Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Today in motorcycle history, March 27, 1979




  Philip Conrad Vincent dies in Ashford, Middlesex, England.  Flags are hung at half-mast at garages and racetracks around the world.



  Philip Conrad Vincent was born in Wilbraham Gardens, Fulham on March 14, 1908.  Seemingly born with an unusually keen interest in motorcycles, so keen that by the time he was 18 he had his own workshop and was designing and building his own machines.   It was there that he developed his first "Vincent Special" and at the age of 20 he had a registered a patent for his design of cantilever rear suspension.


  Phil formed his first company with Frank Walker and Australian Phil Irving.  Howard R. Davies, founder of HRD and winner of the 1924 Senior Isle of Man TT, was on the verge of bankruptcy and in 1928 Phil acquired the trademark and remaining HRD tooling and parts for a song. They agreed to change the company name to Vincent HRD Co., Ltd., and the logo appeared with Vincent in very small letters over the top of the bold HRD.

  In 1928, the first Vincent-HRD motorcycle used a JAP single-cylinder engine in a Vincent-designed cantilever frame.  But after the 1934 Isle of Man TT, with numerous engine problems and all three entries failing to finish, Phil Vincent and Phil Irving threw out the idea of using JAP engines and decided to build their own.  A wiser business decision may have never been made.  In 1935 the first Vincent powered motorcycle, the 499 cc Comet model was introduced. It was then followed by the ass-kickin' 998cc Series A Rapide in 1936.  As with a lot of  British manufacturers, production was halted during WWII.  At the end of the war Phil Vincent and Phil Irving designed the seriously-fast Series B Rapide model.



  Then in 1948 at the Vincent works, Great North Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, the liver-quivering Black Shadow was introduced.  With relatively minor modifications, such as enlarged ports, bigger carburetors and increased compression, the Black Shadow featured several other innovations, such as "Girdraulic" front forks – which were girder forks with hydraulic damping, a sprung rear sub-frame, the extensive use of aluminium alloy and a unit construction stressed engine.  It weighed in at a relatively light 458 lb, which was about the weight of a 500cc bike at the time.


  In 1949 the HRD logo was dropped to prevent confusion with the "HD" of Harley-Davidson in the all-important American Market.


  A little known fact - inspiration for the Black Shadow was Royal Air Force pilots flying over the factory, and soldiers serving in the war.  Vincent and Irving wanted to create a motorcycle that could be operated and maintained by men who had been injured in combat.  The clutch could be operated with just two fingers, and maintenance was made far easier than anything previously available. 



  1949 The Motor Cycle magazine held a competition for the first successful all-British attempt on the World Speed Record, held since 1937 by BMW at 173.54 mph.  Reg Dearden, a motorcycle dealer at Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester fitted a supercharger to a brand new Black Lightning and made extensive modifications including strengthening and lengthening the frame by about 6 inches (15 cm).  Phil Vincent personally supervised the work. The result increased the World Record to 180.29 mph.



  Hunter S. Thompson once wrote that, "If you rode the Black Shadow at top speed for any length of time, you would almost certainly die."