The Vincent Black Shadow Britain’s Coolest Motorcycle

The Vincent Black Shadow Britain's Coolest MotorcycleMotorcycle enthusiasts who follow motorcycle history know about the record breaking performance of the Vincent Black Shadow, the 1948 Black Shadow was at the time the worlds fastest production motorcycle that easily reached speeds of 125 mph.

Vincent Motorcycles, "the makers of the world’s fastest motorcycles", began with the purchase of HRD Motors Ltd less the factory premises, by Phil Vincent in May, 1928. HRD was founded by the British Royal Flying Corps (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 (JA Prestwich Industries) engines.

Unfortunately, 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.

Philip Vincent was advised to start production under an established name. He had built a motorcycle of his own in 1927 and in 1928 had registered a patent for a cantilever rear suspension of his own design. With the backing of his family wealth from cattle ranching in Argentina, Vincent acquired the trademark, goodwill and remaining components of HRD from Humphries for £450 in 1928.

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 1928 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 and 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 293cc 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.

The 1948 Series C Rapide differed from the Series B in having "Girdraulic" front forks ? which were girder forks with hydraulic damping.

The ?Black Shadow?, capable of 125 mph (201 km/h), and easily recognized by its black engine and gearbox unit, and large 150 mph (240 km/h) speedometer, was introduced. The engine produced 54 bhp (40 kW) @ 5700 rpm in Black Shadow trim.

The Vincent Black Lightning was a racing version of the Black Shadow, with every necessary steel part on it that could be, remade in aluminum, and anything not essential removed altogether, reducing the weight from 458 lb (208 kg) to 380 lb (170 kg). 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 Vincent Grey Flash. The Grey Flash racer used Albion gears, for the greater choice of ratios available. 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 (a machine to Black Shadow mechanical specification, with the Rapide color scheme) 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.

In 1949 HRD was dropped from the name, and the logo now simply said "Vincent".

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