Vincent Motorcycles
Overview
 
Vincent Motorcycles was a British manufacturer of motorcycles from 1928 to 1955. Their 1948 Black Shadow
Vincent Black Shadow
The Vincent Black Shadow was a hand-built motorcycle produced by Vincent HRD from 1948. The series "C" which was introduced in 1949 had a 50 degree OHV V-twin engine running a 7.3:1 compression ratio.-Model history:...

 was at the time the world's fastest production motorcycle. In 1955 the company discontinued motorcycle production after experiencing heavy financial losses.
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
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 (RFC) pilot, Howard Raymond Davies, who was shot down and captured by the Germans in 1917.
Encyclopedia
Vincent Motorcycles was a British manufacturer of motorcycles from 1928 to 1955. Their 1948 Black Shadow
Vincent Black Shadow
The Vincent Black Shadow was a hand-built motorcycle produced by Vincent HRD from 1948. The series "C" which was introduced in 1949 had a 50 degree OHV V-twin engine running a 7.3:1 compression ratio.-Model history:...

 was at the time the world's fastest production motorcycle. In 1955 the company discontinued motorcycle production after experiencing heavy financial losses.

History

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
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 (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
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 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
HRD Motorcycles
HRD Motors Ltd was a British motorcycle manufacturer in the 1920s. It was founded by Howard Raymond Davies. He had worked in motorcycling, and had raced with some success in the mid-twenties, but often not finishing due to unreliability. This inspired him to build a reliable performance motorcycle,...

. Various models were produced, generally powered by JAP
JAP
Jap or JAP may refer to:* Journal of Applied Physics, scientific journal published by American Institute of Physics* Journal of Applied Physiology, scientific journal published by American Physiological Society...

 (JA Prestwich Industries) engines.

Unfortunately, although HRD motorcycles won races, the company ran at a loss. In January 1928 it went into voluntary liquidation. The company was initially bought by Ernest Humphries of OK-Supreme
OK-Supreme
OK-Supreme was a British motorcycle manufacturer from 1899 to 1939 located in Birmingham. Grass-track racing versions of the machines continued to be available until 1946.-History:...

 Motors for the factory space, and the HRD name, jigs, tools, patterns, and remaining components were subsequently offered for sale again.

Phil Vincent

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
Stevenage
Stevenage is a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England. It is situated to the east of junctions 7 and 8 of the A1, and is between Letchworth Garden City to the north, and Welwyn Garden City to the south....

. 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
JA Prestwich Industries Ltd
JA Prestwich Industries, was an English engineering company named after founder John Alfred Prestwich, which produced cinematographic equipment, internal combustion engines , and other examples of precision engineering.-History:J. A...

 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
Isle of Man TT
The International Isle of Man TT Race is a motorcycle racing event held on the Isle of Man and was for many years the most prestigious motorcycle race in the world...

, 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
Hundredweight
The hundredweight or centum weight is a unit of mass defined in terms of the pound . The definition used in Britain differs from that used in North America. The two are distinguished by the terms long hundredweight and short hundredweight:* The long hundredweight is defined as 112 lb, which...

 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.

Phil Irving

In 1931 Phil Irving joined Vincent as chief engineer. His first engine design was an OHV 500 cc single-cylinder engine in 1934 called the "Meteor".

World War II

In 1937 Phil Irving went to work for Velocette
Velocette
Velocette is the name given to motorcycles that were made by Veloce Ltd, in Hall Green, Birmingham, England. One of several motorcycle manufacturers in Birmingham, Velocette was a small, family-owned firm, selling far fewer hand-built motorcycles than the giant BSA, Norton or Triumph concerns...

 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.

Meteor and Comet

The standard motor was known as the Meteor and the sports motor was the Vincent Comet
Vincent Comet
The Vincent Comet was designed and built at the Vincent works in Great North Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England]. Developed from the Vincent Rapide by Australian engineer Phil Irving in 1935, it was one of four 499 cc single models...

; 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. The Meteor motor produced 26 bhp @ 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 90 mi/h, 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 crankshaft
Crankshaft
The crankshaft, sometimes casually abbreviated to crank, is the part of an engine which translates reciprocating linear piston motion into rotation...

s and idler gears coincided, that the result looked like a possible design for a V-twin
V-twin
A V-twin engine is a two-cylinder internal combustion engine where the cylinders are arranged in a V configuration.- Crankshaft configuration :Most V-twin engines have a single crankpin, which is shared by both connecting rods...

. This resulted in the 47.5° V twin which appeared in 1936. (The single leaned forward 23.75°.)

With 6.8:1 compression, it produced 45 bhp.

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 was of brazed lug construction, based on the Comet design but extended to accommodate the longer V twin engine. It continued the use of "cantilever" rear suspension, which was used on all Vincents produced from 1928 through 1955. Other innovations included 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 45 hp, and was capable of 110 mi/h.

The high power meant that the gearbox and clutch did not cope well.

Specifications

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 use of the engine-gearbox unit as a stressed member became more usual. Brakes were dual single-leading shoe (SLS), front and rear. The 55.5 inches (1,409.7 mm) 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 6 inches (152.4 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.

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.

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.

Starting in 1948, Indian Motorcycles distributed Vincents in the United States along with other British motorcycles including AJS
AJS
AJS was the name used for cars and motorcycles made by the Wolverhampton, England, company A. J. Stevens & Co. Ltd, from 1909 to 1931, by then holding 117 motorcycle world records, and after the firm was sold the name continued to be used by Matchless, Associated Motorcycles and Norton-Villiers on...

, Royal Enfield
Royal Enfield
Royal Enfield was the name under which the Enfield Cycle Company made motorcycles, bicycles, lawnmowers and stationary engines. This legacy of weapons manufacture is reflected in the logo, a cannon, and their motto "Made like a gun, goes like a bullet". Use of the brand name Royal Enfield was...

, Matchless
Matchless
Matchless is one of the oldest marques of British motorcycles, manufactured in Plumstead, London, between 1899 and 1966. A wide range of models was produced under the Matchless name, ranging from small two-strokes to 750 cc four-stroke twins...

 and Norton Motorcycle Company. That same year 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. By 1950, the Series C featured a 998cc, 50-degree V-twin that put out between 45 and 55 horsepower, depending on the state of tune (Rapide or Black Shadow).

The Black Shadow
Vincent Black Shadow
The Vincent Black Shadow was a hand-built motorcycle produced by Vincent HRD from 1948. The series "C" which was introduced in 1949 had a 50 degree OHV V-twin engine running a 7.3:1 compression ratio.-Model history:...

, capable of 125 mi/h, and easily recognised by its black engine and gearbox unit, and large 150 mi/h speedometer, was introduced. The engine produced 54 bhp @ 5700 rpm in Black Shadow trim.

The Black Lightning
Vincent Black Lightning
The Black Lightning was a Vincent motorcycle designed and built in September 1948 at the Vincent works in Great North Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK, and produced from 1948 to 1952...

 was a racing version of the Black Shadow; every necessary steel part on it that could be was remade in aluminium, and anything not essential was removed altogether. These changes helped reduce the weight from 458 lb (207.7 kg) to 380 lb (172.4 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
Vincent Grey Flash
The Vincent Grey Flash is a British motorcycle made between 1949 and 1952 by Vincent Motorcycles. Advertised as "By Black Lightning out of Comet" this 500cc single racer is very rare as only 31 were produced.-Development:...

. 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 colour 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.

From 1949 HRD was dropped from the name, and the logo now simply read "Vincent".

Specifications

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 Vincent Black Prince
Vincent Black Prince
The Vincent Black Prince was a British motorcycle made between 1954 and 1955 by Vincent Motorcycles. A year before the factory closed in 1955, Vincent produced the enclosed range of Vincent Black Knight and Black Prince. Phil Vincent described it as a 'two-wheeled Bentley' and the enclosed Vincents...

 (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.

Rolland "Rollie" Free
Rollie Free
Roland "Rollie" Free was a motorcycle racer best known for breaking the American motorcycle land speed record in 1948 on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah...

 (November 11, 1900 – October 11, 1984) was a motorcycle racer best known for breaking the American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 motorcycle land speed record
Motorcycle land speed record
The motorcycle land speed record is the fastest speed achieved by a motorcycle on land. It is standardized as the speed over a course of fixed length, averaged over two runs in opposite directions. These are special or modified motorcycles, distinct from the fastest production motorcycles. The...

 in 1948 on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. The picture of Free, prone and wearing a bathing suit, has been described as the most famous picture in motorcycling and Russell Wright won another World Land Speed Record at Swannanoa with a Vincent HRD motorcycle in 1955 at 184.83 mi/h.

However, 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.

Fireflys, 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.

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 Vincent Bantam" was first introduced: Vincent's first 3-wheeler, powered by a 293 cc SV JAP or 250 cc Villiers engine, 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 with a windscreen and hood available for an additional £5-10-0. It ceased production in 1936 – the first year of the Series A motorcycle.

In 1954/1955, due to falling sales of motorcycles, the prototype 3-wheeler powered by a Vincent Rapide 998 cc engine was produced. (Some years later,the vehicle was named "Polyphemus" by its owner, Roy Harper.) To keep development and production costs low, it used a parts bin-approach, including pieces from Vincent motorcycles, as well as wheels which came from a Morris Minor. The body was made from 16-gauge aluminium. With the standard Rapide engine, "Polyphemus" could reach 90 mi/h. Before it was sold, in the hands of Ted Davis, it achieved 117 mi/h with a Black Lightning engine.
The “Vincent 3-wheeler” was eventually sold to a member of the public for £500 – a high price for any vehicle at the time (the BMC Mini
Mini
The Mini is a small car that was made by the British Motor Corporation and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout influenced a generation of car-makers...

 launched four years later for £497), especially for a vehicle with no reverse gear, self starter or hood.

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 import and sell NSU
NSU Motorenwerke AG
NSU Motorenwerke AG, normally just NSU, was a German manufacturer of automobiles, motorcycles and pedal cycles, founded in 1873. It was acquired by Volkswagen Group in 1969...

 mopeds. 160 two-stroke Foxes NSU
NSU Motorenwerke AG
NSU Motorenwerke AG, normally just NSU, was a German manufacturer of automobiles, motorcycles and pedal cycles, founded in 1873. It was acquired by Volkswagen Group in 1969...

-Vincent 123 cc were built. There were also 40 98cc OHV four-stroke NSU-Vincents, 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.

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

Post Motorcycle manufacturing

The factory then turned to general engineering, the manufacture of industrial engines, and there was the Amanda water scooter, possibly the first personal watercraft. A Vincent engineer lost his life testing it, drowning at sea.

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
Magneto (electrical)
A magneto is an electrical generator that uses permanent magnets to produce alternating current.Magnetos adapted to produce pulses of high voltage are used in the ignition systems of some gasoline-powered internal combustion engines to provide power to the spark plugs...

, 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
Earls Court
Earls Court is a district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, England. It is an inner-city district centred on Earl's Court Road and surrounding streets, located 3.1 miles west south-west of Charing Cross. It borders the sub-districts of South Kensington to the East, West...

, shortly after the 1955 record attempt.)

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.

Subsequent developments

Vincent engines have been fitted to other frames. The most obvious is the Norvin, using a Norton Featherbed frame
Featherbed frame
The featherbed frame was a motorcycle frame developed by the British Norton motorcycle company to improve the performance of their racing motorcycles around the twisting and demanding Isle of Man TT course in 1950. It was considered revolutionary at the time, and the best handling frame that a...

, with or without the lower frame tubes. The Norvin is made in the UK by Hailwood Motorcycle Restorations Specialist frame manufacturers also made frames for the Vincent engine.

Fritz Egli

Fritz Egli
Fritz Egli
Fritz W. Egli, is a former Swiss motorcycle racer. He is known as a motorcycle frame specialist, and engine tuner.-History:...

, 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 under licence in France by Patrick Godet. Non authorized copies (by Fritz Egli) are also proposed in the UK by Hailwood Motorcycle Restorations (HMR) and JMR.

Vincent RTV Motorcycles

In 1996, a new motorcycle company was formed by two individuals, Terry Prince (well known life long Vincent enthusiast and specialist) and Ron Slender. The company was named RTV Motorcycles. Its ambition was to produce a modern day classic Vincent motorcycle that could be marketed, in reasonable volumes, worldwide. It used a redesigned and modernised version of the Vincent engine, engineered by Terry Prince, with an increased capacity and in an Egli-style frame.The motorcycles were to be built individually by hand.

The range was to include both a touring and sports model in capacities of 1000 cc (RTV1000) and 1200 cc (RTV1200). Complete new engines would also be made available for separate purchase. Production was initially to begin for the larger capacity machine designated the RTV 1200 which produced 85 bhp at 6500 rpm. These were to be fitted, as standard, with state of the art; Bosch electric start, Brembo brakes, adjustable Paiola upside down forks, Ohlins rear monoshock and V-2 multiplate clutch. Only one factory prototype RTV was ever manufactured by Terry Prince, in 1998, before the company went into voluntary liquidation towards the end of that year. After that time the remaining motors (numbering 12 -15) were sold but not all in RTV frames. The original factory prototype, a RTV1200, remains to this day in a private collection in the United Kingdom.

Vincent Motors

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 utilised modern components like the Honda RC51 V-twin engine. Vincent Motors is based in San Diego. A resurrection of the Vincent name now seems unlikely as the Honda RC51 engine is now out of production, and Li was killed in a motorcycle accident.

External links

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