VINCENT HRD MOTORCYCLE LIVES ON
Raymond Davies, a young British flying officer, was shot down and captured by
the Germans in 1917. To occupy himself during his seemingly endless hours in
captivity, he dreamed of building the perfect motorcycle. Less than ten years
later, in 1924, Davies and his partner E. J. Massey began building the HRD.
These stylish, aerodynamic, JAP (J.A. Prestwitch Co.) powered machines were
advanced for their era, incorporating features other manufactures were years
from embracing, and set the standard for motorcycles throughout the 1930's. The
motorcycle won the famous Isle Of Man TT in 1925, setting a speed record of
Davies pursued his ambition, a schoolboy named Philip Vincent, was also dreaming
about making his own motorcycle. Vincent took the first step in fulfilling his
dream in 1928 when he left Cambridge University and, with backing from his
family and their cattle ranching business, acquired the trademark, goodwill and
few remaining HRD component parts for £500. The company was promptly named
Vincent HRD Co., Ltd., and the logo appeared with Vincent in very small letters
over the top of the bold HRD. The logo remained like this until late in 1949
when HRD was dropped in order to prevent confusion with Harley-Davidson in the
increasingly important American Market.
1934, Vincent was making seven different models. Four of these used the first
Vincent made 499cc single cylinder engine, the basic configuration of which
never changed. The more than 20 models that were introduced between 1928 and
1934 gave Phil Vincent an ongoing opportunity to experiment with a myriad of new
legendary Phil Irving joined Vincent as chief engineer in 1931. The first
Vincent HRD twin, given the name Rapide, was introduced in October 1936. It
incorporated motorcycling's first fully suspended rear frame. Utilizing a
triangular rear frame with springing under the seat, this feature was used on
all Vincents produced from 1936 through 1955. In addition, Vincents bristled
with innovations such as foot shift, 4-speed gearboxes and side stands. The
998cc, air-cooled V-Twin produced 45hp and achieved a top speed of 110 miles per
hour. The Series A Rapide sold for around $600 and was the inspiration for the
post-war big-twins. In its time, it had no peers. Phil Irving departed Vincent
to work at Velocette in 1937, only to return to Vincent in 1943 to start plans
for the Series A successor.
by German bombing, Vincent was the first company to start producing motorcycles
at the end of the war. For its return to civilian production after WW II,
Vincent HRD offered the Series B Rapide, a 998cc V-twin. The Series B was a
dramatically new motorcycle, shattering engineering concepts with its frameless
or "monocoque" design. The front and rear suspension bolted directly
to the oil tank which was concealed by an all-encompassing gas tank. Gone were
all the external oil pipes that had caused Vincent engines to be dubbed by some
"The Plumbers Nightmare." Being suspended from the oil tank, the
engine appeared, by conventional standards, to be hanging in mid-air.
Series B introduction greatly added to the Vincent's reputation and popularity.
Twin carburetors and unusual forward-facing rear exhaust V-twin, gave
Vincent-HRD an exciting, new identity among motorcycle manufacturers, one that
did not go unnoticed in America.
dealerships began springing up in the US in 1944. The first opened in
Philadelphia and was owned by Eugene Aucott. Soon after dealers opened in
Florida, New Jersey, Michigan, California and Texas. The Vincent rush was on,
not necessarily as a primary source of dealer income, but simply because the
dealers liked the machine. Comparisons to America's Harley-Davidsons began at
once, but there was, of course, no comparison. One Vincent that became known as
the "Rumplecrankshaft," endured a 100,000-mile test without a single
bearing failure. Unfortunately, early gearbox problems cooled American
enthusiasm. By 1953 a new shifter was designed but Vincent's reputation for
problems could not be offset by the ease with which it could be repaired.
continued to develop other unique features such as a handlebar mounted brake
adjuster. A hydraulic unit replaced twin springs and damper and the rear seat
was supported by a sub-frame down to the rear frame pivot point, providing a
fully spring seat with 6 inches of suspension. The rear wheel moved
independently of the seat, resulting in a configuration that would be utilized
on most motorcycles in the 1980's. The oil tank contained a check valve so the
oil lines could be disconnected without loss of oil. Wiring could be
disconnected by hand, the battery was held by a hand-spun wheel. It pioneered
the "buddy seat", a novelty in 1946, but within a few years had almost
completely replaced the mattress seat throughout the motorcycle industry. Screen
oil and gas filters were a first, and all control levers were fully adjustable. The
famous Black Shadow first built in 1948, was easily recognized by the all black
finish of the engine and gearbox and the big 5-inch, 150 mph Smith speedometer.
It could cruise at 100 mph per hour, and would top out at 125 mph. Based on the
Rapide, internal engine components were polished and the gearshift mechanism was
was with the introduction in 1948 of the fully race-prepared Vincent Black
Lightning that Vincent emerged as the most legendary motorcycle of its time. The
Black Lightning fired the imagination of motorcyclists the world over and was
known as 'The World's Fastest Standard Motorcycle', a claim it could have made
well into the seventies, nearly twenty years after it ceased production.
Vincent Black Lightning was available as a custom order machine only and sold
for around $1,500. Besides the absence of street equipment, a few chassis
features set the Lightning apart from other street bikes. The magnesium alloy
brake plates were both stiffer and lighter than standard steel plates, racing
tires were mounted to light alloy rims, rear-set foot controls, a light weight
solo seat and aluminum fenders all helped trim the Lightning's weight to 380 lb
compared to the Shadow's 458 lb. Engine specifications varied, but were always
based on selection and careful modification of standard parts along with fitting
of higher performance equipment. Engine performance was rated at 70hp and the
Black Lightning could reach 150 mph. Record has it that only 31 Black Lightnings
were built, but in the hands of racers around the world, the Black Lightning did
much to enhance the Vincent's growing performance legend.
the summer of 1955, at a Vincent Owner's Club dinner, Phil Vincent announced
that the company would not longer manufacture motorcycles. The board of Vincent
had decided that the company could no longer function under the continued heavy
losses and that production would cease almost immediately. Rather than abandon
company tradition of uncompromised quality, it was decided to discontinue the
complete range of Vincent motorcycles. The week before Christmas, 1955 the last
of these ingenious machines came off the production line and was labeled
"The Last." Phil Vincent promised that parts for his motorcycles would
always be available. To this day, parts are made and sold worldwide by Harper
Engineering, who bought the company out of receivership.
The gallant V-Twin is far from forgotten. The Vincent Owners Club is the largest single-brand club in the world. Vincents are today regarded as one of the most desirable, collectible classics in the world. A fully restored Black Lightning, or one maintained in original running condition, have been seen in the market for $125,000, that is about 100 times what it cost new. Many are still being ridden in speed events the world over and are enjoying a renaissance in the fast growing sport of classic and antique motorcycle competition.
The new Vincent Black Eagle. Release date and price to be announced.
REBIRTH OF A LEGEND
The new Vincent Motorcycles are designed to state-of-the-art standards, consistent with their heritage of legendary performance. Their distinguishing features will include a large tubular, monocoque, single shock chassis, 130 horsepower 90° liquid cooled V-twin, inverted forks, forged calipers, tubeless spoke forged alloy wheels, carbon fiber bodywork, ultra-hi-performance, and exquisite craftsmanship. The Vincent will be styled in a manner significantly reminiscent of its predecessors and in keeping with traditional British livery.
Watch this space...