Vincent Motorcycle Project - Overtime Tina

Saving Big Sid's life, one Vincent at a time

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Bob Clarke

Tina looked somewhat out of place among the dozens of 200-plus mph, turbocharged Hayabusas (our sister publication, Super Streetbike, was hosting its annual Top Speed Shootout the same weekend), but viewed from any angle the vintage Vincent is a beautiful and timeless machine. Tina is a bit of a bastard, in the best racing tradition. The chassis comes from Lex's 1953 Rapide, dressed up with Black Lightning-style aluminum fenders, brakes, a sleek, sectioned fuel tank and the saddle from Big Sid's own Black Shadow. The single-cylinder motor is originally from a 1950 Comet, extensively modified by Sid and Steve Hamel, another world-renowned Vincent performance specialist.

Hamel built the engine to racing specs, boring an aftermarket Terry Prince cylinder barrel 6mm over to bump displacement from 499cc to 598cc, and fitting a custom piston to raise compression to 9.5:1. An Amal MK II carburetor was fitted, and a Lucas D Victor points ignition fires a double coil that leads to a twin-plug head. An Andrews race Cam and Terry Prince crank and caged rod balance the bottom end. Behind the motor sits a four-speed Norton Atlas transmission, prepared by well-known Norton racer Carl Hockinson.

Raw brass bar clamps, chunky, Vincent-logo valve caps and countless knurled knobs and turnbuckles make "The Vincent" (as the banner decal on the fuel tank so definitely states) pure industrial art. Sixty years later the Vincent still looks ahead of its time, with "frameless" construction featuring front and rear subframes bolted directly to the motor and Rube Goldbergian technical solutions like the teeter-totter linkage that operates the dual-drum front brakes. I especially appreciated the sculptural engine cases, after Sid told me to run my hand over the left timing chest. "Feel familiar?" he asked. "Phil Irving [the legendary Vincent engineer] told me himself that it mimics the shape of a woman's breast."

Matthew did the honor of kicking Tina to life for the first time. A deliciously deep, big-bore bark erupted from the open race pipe, a noise so primitive that even the 'Busa boys looked up from fiddling with their digital boost controls. I suited up and climbed aboard for my first ride, up the 1-mile access road leading to the Monster Mile's starting line. Big Sid's pep talk was priceless: "Just get out there and give that little bitch all you've got!"

It took a few tugs to yank the right-side, reverse-pattern shift lever up into first gear, and then I was off toward the starting line. I was immediately struck by how non-vintage the Vincent felt. The girder fork and proto-monoshock rear suspension literally floated over Maxton's broken-concrete surface with a level of plush compliance utterly unexpected from such an antique machine. The high-compression single idled flawlessly and Sid had the big-throated carb fettled to perfection, delivering perfect throttle response. Torque output was stronger than expected, equal to any modern air-cooled single, and Tina pulled with authority through the lower gears. Even the braking performance was passable-excellent, in fact, by drum-brake standards.

My first run started well, even if I ignored Sid's advice and brought "the little bitch" slowly up to speed. One mile is a lot of room for a single, and even at a relaxed pace I was well into fourth gear at the half-mile mark. Tina pulled strongly until around 5000 rpm and then ran out of steam, like she was starving for fuel. Still, we exited the timing trap at 100.38 mph-fast enough to set a record in the 650cc vintage four-stroke gas class (MVG-650/4).

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