The Vincent was of course not my first motorcycle, but rather a slow maturation process, which started in 1982 when a friend of mine offered me the opportunity to ride his Rapide for a few miles. I was student at that time, and in fact, it took me 12 long years to afford the acquisition of my own 1948 Rapide Series B.
Since, I have own many other V-Twins of any kind, including a 1951 C Black Shadow, but the Egli-Vincent became to me like an obviousness, or at least, the motorcycle that suited me the best.
Even today, although I love all British Classics, she remains for me the ultimate motorcycle, the one I would have if I had to keep only one. My wish is to be able to convey this passion to you through these pages dedicated to the Egli-Vincent and more widely to the Fast Vincent.
With the preparation of this book, came numerous questions about my passion for the Vincent. How and why was I inspired to create a frame for that fantastic engine, details about my design choices, my successes in business, but also some failures such as my project to reproduce the Vincent engine in the 1970s. And, of course, the fact that many workshops have been manufacturing and selling unauthorized copies of my frames even today. In fact, dozens of questions and a lot of good memories, all wrapped up with intense feelings.
Everything started in 1953 when I met a Black Shadow for the first time while I was in the middle of my four-year apprenticeship as a precision mechanic in Zurich. I became the owner of this fabulous machine one and a half years later and fast forward, more than 60 years later, this Vincent is still my favorite bike utilizing the stock frame but with some improvements to the brakes and suspension
Today I ride it attached to a classic French Precision sidecar. I also recently upgraded my Shadow with a stunning Godet 1330cc engine delivering 98 horsepower. I cannot imagine a bike that could give me more pleasure considering I have had the privilege to build, ride and race many different dream motorcycles, all more attractive than the last. But this is the one. I started my riding experience with it and I will not separate from it for the rest of my life.
The immediate post-WWII period had been extraordinary for the Vincent, accumulating much fame, glory and pride across the world. By 1955, the Vincent was by far the fastest production motorcycle, combining innovation, excellence and exclusivity on two wheels. So fast and so advanced, it inspired all sorts of legendary stories, like in Australia, where “… a Rapide owner chased by a police motorcyclist, went so fast that he overtook another police motorcyclist riding flat out in pursuit of another speeding miscreant!” However, Vincents were also expensive machines to build and market, and profit were tiny. The works was placed under receivership as early as 1949, and the sharp decline in production from 1952 added to that financial stress the company was already enduring. The innovative Series D that Vincent was to launch for 1954 was the last chance that the company board of directors was prepared to offer Philip Vincent, and only a successful result could prevent the legendary Vincent brand from coming to an end.
This chapter features the following main sections with 118 photos:
The ABC(D)-Book of Vincent, including the presentation of all models, their technical characteristics, a product roadmap covering 1928 to 1955 and a comprehensive background to understand why and how the 1000 Vincent became a living legend…
Gunga Din (the works mule): From darkness to the limelight.
The World’s Fastest Standard Motorcycle, including Bonneville records.
The legendary Black Lightning (comprehensive review of the model and its history).
The 500 Grey Flash (comprehensive review on this unknown motorcycle and its history).
The Black Lightning land speed record campaign.
No need to race a Black Lightning to knock out the competition (club racing).
Speed and regularity, a shift in Vincent brand positioning (Montlhéry records).
The day the clock stood still at the Stevenage works (why and how the Vincent brand declined and came to an end).
The last Vincent motorcycle left the factory one week before Christmas 1955 and was presciently labeled ‘The Last.’ It had to be clear that there would be no more machines of that breed, and enthusiasts were to be left on their own to organize the ‘after party.’ The Vincent HRD Owners Club was going to be the cement for those who continued to ride their Vincents daily, or to meetings, sometimes shipping their bikes overseas for international rallies. For the club racers, however, the ‘unacceptable’ was simply the fact that the performance of the Vincent would be frozen in time, whereas the competition was progressing every single day. If the brand had survived, the role of the customer-modifed Vincents would have been marginal, but as of now, these ‘specials’ would play a critical role in maintaining the image and the honor of the “World’s Fastest Motorcycle,” until the next big thing.
This chapter features the following main sections and 63 photos:
Nero: The first stab.
The NorVin solution became irresistible.
The Viscount: A first attempt to resume Vincent production.
The Parkin-Vincent: In the wake of Nero.
Curtis-Vincent: The NorVin concept pushed even further.
Until the mid-1960s, all the attempts to improve the handling of the Vincent were either to adapt modern suspension and brakes to the existing frame, or, more radical, to install the Vincent power plant into a Norton chassis. Even Fritz Egli started this way, adding a telescopic fork to his Rapide in 1966. But Fritz’s frustration mounted and when he saw how much better a Manx handled in some portions of the same track he used, he decided to make his own brew, designing an all-new and innovative chassis during the winter of 1966-1967. As the Egli-Vincent won its first race in four of the Swiss hillclimb championships between 1968 and 1971, a track legend was born.
This chapter features the following main sections and 186 photos:
“Going my way”.
Buying a ton-up motorcycle in 1967.
Fame came only in 1968, corner after corner.
After racing success, sales kick off in 1968.
From 1969, the Egli-Vincent is raced competitively across the world.
An Egli or not an Egli? That is the question.
A visit to Fritz Egli’s shop in 1970 and 1979 (by David Minton).
The early days from a different perspective.
The motorcycle of a lifetime (by David Dunfey).
1968-1973: Five transformational years for the industry.
From the mighty Vincent to explosive turbocharged four-banger.
Moving on from Chapter 3, which is dedicated to the Egli-Vincent made in Switzerland, we are now going to explore the UK production, from 1969, when Roger Slater became Egli’s sole distributor. From the start, rather than delivering finished Swiss bikes, Slater assembled his own machines with Egli frames and a completely different set of aftermarket components. Then, he would build chassis under license, uniquely developing his own design, closely related to the original and to be known as the Vincent Shadow 70. Slater stopped his Vincent activities in 1973, but the story did not end there. Subsequently, but not simultaneously, nine other workshops offered either chassis or complete Egli-Vincent replicas, not to mention the one-off ‘forged’ on the bench and titled through the Individual Vehicle Approval process (IVA). For anyone who tries to ‘decrypt’ the pedigree of an Egli-Vincent coming from the UK, this chapter is a key tool.
This chapter features the following main sections and 120 photos:
1969-1970: Egli-Vincent assembly and license by Slater.
1970-1973: The Shadow 70 opens a new horizon for Slater.
1972-1978: Sprint by Smith Engineering.
The British Connection today including Colin Taylor, John Mossey (JMR and JMC), David Hailwood (HMR), Andy Sidlow, CGA Fabrications and Phil Cotton – Cotton Racing.
With 40 years of dedication to the Vincent brand, Patrick Godet’s passion amounts to much more than his knowledge of the detailed mechanicals; it is also the memorable moments experienced at rallies around the world, meeting and learning from the people who designed, built or road-tested the Vincent: Phil Irving, Ted Davis, and those who have been preparing and riding these bikes since the first Rapide came off the production line. It is also exceptional moments, such as winning races on the Black Shadow, or being recognized for the quality of his restoration work and commitment to the brand. Today, Godet Motorcycles is one of the rare workshops exclusively dedicated to the Vincent, capable of completely rebuilding a machine to the highest standards, and building new Vincent engines to be fitted in the Egli chassis for the most amazing cocktail of authenticity, performance and attention to detail. Fritz Egli was so impressed by the excellence of the bike presented to him, that he appointed Godet Motorcycles as the sole authorized manufacturer of the Egli-Vincent motorcycle; certainly the greatest accolade that Patrick Godet could have received.
This chapter features the following main sections and 88 photos:
Chapters 3 to 5 offer the essence of the Egli-Vincent story. It was born in Switzerland, grew up in the UK, finally to mature in France. But the icon designed by Fritz Egli also inspired other builders around the world; from Great Britain to New Zealand and Australia. It came sometimes with major design variations, either in geometry or with the introduction of improved suspension components. However, the Egli-Vincent concept still rules these alternate designs: a large diameter core spine containing the oil, a ‘locked’ welded headstock, and triangulated tubes as straight as possible to provide the greatest stiffness and, eventually, deliver faultless handling.
This chapter features the following main sections and 106 photos:
With the Phoenix, Hillgate envisioned the next Vincent.
The architecture of the Egli-Vincent is simple and effective, and, because it is, it has broadly inspired specials builders since the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. Beyond the replicas or recreations presented in Chapters 4, 5 and 6, the ‘Egli design’ has also influenced many builders using other contemporary engines to remind us of Fritz Egli’s work. The launch of the Egli-Vincent also became a critical milestone in the ongoing history of the Vincent, as most of these specials are related to it. However, numerous workshops have tried out ‘something different’ without achieving much success; most of them are either one-offs or made in tiny volume. At the end of this chapter, I identify a pattern and classify all these specials into five different schools.
This chapter features the following main sections and 77 photos:
There is so much more to say about the defenders of the faith, who have dedicated their lives “… to go fast on a Vincent.” We started this journey in the 1940s, with the very underpinnings of the legacy of the brand – Fame, Glory and Pride. Seventy years later, the Vincent could have been just a piece of 20th Century motorcycling history, but, fortunately, it is much more. In fact, the passion to ride Vincent motorcycles can only be equaled by the burning desire to go even faster – faster even than the 1000 Black Lightning, or the less known 500 Grey Flash. Although all attempts to resurrect the Vincent brand have failed, in many ways it is like the Phoenix, the immortal bird that rises from its ashes, and after which one of those attempts was named – Vincents have had many lives, and the band of enthusiasts, who have had the privilege to ride this fabulous motorcycle, will pass it on from this generation to the next: for them, it has become a symbol of their eternal passion.
This chapter features the following main sections and 117 photos:
Sprint and drag racing: Nero, Super Nero featuring George Brown, Mighty Mouse, Super Mouse featuring Brian Chapman, Pegasus and Barn Job.
The Egli-Vincent in a sprinter outfit and raced by Ray Elger.
Returning to Bonneville on a Vincent (until today).
The American way (chopper, bobber and pro-street styles).
The Vindian and Indian-Vincent.
Phil Irving’s 4-valve head design finally implemented.
1995-2008: The latest attempt to revive the Vincent-HRD brand.