Whatever Happened To...Vincent?

Remembering "The World's Fastest Motorcycle"

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Bonhams

Philip Vincent built his first motorcycle, featuring the signature cantilevered rear-suspension design he patented, in 1927. Seeking the advantage of an established name, he purchased the defunct HRD motorcycle company and formed Vincent HRD in Stevenage, England, one year later. Australian designer Phil Irving joined the firm as chief engineer in '31, and helped the company produce its first 500cc single three years hence. The V-twin-powered Rapide debuted in '36, with a 110-mph top speed that made it the fastest production vehicle of the time. The legendary Black Shadow-named for its black-enameled, 998cc V-twin-appeared in '48. That same year Rollie Free raced his tuned Black Shadow to 150.313 mph at Bonneville, wearing only a bathing suit. Despite remarkable racing success, ongoing and heavy financial losses drove Vincent to discontinue production in '55.

The only credible attempt to revive the Vincent name happened a decade ago, when American entrepreneur Bernard Li (who founded the Eagle One line of car-care products) launched Vincent Motors USA. Li spent $2 million constructing four new Vincent prototypes. The first (pictured here), built in 2001 using a reproduction Vincent engine from Australian outfit RTV, was deemed unsuitable for production. A trio of more modern prototypes-the Black Shadow standard, Black Lightning S café racer and Black Eagle power cruiser-followed in '02. Designed by James Parker and built by Roush Industries, these utilized a liquid-cooled Honda V-twin from the RC51 superbike and high-tech suspension and brakes, but looked ungainly compared to the original Vincent's understated, elegant style. Li was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident before his Vincent revival could take root.

The Li prototypes made a rare public appearance last May, on the block at the Bonhams motorcycle auction in Carmel Valley, California. All four failed to meet reserve, estimated to be between $30,000 and 55,000. You can still see them all, right now, at Li's website: www.vincentmotors.com.

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