Saturday, October 1, 2011

Vincent Motorcycles: A brief history and a look at the 52 Rapide.

The Vincent Motorcycle is one of the most sought after standard-production bikes in todays market, inching closer and closer to the six figure mark at recent auctions like this Rapide at Bohnams. While the Brough still dominates in high ticket motorcycle sales, (excluding, of course, rare and limited production racers,) the Vincent marquee projects style, sophistication, class and what some may be reluctant to admit, status.

Originally the company was started by Howard Raymond Davies, who used JA Prestwich (JAP) motors, Burman gearboxes and Webb girders. The HRD company lasted on a few years before it was purchase by OK Supreme, who subsequently sold the name and tooling in 1928 to Phil Vincent - a former rider for the A.J.S. racing team.  With Phil at the healm of his newly formed Vincent H.R.D. Co. ltd., he developed the famous cantilever sub-frame, which gave the bikes a rear suspension that was decades ahead of its time. Phil Irving, an Australian born engineer, came onboard to develop the first in house motor, for the 500cc "Meteor".  During the second World War, Vincent motors were used in boats and as generators but returned to motorcycles in 1944 when they secured a USA dealer in Philadelphia - followed by many other locations as the war came to an end.

The first v-twin was designed back in 36 with the release of the Series A Rapide, a 998cc machine capable of 110mph! The Series B Rapide was released near the end of the war and featured a modified unit-engine that became a stressed member of the frame. Vincent was really on the forefront of adding lots of adjustable parts, so that with little to no tools, the rider could make roadside changes in everything from seat and shift lever positions to final gear ratio (which was done by flipping the dual geared wheel around for a larger or small number of teeth on the rear sprocket. This thought process of "built by riders for riders" went over well and imports to the United States began to increase and, as not to be confused with H.D. (Harley Davidson), H.R.D. was dropped from the company name and became simply The Vincent.

Vincent went on to develop the Black Shadow, which unlike the touring style of the Rapide, the Shadow was designed for sport riding with hotter cams, more H.P. and it's distinguishing black stove enamel engine cases. The Black Lightning was the race version which a highly tuned engine, dual Amal TT carbs and a stripped down to bare essentials look.

The 1952 Vincent Rapide featured here is a nice example of a partially original or "sympathetically restored" bike. The tank has been repainted but the top decal remains original. Its a clean bike and  more importantly, it's not just a trailer queen - this bike is meant to be ridden.

Right side profile of the 52 Vincent Rapide.
50ยบ V-Twin. Notice the holes on the gear shift lever? Adjustable for she size!

Standard Amal 276 for the Rapide, but the Black Lightning had the larger TT carbs.

The rear seat position is fully adjustable.

Normall fitted with smaller speedo's, this Rapide has the large clock found on the Shadow.

Original tank decal.

Dual front single leading shoes. (same on back) Still light for stopping that much power.

A single cable pulls the bar over the mudguard. this pulls each brake simultaneously.

4 push rod tubes. All caps marked with the prestigious Vincent logo.

There's a flow to the madness. Just look at this vantage point.

The famous cantilever  suspension. Yamaha would do something similar 30 some years later.

The 52 features the "Girdaulic" front end. Hydraulic shocks replace the springs from the old Girders.

Original rubber!

The cast aluminum on the Rapide was coated in stove enamel on the Black Shadow.

Even the gear positions are stamped, not that you could see them while riding.

The chain adjustment can be done without tools.

The fender can be lifted up allowing the rear wheel to be swapped around for different gearing.

One Center stand....

One rear stand (for changing the tire)....

Two side stands to accommodate  different slopes. For ways to prop the bike!

The headlight is also a Black Shadow item. The Rapides had a smaller headlight-shell.

The left profile. You can begin to understand all the suspension and adjustments on this bike.

One lever (top) is the clutch) the bottom lever is for compression release for easier starting.

Horn neatly tucked down by the footrest. Look at the tooling on the brake lever!

Toolbox is tucked neatly under the seat up front. You can see the optional sprocket on the left side.

Just flip the wheel around. One for more speed, one for more torque.

In case anyone didn't know that the red light meant stop, they spelled it out.

The oil tank sits under the petrol tank as part of the frame.
The Vincent really covered all the bases with their design, but they weren't just gimmicks to sell an otherwise ordinary bike - The Vincent had the beauty, horsepower and handling to back up all the bells and whistles. They were "the worlds fastest motorcycle" as proven by setting many land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. That's why they are held in such high regard and why they are so valuable today.

This bike will be at auction at the Barber Vintage Days Festival this October, 2011.


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