Ultimate Motorcycling by Gary Ilminen – Dec 5, 2016
Like the Vincent motorcycle itself, Philippe Guyony’s book “Vincent Motorcycles: the Untold Story since 1946” is a singular achievement.
That may sound like an overstatement, but it won’t be to anyone who gives the book—or a Vincent motorcycle, for that matter—a whirl.
Guyony’s book is one of those rare motorcycle books that is researched, documented, developed, illustrated, written and edited to the level of a university textbook. Indeed, it would make great reading for university classes in design, engineering and contemporary history.
That is not to say it is written as a dry clump of techno-jargon; in fact, Guyony manages to make the narrative convey concise technical and historical detail in an interesting, conversational style.
Guyony has owned a Vincent himself since 1993 and you may say that hardly makes him some kind of authority on the Vincent marque—and you’d be right. That’s why Guyony enlisted the help of a legion of experts, authors and photographers to help him get the big picture as well as the little-known details right. Included among the dozens of individuals and organizations he acknowledges in the front matter of the book are names like Fritz Egli, Fritz Egli, Jr., Marty Dickerson, Ken Macintosh, Roger and Richard Slater, Patrick Godet, Colin Seely, John Surtees, Jerry Hatfield, Rick Schunk and many more.
That level of technical support and expertise had to be brought to bear; the book is 400 pages long and includes a whopping 875 color and black and white images, as well as charts and graphs that present information on hard-to-find facts such as Egli-Vincent production totals by year, 1969-2008, a chart that links the timeline of Vincent history to where information on each year is found in the book and others.
So, what does Guyony find so interesting that it takes 400 pages to tell the story? Quite a lot, beginning with Howard Raymond Davies’ founding of HRD Motorcycles in June 1924. He goes on to describe the confluence of influences of Phillip Vincent and designer Phil Irving, the construction of the first Vincent in 1927 and the acquisition of HRD.
The introduction of the Series A models in 1934 and the advent of the first engines designed and manufactured by and for Vincent, replacing the engines outsourced from JAP and Rudge marked the beginning of the Vincent-HRD legend. The 1,000cc V-twin Series A Rapide was lovingly nicknamed the “Snarling Beast” and went on the market in January 1937. That Rapide was tested to an actual top speed of 108 mph off the showroom floor—the fastest motor vehicle of virtually any type available to consumers at the time.
Good as that was, the Rapide underwent extensive redesign for its evolution to the Series B rolled out in 1946. That model included the first Vincent with the engine as a stressed member of the chassis, eliminating the old cradle design. Other features way ahead of their time included front and rear wheel removal without tools, double side stands that could also act as a center stand, an articulated rear fender to allow easy rear wheel removal, double rear sprocket option for quick final drive ratio changes, adjustable footrests, brake pedal and gear lever and a new servo-clutch that could cope with the torque of the big v-twin. By 1948, the Black Shadow high performance model was developed, despite opposition from the firm’s board of directors. With a top speed capability in excess of 125 mph, the Black Shadow and Series C Black Lightning models would leave their mark in motorcycle racing for decades to come.
The Series C bikes were introduced in 1948 and remained in production until 1954. In 1949, the model line-up even included two factory racers, the 500cc single cylinder Grey Flash and the 1,000cc Black Lightning.
Guyony describes the role of the ill-fated Series D and its Black Prince in the final years of Vincent Motorcycles manufacture and how the financial realities of the time and internal company limitations of resources overtook the maker of what was perhaps the most advanced motorcycle of the day.
Ironically, even as the Vincent was headed for its ultimate demise, the brand was making headlines in competition around the world. Perhaps the most noted of these was Rollie Free’s 1948 Class A motorcycle world land speed record of 150.313 mph set at Bonneville. That speed, achieved with Free riding laid-out Superman style wearing swim trunks, topped Joe Petralli’s record set aboard a Harley-Davidson eleven years earlier by more than 12 mph. Marty Dickerson set a new record the same year in Class C.
The impressive achievements with Vincent bikes in road racing, hill-climb, land speed racing and drag racing are brought into clear focus in Guyony’s book.
Much of the book is devoted to the long list of Vincent specials that have been built since the company’s closure in 1955. Through those specials, derivatives, customs and well-preserved originals, Guyony explains how the Vincent motorcycle continues to make history and influence the motorcycle industry all these decades later.