by Shawn Downey
Awash in a sea of doilies and figurines from vacations past, I sampled my favorite holiday libation from a Hardee’s Flintstone glass and settled into the camouflage of the Art Linkletter Limited Edition Barcalounger. Just when I thought I was safe from the Christmas haranguing by the family clan, I heard the nails on the chalkboard–“So, I hear you like motorcycles.” My gaze rested upon the gray-haired gentleman nestled in the corner by the drapes. I was waiting for the “I had a Hurley in 1947 that did a hunert-an-three in first gear,” when I was pleasantly surprised by “Ever hear of a Vincent?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of Vincent…” My voice trailed off, as I remembered the few Vincents I had the opportunity to experience. “Did you have one?” I asked.
“Yes I did,” he answered using his cane to pull him to the edge of the chair. “As a matter of fact, I had the good fortune to meet Philip Vincent back in 1932, the first year he was enjoying commercial success with an outstanding sales record of 60 Vincent-HRDs.
You see, back then we called them ‘Vincent-HRDs’, because the bikes were still produced under the Howard R. Davies marquee. In 1932, the motorcycling public finally came ’round to Philip Vincent’s idea of a triangulated spring frame. Most people weren’t used to such a revolutionary idea, and, back then, people accepted change like a three-legged pig.
I, myself, was a little reserved about buying one, because it was so damned ugly. Then I tested out a 1937 Series A Rapide. I had that thing wide open ’till I saw God, and then I braked like hell. Did 110 miles an hour. I filled up the oil, tinkered with the big end feed, the return feed, the upper end, and did it again. Oil, oil, oil. Hell, me and the rest of the boys were responsible for creating OPEC! That A model was the first of the series for me. I was a speed junky, and Vincent was the pusher.
The series B gave birth to the first Black Shadow in 1948. It was quite a surprise for all of us considering ol’ Philip Vincent was reportedly out of the game after cracking his gourd testing a Rapide. The Black Shadows were nothing more than Rapides tuned by his partner, Mr. Irving. Things were over-engineered. Some guy in Bonneville Flats had one doing 150 m.p.h. in 1948! I bought one the next day. Got divorced the day after. Broke my arm the day after that.”
“And then what?” I asked.
“Lived happily ever after. Until 1953. That’s when that crazy fella in Utah got a series C Black Lightening up to 160.73 m.p.h. Damned if I didn’t have to have one of them, too, and damned if I didn’t break my other arm. They were sold as race bikes. I thought all motorcycles were race bikes. You could order custom this and custom that. Thing hauled ass.”
“And?” I prodded.”And what?” the old guy answered, some of the passion leaving his eyes.
“What happened after that?”
“I told you. The thing hauled ass. It hauled my ass, my girlfriend-soon-to-be-second-wife’s ass, my boy’s ass, and my grandboy’s ass, too.
I never did buy one of those Black Knights or Black Princes. Saw ’em, and heard ’em. They ran a little better, because Philip wired them with a Lucas coil. He slapped some Amal Monoblocs on them, and he replaced the oil in the frame for a single tube backbone. He got kinda crazy at that time and started to enclose them with all kind of weather-protective fairings. I said it then, and I say it today–I won’t ride a motorcycle if I can’t see the engine. It’s sacrilegious. It just don’t feel right. Like taking a shower with your pants on.
I guess I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, because they shut down the company in 1955. Damn shame. I think ol’ Philip was just getting started.”
He glanced at his grandson’s framed racing photo on the wall. “Superbikes,” he said. “Those Vincents kicked superhero ass!”