A Brief History of Vincent Motorcycles
The Vincent story starts with the HRD company.
Howard Raymond Davies had formed the HRD company in 1924.
Early in 1928, Ernie Humphries of OK-Supreme bought the failing HRD company to acquire the factory at Fryer Street, Wolverhampton.
Philip Vincent, an engineering graduate of Cambridge University, had built a motorcycle of his own in 1924.
He decided to start production of his own machines under an established name and with backing from his wealthy father, he purchased the HRD trademark along with the remaining spares, tools, etc. from Ernie Humphries.
The Vincent HRD Company Ltd. was formed and production moved to Stevenage.
The new trademark had ‘HRD’ written in large letters and ‘The Vincent’ in much smaller letters above.
The first Vincent-HRD motorcycle was available to the public in 1929. This featured a single cylinder JAP engine fitted into a cantilever frame designed by Phil Vincent himself.
In 1931 Phil Irving joined Vincent as chief engineer.
Some early Vincent-HRDs had Rudge engines.
In the 1934 Isle of Man Senior TT Race, all three Rudge engined Vincent-HRDs had failed to finish due to engine problems.
It was then that Phil Vincent and Phil Irving decided to design and build their own engines.
Later in 1934, Phil Irving’s first engine design for Vincent-HRD was a 500cc single cylinder overhead valve engine.
This engine was fitted into a motorcycle known as the Meteor with a sports version known as the Series A Comet being offered.
The Series A Comet was capable of 90mph. However, in the quest for even more performance, the first Vincent HRD twin, the Rapide, was introduced in October 1936.
There is a legend that Phil Irving accidentally put a tracing of the single cylinder Comet engine at an angle over another drawing of the engine and saw what looked like a possible design for a V-twin.
The 998cc air-cooled 47.5° V-twin produced 45hp and could achieve a top speed of 110mph.
It featured a cantilever rear frame with springing under the seat. This feature was used on all Vincent frames produced from 1936 until 1955.
The Rapide featured Brampton girder forks up front.
The Series-A had external oil lines and a separate gearbox.
Phil Irving left Vincent to work for Velocette in 1937. He returned to Vincent in 1943 to start working on the Series B.
During World War II, Vincent produced munitions. However, some engines were produced for use in boats and industrial pumps.
The end of the war saw Vincent ready to return to motorcycle production.
By this time, Vincent were looking to America for sales and in 1944, the first USA dealership was opened by Eugene Aucott in Philadelphia.
The Series B Rapide had been designed during the war and was released to the press just before the end of hostilities.
It was released to the public in 1946.
There were several differences from the Series A.
The engine was still a V-twin, however the angle between the cylinders was now 50°.
The engine was used as a stressed member of the frame which was considered sensational at the time.
The oil pipes were now internal and the gearbox was of a unit construction.
Both front and rear brakes were of a dual single-leading shoe design.
The 55.5 inch wheelbase was three inches shorter than the Series A and its dimensions were more like a 500cc machine of the time.
In the USA, Vincent sold motorcycles through dealers specialising in Indian Motorcycles.
In 1948, as an experiment, an Indian Chief motorcycle was sent to the Vincent factory in Stevenage to be fitted with a Rapide engine.
The resulting ‘Vindian’ did not go into production.
The 1948 Series C Rapide differed from the Series B in having “Girdraulic” front forks. These were girder forks with hydraulic damping.
The Black Shadow was introduced in 1948.
Producing 54bhp at 5700rpm, it was capable of 125mph and was recognised by its black engine and gearbox unit.
The Black Lightning was a racing version of the Black Shadow with many parts rmade in aluminium and anything not essential removed altogether to reduce weight.
It had a single racing seat and rear-set footrests.
In 1949, HRD was dropped from the Vincent HRD name to avoid confusion with ‘HD’ of Harley Davidson, and the motorcycle became known as The Vincent.
In the 1950s, with sales falling, Vincent built new touring models.
These were the fully enclosed Vincent Victor (an upgraded Comet), the Black Knight (an upgraded Rapide) and the Vincent Black Prince (an upgraded Black Shadow).
They were poorly received by the public.
They were known as the Series D to the motorcycling world although the term was not actually used by Vincent.
Vincent motorcycles were expensive because they were hand built, but by 1954, Vincent was struggling financially.
In order to survive, the company manufactured NSU mopeds and small motorcycles under licence such as the 123cc two stroke NSU-Vincent Fox. There was also a 98cc OHV four stroke. Vincent also sold ‘NSU Quickly’ mopeds.
Because of falling motorcycle sales, a one-off prototype 3-wheeler was produced, unofficially named ‘Polyphemus’.
Powered by a 998cc Rapide engine, it had an aluminium body and used Vincent motorcycle parts and Morris Minor wheels !
With the Rapide engine, it reached 90 mph and, when later fitted with a Black Lightning engine in 1955, achieved 117 mph.
Vincent did not receive any orders for the ‘Polyphemus’.
New Zealander, Russell Wright achieved the World Land Speed Record at Swannanoa, New Zealand in 1955 riding a Vincent Black Lightning at 185.15mph.
Also in 1955, at a Vincent Owners’ Club dinner, Phil Vincent announced that the company could no longer afford to continue and production of Vincent motorcycles would have to end.
In the December of 1955, the last Vincent came off the production line and was labelled ‘The Last.’
Vincent went into receivership in 1959.
Since going into receivership, the Vincent company has been bought and sold by other concerns.
Various specialist builders have used the Vincent engines in alternative frames.
Vincent engines have been fitted to Norton Featherbed frames to create the ‘Norvin’.
Fritz Egli, a specialist motorcycle frame manufacturer based in Switzerland fitted Vincent engines into his own frames and produced around one hundred Egli-Vincents between 1967 and 1972.
Egli-Vincents are still being built in France by Patrick Godet under licence.
Bernard Li of San Diego, California acquired the Vincent trademark in 1994 and formed Vincent Motors USA in 1998.
His company built prototypes that captured the spirit of the original Vincents but using modern components such as the Honda RC51 V-twin engine.
Bernard Li was killed in a motorcycle accident in Arizona in 2008 and so the Vincent name now seems unlikely to resurface for the time being.