed throughout with a frameless 'monocoque' design. All other companies motorcycle engines were bolted to a frame, not so with The Vincent. Below is shown the popular 1952 Vincent Series C Rapide.
The robust oil tank had the front and rear suspension bolted directly to it. Most of this engineering wizardry was concealed by the petrol tank. With no frame to hold the engine, it appeared as if the engine was now suspended in mid air with no visible means of support.
This new bike bolstered The Vincent reputation to new heights, especially with innovations such as twin carburettors.
It was in 1944 that The Vincent dealerships started to emerge in the U.S.A, first in Philadelphia, owned by Eugene Aucott, then in Florida Miami, New Jersey, California, Texas and Michigan. The dealerships liked the bikes, they were big, powerful and fitted the American idealistic dream. Below is the popular and fast 1950 Vincent Lightning.
The Vincent's reputation went before it when one such bike endured one hundred thousand miles of trouble free riding. However, early gearbox problems with a few bikes did knock some of the shine off the image and these problems were not fully resolved until 1953, when a new lightweight shifter was designed.
Vincent motorcycles were reliable but the bottom line was that nobody likes problems, mud sticks and in just two more years it would all be over.
Below is the very popular 1949 Vincent Black Shadow, the bike that set the standards that all other Vincent's would live up to as they followed faithfully along through every adaptation.
New developments however still didn't stop, such as handlebar brake adjusters and full adjusters for the controls, hydraulic front and rear dampers, rear seat support frame that provided independent spring movement. The rear wheel also had independent suspension away from the seat, a configuration that is still being used on bikes today.
The oil lines could be completely disconnected without any loss of oil, this was due to a check valve. Electrical wiring could easily be disconnected with no special tools and the accessible battery was secured by a simple hand-spun nut.
The buddy seat was also pioneered and for 1946 this was quite a new idea, soon this novel Vincent innovation would help to completely replace the " mattress " type seat as used on most other bikes. Other helpful innovations were the new type oil and petrol filters that could also be changed easily.
The renowned and most famous motorcycle from this Company, The Vincent HRD 998 Black Shadow, first appeared in 1948 and was easily distinguished by the motorcycle fraternity by the gleaming black finish of the engine and gearbox, that incidentally, had all internal parts highly polished and fine tuned. Sporting a big five inch chrome Smith speedometer also enhanced its appearance.
This bike was also very fast and could easily maintain a constant 100 mph with a top end of 125 mph. Also in 1948 a full race spec custom machine The Vincent Black Lightning appeared and won acclaim as a living legend almost straight away as the worlds fastest standard motorcycle, with a top speed of 150mph.
A RECORD BREAKING MOTORCYCLE
It was on September 13th, 1948, that a man by the name of Rollie Free, smashed the world motorcycle land speed record, previously held by Harley Davison by riding a Vincent HRD 998 Black Lightning at 150.313 m.p.h. on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, U.S.A. A speed that was astonishing when you think that the average bike of the time had a top end of about 90 mph.
Below is a photo of the actual bike that the record was broken on, stripped down to its bare essentials to save weight but still being safe to ride.
To minimize weight and drag Rollie had the seat, front mudguard and headlight removed, he didn't stop there and he even stripped down to his trunks! Accompanied by only a shower cap and a pair of sneakers, he lay flat over the bike to reduce even more drag.
The photo that was taken of Rollie during his successful record breaking attempt was soon called The bathing suit bike photo and became perhaps one of the most famous motorcycle photos of the time.
Above we can see Rollie Free when he was on his way to breaking the world land speed record on a bike. The merits of the Vincent's prowess remained strong right into the 1970's, fifteen to twenty years after the Vincent had ceased production!
THE VINCENT DIES
In 1955 during an owners club dinner Philip Vincent announced that the company would cease to continue with the manufacture of the bikes due to heavy financial loses and the fact that Vincent would not compromise on the quality of their machines to bring the price down.
This being said it was in December 1955 that the last superior quality Vincent motorcycle sadly rolled off the production line. Philip Vincent promised that spares for the bikes would always be available and today parts are still made and sold all over the world by Harper Engineering.
Several remaining engines rescued from the dying Vincent plant were installed into a more modern design frame by Swiss businessman Fritz Egli and the bikes were consequently called Egli-Vincents.
Several Norton race bikes also had a Vincent transplant and were referred to as Norvins. These Frankenstein bikes were more a novelty and didn't catch on. There can never be a compromise for the real thing.
THE VINCENT URGES TO RETURN
Like the Phoenix that rose from the ashes, the new 1000cc Vincent Black Shadow has resurrected the legendary motorcycle. Or maybe only the dream of resurrection is at hand, so far the Vincent is still awaiting its return
It was in 1994 that a business man by the name of Bernard Li who with over twenty years experience in the automotive industry acquired the Vincent trademark. He then formed Vincent Motors which is based in San Diego, California, U.S.A.
With the help of Roush Industries, four brand new prototype Vincent motorcycles were up and running powered by the New Honda Sports 1000cc engine. The prototypes however have sadly not yet made it into full production. Below is one of the dream machines, looking good but still not on the order books.
The new bikes are a clever mix of retro and modern styling principles, with carbon fibre petrol tanks, aluminum fenders, stylish fairing, LCD gauges, USD forks. a canti-lever mono-shock rear suspension incorporating multi-adjustable shocks and Brembo brakes.
A black tubular frame holds the engine in place and holds the engine oils as well. So the innovation continues. Keeping with the legendary performance and thoroughbred heritage of the original Vincent Black Shadow motorbike, the new bikes are designed to be state of the art...but will they ever reach fruition?
The new features of the Vincent Black Shadow include a large tubular monocoque single shock chassis, 130 horsepower 90° liquid cooled V-twin, inverted forks, forged callipers, tubeless spoke forged alloy wheels, carbon fiber bodywork, ultra-hi-performance, and exquisite craftsmanship.
The Vincent will apparently be styled in a manner significantly reminiscent of its predecessors and in keeping with traditional British livery.
The price for one of these new Vincent bikes will be around twenty thousand dollars. That's quite cheap considering that Vincent chairman Bernard Li set up the company for a mere eighteen million dollars.
The Vincent Black Shadow has become part of motorcycle legend, noted for its strength, endurance and speed. The new Vincent Black Shadow is up to date and ready to take the worlds motorcyclist fraternity by storm.
The Vincent Owners Club is the largest motorcycle club in the world. Today these bikes are the most sought after and collectable classics the world has ever seen. A fully restored lightning can command 125,000 dollars.
The Egli-Vincent is now being built by Patrick Godet Motorcycles. Patrick who is passionate about mechanics and even more passionate about Vincent motorcycles, hand builds them for retail amongst his exclusive clientele.
Frenchman Patrick Godet is a true blue Vincent aficionado and one of the worlds experts on this brand of motorcycle. Patrick actually bought his first Vincent motorcycle...a V-Twin, after being demobbed from national service in the 1950's. It was at this time that Patrick also started a Vincent Owners Club chapter in France.
Below a modern day rider pulls a wheelie on a highly tuned Egli-Vincent.
Patrick did all his own mechanics on the bike, always servicing it and changing worn parts for new ones whenever he could. However, when he could not secure parts for his bike he ended up machining his own and any improvements were always sought to make the bike as best as possible.
Being so involved with Vincent motorcycles ensured that Patrick constantly met other big fans of the bike...including the one and only Fritz Egli.
Below is shown Patrick sitting on a Vincent Rapide with sidecar. Because this bike was living in France, the sidecar was mounted on the " wrong side " as the French drive on the right whilst the British on the left, where the bike originated from.
Patricks overwhelming enthusiasm and passion for the Vincent went far and eventually he was allowed to build Vincents with the Egli name. Consequently, the Vincent that he constructs are officially known as an Egli-Vincent-Codet.
Below the classic lines of the Egli-Vincent needs no introduction, it screams 1950's biking at you as soon as you see it. Classic and thoroughbred are two words that go together quite well when considering one of these bikes. This Vincent is in the style of the old school Cafe Racers.
Patrick Godet motorcycles also build a GT Sport version which is more in style of the Vincent Black Shadow and Lightning. The GT Sport is shown below and the unmistakable classic look has been emulated to its finest degree.
If you are interested in purchasing one of these bikes, then be prepared to part with the better half of forty thousand dollars. They don't come cheap because they are definitely not cheap. These are thoroughbred machines, built to the best engineering standards you can get.
For forty thousand dollars you don't get a replica or a part cannibalized bike from an original, instead you get a brand new machine, built with brand new authentic Vincent parts. Each motorcycle is in keeping with true Vincent tradition in that they have an overhead valve 1000cc engine with four gears, set with a wet multiplate clutch.
All the quality and excessive engineering that makes a Vincent what it is, the Rolls Royce of motorcycles is once again riding down that road. It seams that the Vincent will never die but will go from strength to strength as it has such a strong and loyal following.
As a reminder, the worlds largest motorcycle club in the world today is of course, The Vincent Owners Club, and I think that says it all. The legend strives on and strives to live on
Page created February 16th 2006. Updated December 24th 2012.