Vincent Motorcycles

Vincent Motorcycles

Infobox Defunct Company
company_name = Vincent HRD Co., Ltd
fate = bankrupt
successor = Vincent Motors USA (1998)
foundation = 1928
defunct = 1959
location = Stevenage, UK
industry = manufacturing and engineering
key_people = Phil Vincent, Phil Irving
products = motorcycles, three wheelers, pumps, amphibious vehicles, drones
num_employees =
parent =
subsid =

Vincent Motorcycles was a British manufacturer of motorcycles in the United Kingdom from 1928 to 1955. Their Black Shadow is one of the best known high performance motorcycles of the 1950s. In 1955 the company discontinued motorcycle production due to heavy financial losses.


Vincent Motorcycles, "the makers of the world's fastest motorcycles", began with the purchase of HRD Motorcycles, less the factory premises, by Phil Vincent in 1928.

HRD was founded by the British (RFC) pilot, Howard Raymond Davies, who was shot down and captured by the Germans in 1917. Legend has it that it was while a prisoner of war that he conceived the idea of building his own motorcycle, and contemplated how he might achieve that. It was not until 1924 that Davies entered into partnership with E J Massey, trading as HRD Motors. Various models were produced, generally powered by JAP (J A Prestwich) engines.

Unfortunately, even though HRD motorcycles won races the company ran at a loss, and in January 1928 it went into voluntary liquidation. The company was initially bought by Ernest Humphries of OK-Supreme Motors for the factory space, and the HRD name, jigs, tools, patterns, and remaining components were subsequently offered for sale again.

Phil Vincent

The legend has it that Philip Vincent dreamt of building a quality motorcycle bearing his own name, just as Howard Davies had, but rather than start from scratch he was advised to start production under an established name. He had built a motorcycle of his own in 1924, and in 1928 had registered a patent for a cantilever rear suspension of his own design. In 1928 Philip Vincent left Cambridge University with an engineering degree and, with the backing of his family wealth from cattle ranching in Argentina, acquired the trademark, goodwill and remaining components of HRD from Humphries for £500.

The company was promptly renamed Vincent HRD Co., Ltd and production moved to Stevenage. The new trademark had "Vincent" in very small letters above "HRD" written large. After World War 2 Britain had an export drive to repay its war debts, and the USA was the largest market for motorcycles, so in 1949 the HRD was dropped from the name to avoid any confusion with the "HD" of Harley Davidson, and the motorcycle became The Vincent.

In 1929 the first Vincent-HRD motorcycle used a JAP single-cylinder engine in a Vincent-designed cantilever frame. The earliest known example extant exists in Canberra, Australia. Some early bikes used Rudge-Python engines. But after a disastrous 1934 Isle of Man TT, with engine problems and all three entries failing to finish, Phil Vincent (with Phil Irving) decided to build their own engines.

Phil Vincent also experimented with three wheeled vehicles, amphibious vehicles, and automobiles. In 1932 the first 3-wheeler, "The Vincent Bantam" appeared, powered by a 293 cc SV JAP or 250 cc Villiers engine. It was a 2.5 cwt delivery van with a car seat and a steering wheel. The Bantam cost £57-10-0 and the windscreen and hood option cost £5-10-0. Production ceased in 1936. [ [] 3Wheelers Vincent Three Wheelers (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

Phil Irving

In 1931 Phil Irving joined Vincent as chief engineer. [ [] VincentMotors History (Retrieved 22 October 2006)] His first engine design was an OHV 500 cc single-cylinder engine in 1934. The standard motor was known as the Meteor and the sports motor was the Comet; it was distinguished from earlier Vincent models of that name by the “Series-A” prefix. There was a TT replica & the Comet Special (basically a TTR with lights, horn etc), which used a bronze head. [ [] NTNOA Histories (Retrieved 22 October 2006)] The Meteor motor produced convert|26|bhp|abbr=on @ 5300 rpm,

An unusual feature of the valve design for these motors was the double valve guides, and the attachment of the forked rocker arm to a shoulder between the guides, to eliminate side forces on the valve stem and ensure maximum valve life under racing conditions.

The Series-A Comet could do convert|90|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on, but Phil Vincent and his racing customers wanted more.

1936 Series A Rapide

Legend has it that Irving accidentally put a side-view tracing of the Vincent 500 motor wrong way up on top of an equally sized drawing of the same view of the same motor, and saw, moving the tracing so the crankshafts and camshafts coincided, that the result looked like a possible design for a V-twin. This resulted in the 47.5° V twin which appeared in 1936. (The single leaned forward 23.75°.) [ [] Dropbears Histories (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

With 6.8:1 compression, it produced convert|45|bhp|abbr=on.

The Vincent V-twin motorcycle incorporated a number of new and innovative ideas, some of which were more successful than others.

The Vincent HRD Series A Rapide was introduced in October 1936. Its frame incorporated motorcycling's first "cantilever" rear suspension, which was used on all Vincents produced from 1936 through 1955. Other innovations included foot gearchange instead of hand-operated gearlever, a four-speed gearbox instead of two or three, and a side stand.

Pneumatic forks were not to be a Vincent innovation, with both Phils believing girder forks were superior at the time. The Series-A had external oil lines and a separate gearbox.

The 998 cc Series A Rapide Vincent cost $600, produced convert|45|hp|abbr=on, and was capable of 110 miles per hour.

The high horsepower meant that the gearbox and clutch did not cope well. [ [] IanChadwick Vincent (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]
* Engine - 998 cc, 47.5 degree v-twin ohv four-stroke
* Bore and Stroke - 84 x 90 mm
* Compression Ratio - 6.8:1
* Power - convert|45|bhp|abbr=on @ 5500 rpm
* Produced - 1936-1939
* Wheelbase - 58.5inch
* Dry Weight - convert|430|lb|abbr=on
* Carburettor - 1.0625inch Amal
* Gearbox - Burman 4 speed, triplex chain primary, wet multiplate clutch
* Frame - Brazed lug duplex tubular cradle. Cantilever rear springing
* Front forks - Brampton girder forks
* Top Speed - convert|110|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on

World War II

In 1937 Phil Irving went to work for Velocette but returned to Vincent Motorcycles in 1943. Vincent primarily made munitions, but Vincent engines were trialled in boats and portable pumps during the war, and the end of hostilities saw Vincent ready to return to motorcycle production.

Vincent already looked to America for sales, and in 1944 Eugene Aucott opened the first USA dealership in the city of Philadelphia. Others followed.

1946 Series B Rapide

The Series B Rapide designed during the war and released to the press before end of hostilities looked radically different from the A: now the oil pipes were internal, and the gearbox was part of the engine casting (Unit Construction). The angle between the cylinders was now 50° instead of the 47.5° of the Series A engine. This allowed the use of the engine as a stressed member of the frame, which consisted of an oil-tank spine with the engine hanging below, and the front and rear suspension attached at the ends. This was considered sensational at the time, and the arrangement was not seen again till the late seventies. The cantilever rear became the most widely used form of rear suspension for motorcycles after 1980, and the use of the engine-gearbox unit as a stressed member became more usual. Brakes were dual single-leading shoe (SLS), front and rear. The convert|55.5|in|mm|sing=on wheelbase was three inches (76 mm) shorter than the Series A, and its dimensions were more like a 500 cc bike of the time.

A more modern hydraulic shock absorber and spring assembly later replaced the old twin springs and friction damper. The rear seat was supported by a sub-frame down to the rear frame pivot point, providing a semi-sprung seat with convert|6|in|mm of suspension. (Yamaha would rediscover this suspension system nearly 40 years later.)

The Series B had a Feridax Dunlopillo Dualseat, and a tool tray under the front. [ [] TheVincent Models and Fittings (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

The Series "B" incorporated an inline felt oil filter instead of the metal gauze of the Series "A".

Vincent used quickly detachable wheels, making wheel and tyre changes easier. The rear wheel was reversible, and different size rear sprockets could be fitted for quick final-drive ratio changes.The brake & gear shift were adjustable for reach to suit individual feet.The rear mud guard was hinged to facilitate the removal of the rear wheel.These are things taken for granted on modern motorcycles whereas Vincent was a pioneer in their use.

From today's perspective, it seems incongruous that Vincent could see the need for, and design, a cantilever rear suspension, as well as incorporate so many other new ideas, yet use Brampton girder forks with friction dampers up front. The two Phils felt that the telescopic forks of the time were prone to lateral flex, so they persisted with girder forks, and did use hydraulic damping in the Series C "Girdraulic" forks. Consider now the use of similar forks on the famous Britten (from New Zealand), the current BMW K1200 Series & the Honda Rune.

Vincent had sold bikes through Indian Motorcycles dealers in the US and in 1948 an Indian Chief was sent to Stevenage to be fitted with a Vincent Rapide engine. The resulting hybrid Vindian did not go into production.

1948 Series C Vincents, "Black Shadow" and "Black Lightning"

The 1948 Series C Rapide differed from the Series B in having "Girdraulic" front forks – which were girder forks with hydraulic damping. [ [] Is-it-a-lemon Vincent review (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

The “Black Shadow”, capable of convert|125|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on, and easily recognised by its black engine and gearbox unit, and large convert|150|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on speedometer, was introduced. The engine produced convert|55|bhp|abbr=on @ 5700 rpm in Black Shadow trim.

The Black Lightning was a racing version of the Black Shadow, with every necessary steel part on it that could be, remade in aluminium, and anything not essential removed altogether, reducing the weight from convert|458|lb|abbr=on to convert|380|lb|abbr=on. Every bit the racer, it had a single racing seat and rear-set footrests.

The 500 cc Meteor and Comet singles were introduced, along with a 500 cc racer, the Grey Flash. The Grey Flash racer used Albion gears, for the greater choice of ratios available. [ [] TheVincent Grey Flash Information (Retrieved 22 October 2006)] The 500 cc bikes used a wet multiplate clutch, while the 998 cc V-twins used a dry, drum-type servo clutch.

Most Vincents were painted black. In 1949 a White Shadow was available, but only 15 were sold, and the option was dropped in 1952. In 1950 16 Red Comets were shipped to the United States. There were also 31 of the 1948 Grey Flash built. [ See production figures]

In 1949 HRD was dropped from the name, and the logo now simply said "Vincent".
*Make: Vincent HRD
*Model: 1948 Series C Black Shadow
*Engine: 998 cc (84 x 90 mm bore and stroke) 50° OHV V Twin, 7.3:1 CR, polished conrods
*Carburetor: 2 x convert|1.125|in|mm|sing=on type 29 Amals
*Ignition: Lucas Magneto (1955 models: Kettering ignition)
*Electrics: 6v 45w dynamo
*Lubrication: Dry sump, 3 US quarts
*Gearbox: Integral Vincent four speed, triplex chain primary, dry servo - drum clutch
*Final Drive: 530 chain, 46/21 sprockets
*Tyres: 3 x 20 in front, 3.50 x 19 in rear
*Wheels: Front: 1.65 x 20 in.steel rim; Rear: 1.65 x 19 in.steel rim.
*Frame: "Diamond Frame".(Spine frame with engine as stressed member)
*Rear Suspension: Cantilever rear springing
*Front forks: Vincent Girdraulic forks, 3" travel
*Brakes: Twin drums, 7 in diameter in front and rear, single leading shoe 7/8" wide.
*Weight: convert|455|lb|abbr=on - 206 kg Wet - 500 lb (227 kg)
*Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1415 mm)
*Seat height: 32.5 in. (826 mm)
*Performance: 125 mph / 201 km/h - convert|55|bhp|abbr=on at 5500 rpm
*Fuel Capacity 3.5 gallons / 16 litres
*Manufacturer: The Vincent-HRD Co. Ltd., Great North Road, Stevenage, Herts

1954 "Series D" Vincents

The term "Series D" was not used by the factory, but was taken as a natural progression by the motorcycling world. With sales falling, Vincent tried building two new high-speed touring models; the fully enclosed Vincent Victor (an upgraded Comet), the Black Knight (an upgraded Rapide) and the Black Prince (an upgraded Shadow). They were poorly received by the public. A short-lived unfaired version of the Black Prince was then produced. There was still a Series D Comet.

Sales declined further after the post war motorcycling boom owing to the availability of cheaper motor cars, so not many "Series D" models were made. A growing media association between motorcycles and motorcycle gangs in the late fifties was also giving motorcycling a bad name.

Black Lightning (1949 - 1952)

It was with the introduction in 1948 of the fully race-prepared Vincent Black Lightning that Vincent produced the most legendary motorcycle of its time. The Black Lightning was advertised as "The World's Fastest Standard Motorcycle - This is a fact, not a slogan!" - a claim it could have made right up until the release of the 900 cc Kawasaki Z1, 20 years later in 1972. (This same claim had been made in advertising before, for the earlier fastest Vincents)

Around 30 Vincent Black Lightnings were built during 1949-52. They were available on special order, selling for $1,500. [ [] MotorCycleDaily Vincent Motors (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

The Black Lightning had magnesium alloy brake backing plates, racing tires on lightweight alloy rims, rear-set pegs, a solo racing seat and aluminum fenders. All these helped trim the Lightning's weight to 380 lb. (The Black Shadow was 458 lb)

The Black Lightning had higher lift cams, stronger connecting rods, bigger inlet ports, polished rocker gear, steel idler gears, racing carburetors, a manual-advance magneto and could be ordered with compression ratios from 6.8:1 to 12.5:1. The engine was rated at convert|70|hp|abbr=on, and was said to propel the Black Lightning to 150 mph. [ [] Dropbears Histories (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

The proof of the advertisement's claim came in 1948, when an Indian Motorcycle dealer, Rollie Free, riding the very first Vincent-HRD Black Lightning built, raised the motorcycle speed record to convert|150.313|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats. Initially wearing full leathers, he could only achieve convert|147|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on, and his leathers had been flapping so violently at that speed as to tear. He removed his riding apparel, and wearing a bathing cap, speedos, and a pair of sneakers, set out for another attempt, and set the new record. A fast car with photographer aboard followed, and took the famous "bathing suit bike" picture. [ [] MotorCycleMuseumHall ofFame Rollie Free (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

Russell Wright set a 1954 New Zealand speed record of convert|140|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on on a Black Lightning at the Tram Road Speed Trials. At the meeting he met Rapide owner Robert "Bob" Burns who had built a streamliner shell for a sidecar record attempt. They formed a partnership for Bob to supply a streamliner shell for Russell's solo world record attempt, if Russell let him use the Black Lightning for his sidecar world record attempt. [ [] MyVincent Russel Wright interview (Retrieved 21 October 2006)] In December 1954 Bob Burns went first and set a new F.I.M. World Sidecar record of convert|157|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on, up from convert|154|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on. On the 2nd of July 1955, Russell Wright set a new F.I.M. world speed record of convert|185|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on on the Tram Road at Swannanoa, near Christchurch, while Bob Burns upped his sidecar record to 163.06 mph. [ [] StreetBikerMag Vincent Article (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

Despite successful record attempts, other publicity relating to problems with the gearbox selector camplate damped America’s buying enthusiasm. A new shifting mechanism was incorporated for 1953, but the sales damage had already been done.

The English folk Musician Richard Thompson wrote a song called "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" about this motorcycle on the album Rumor and Sigh.

Fireflies, Three Wheelers, and NSU

The Firefly was a 45 cc "clip on" engined bicycle built from 1953 to 1955 under licence from Miller, who were suppliers of electrical components to Vincent. It was also known as the Vincent Power Cycle. The Vincent Owners Club was predictably surprised by this new cheap entry level Vincent. [ [] Globalnet Vincent Firefly (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

By 1954 Vincent motorcycles was in an increasingly difficult situation. In the quest for solvency, Vincent looked for ways to improve their position. The trike idea was revived. In 1932 the first 3-wheeler, "The Vincent Bantam" was first introduced. Powered by a 293 cc SV JAP or 250 cc Villiers engine, it was a 2.5 cwt delivery van which used a car seat and steering wheel rather than the standard motorcycle saddle and handlebars. The Bantam was priced at £57-10-0 and a windscreen and hood for an additional £5-10-0, ceased production 1936 – the first year of the Series A motorcycle.

In 1954/1955, due to falling sales of motorcycles, a one off prototype 3-wheeler powered by a Vincent Rapide 998 cc engine was unofficially named "Polyphemus". To keep development and production costs low, it used a parts bin-approach, including pieces from Vincent motorcycles, as well as wheels came from a Morris Minor and a body based on the materials used in the Black Knight/Prince. With the standard Rapide engine the "Polyphemus" could reach convert|90|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on, and reached convert|117|mi/h|km/h|abbr=on with a Black Lightning engine in 1955.

After several more prototypes the then named “Vincent 3-wheeler” was offered to the public in 1955 at £500 – a high price for any vehicle of the time (the BMC Mini launched four years later for £497 [ [ The History of Mini - MiniWorld ] ] ), especially for a vehicle with no reverse gear, self starter or hood. Vincent sold none. [ [] 3Wheelers Vincent Three Wheelers (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

Unfortunately Vincent motorcycles were hand built and expensive - only a total of 11,000 machines were sold post-World War Two. A sales slump in 1954 forced the company to manufacture NSU mopeds. Only forty of the two stroke 1955 NSU-Vincent Fox 123 cc were built. There was also an OHV four stroke NSU-Vincent 98 cc, and Vincent also sold the "NSU Quickly" moped; too well it appears (selling about 20,000 in one year – a foot note to how the market had changed again), as NSU took control of its own sales after a year.

The Last Vincent Motorcycle

At a Vincent Owners' Club dinner in the summer of 1955, Phil Vincent announced that the company could no longer continue in the face of heavy losses and that production of motorcycles would cease almost immediately. [ [] VincentMotors History Page3. (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

In 1955, one week before Christmas, the last Vincent came off the production line and was promptly labeled "The Last."

The factory then turned to general engineering, the manufacture of industrial engines, and there was the Amanda water scooter, possibly the first personal watercraft. [ [] IanChadwick Vincent (Retrieved 22 October 2006)] A Vincent engineer lost his life testing it, drowning at sea. [ [] MindSpring 1953 Works Visit (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

Vincent tried for a government contract supplying motors for the ML Aviation U120D target aircraft. The motor had to be capable of passing prolonged full power operation tests. This was called the Picador project. The Vincent motor was upgraded with a better crankshaft, Scintilla magneto, double speed oil pump and fuel injection. They did not get a contract. (Russel Wright's record breaking bike was fitted with a Picador crank and oil pump, by Vincent, while in England for Earls Court, shortly after the 1955 record attempt.) [ [] The Vincent Picador Drone (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

The company went into receivership in 1959. It has since been bought and sold by other engineering firms. In 1955 Phil Vincent declared that Vincent parts would always be available and indeed they are still available, through the Vincent Owners' Club, Vin Parts International and other sources.

ubsequent Developments

The Vincent Owners Club is the largest single-brand motorcycle club in the world. Vincents are among the most desirable of motorcycling classics. A Black Lightning, in immaculate condition, can bring $125,000.

Vincent engines have been fitted to other frames. The most obvious is the Norvin, using a Norton featherbed frame, with or without the lower frame tubes. The Norvin is made in the UK by Hailwood Motorcycle Restorations [ [] Hailwood Motorcycle Restorations HMR Norvin (Retrieved 3 July 2007)] Specialist frame manufacturers also made frames for the Vincent engine.

Fritz Egli, a specialist frame manufacturer based in Switzerland, produced an Egli-Vincent, and around 100 were produced between 1967 and 1972. Egli-Vincents are now being built in France by Paul Godet, under licence. [ [] GodetMotorcycles Egli (Retrieved 22 October 2006)] and under licence in the UK by Hailwood Motorcycle Restorations. [ [] Hailwood Motorcycle Restorations HMR Egli-Vincent (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

In 1996, a partnership was formed to launch the Australian RTV motorcycle. It used a slightly modernised reproduction Vincent engine in an Egli-style frame in capacities of 1000 cc and 1200 cc. They had electric start. After four bikes were built, the company went into voluntary liquidation towards the end of 1998. [ [] UnionJack RTV Vincent (Retrieved 22 October 2006)]

Vincent Motors USA founder and president, Bernard Li, acquired the Vincent trademarks in 1994, and formally launched Vincent Motors USA in 1998, spending about $2 million building prototypes that resemble the original Vincent, but utilising modern components, like the Honda RC51 V-twin engine. Vincent Motors is based in San Diego. [ [] Vincent Motors San Diego (Retrieved 22 October 2006)] The Honda engine now out of production a resurrection of the Vincent name now seems unlikely.

Production Models

*1932 250 cc Bantam trike delivery van
*1934 500 cc Meteor
*1934 500 cc Comet
*1934 500 cc Comet Special (TT replica)
*1936 1000 cc Series-A Rapide
*1946 1000 cc Series-B Rapide
*1948 500 cc Series-C Meteor
*1948 500 cc Series-C Comet
*1948 500 cc Series-C Grey Flash
*1948 1000 cc Series-C Rapide
*1948 1000 cc Series-C Black Shadow
*1948 1000 cc Series-C Black Lightning
*1949 1000 cc Series-C White Shadow
*1950 500 cc Series-C Red Comet
*1953 45 cc Firefly (or Power Cycle)
*1954 1000 cc "Series-D" Black Knight (Faired Rapide)
*1954 1000 cc "Series-D" Black Prince (Faired Shadow)
*1954 50 cc NSU Quickly
*1955 1000 cc Three Wheeler
*1955 123 cc NSU Fox

ee also

*HRD Motorcycles
*Vincent Black Shadow

There is no such thing as a Series C Meteor - all Meteors were Series B's.


* Inspired the name of the heavy rock band The Vincent
* Inspired the song "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" by Richard Thompson
* The 1954 Black Knight model was briefly mentioned in the movie Batman Forever
* In the Ian Dury & The Blockheads song Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3, one of many items listed as one reason is a Vincent Motorcycle.
* The Vincent Black Shadow is mentioned in the Clash song This is England as a symbol of Britain's dying motorcycle industry, particularly regarding the then current demise of Triumph in 1983.


*"H.R.D. Motor Cycles. Produced by a Rider" Auth: Geoff Preece; Publisher: J. Bickerstaff
*"Vincent Motorcycles: The Complete Story", David Wright Pub: Crowood Motoclassics, ISBN 1-86126-516-6
*"Vincent and HRD Motorcycles - How They Were Promoted and Sold', David Wright, Limited edition of 998 copies

External links

* [ Hunter S Thompson article on the Vincent Black Shadow]
* [ Listen to Richard Thompson's song Vincent Black Lightning 1952]
* [ Vincent Owners Club] The world wide Vincent owners club (VOC) site with extensive archives
* [ The] Vincent Motorcycles Classified, Technical articles and photo galleries
* [ Vincent Motors USA] site of the new USA based Vincent Motorcycle company
* [ Vincent Motors]
* [ Return of the Cafe Racers]
* [ Vincents in films] Actual model identification is incorrect at this time

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