The Vincent Black Shadow is one of the oldest bikes to have been manufactured. It is also one of the fastest bikes of its time, but that is not why it is so famous. The Vincent Black Shadow is easily the most influential motorbike that set the standards for future models up to today. So let’s take a look back at one of the oldest, rarest, and most influential bike ever made, and see how it came into its own.
The Company That Started It All
Vincent Motorcycles was a British motorcycle manufacturer in 1928. Philip Vincent bought a British manufacturer by the name HRD in the late 1920s and named it Vincent HRD. After acquiring HRD, Vincent soon started manufacturing his own line of motorcycles from scratch.
Howard Raymond Davies, or HRD, was a British company founded in 1924 when veteran Howard Davies entered a partnership with E. J Massey. Howard was a soldier in the First World War and a member of the British Royal Flying Corps. During the First World War, his plane was shot down, and was caught by the Germans. Some even say that as a prisoner of war, Howard came up with the idea of building his own motorcycle.
But the glory of HRD was short-lived, as their business started to fail. Although HRD Motorcycles had won a variety of different championships between 1924 and 1928, they were selling motorcycles at a loss. With loses rising they had to liquidate their company, which lead to them selling it to another party. And this is where Phil Vincent comes in.
Philip Vincent was a bike enthusiast who came from a family of wealthy cattle farmers. His enthusiasm for bikes led to him creating his own motorbike in 1927. In 1928, he also patented a suspension of his own design, but this was not enough for Vincent.
Phil Vincent wanted to start an official manufacturing company, and both friends and family advised him to start production under an established name. So with the help of his family’s fortune, he was able to purchase the goodwill, trademark, and all remaining components of HRD in 1928 for £450.
He changed the name to Vincent HRD and moved production to Stevenage, and changed the trademark to The Vincent. Soon after the acquisition, Vincent was crafting motorcycles with single-cylinder JAP engines. These engines were fine in their own right, but they were not as fast as he hoped them to be. And with that, they started using different engines.
The Path to the Black Shadow
With the JAP engines not being as powerful as Vincent hoped, they decided to start using different engines, more specifically, the Rudge-Python engines. These engines were among the most powerful at the time and soon made their way into later models. The engines, although faster than their previous JAP engines, were still not fast enough. And to add insult to injury, the Rudge-Python engines broke down during the 1934 Isle Of Man TT.
Frustrated, Vincent and Co. went back to the drawing board, deciding to craft their own engines perfect for their bikes. After much trial and error, by 1934, Vincent was able to develop two brand new engines that were incredibly powerful. The first that they developed was a 500 cc single-cylinder engine and soon after came the 1,000 cc v-twin engine.
Both of these engines were perfect for their bikes, as it provided the power that they were looking for without breaking down. Soon after the release of the engines, the Series A Rapide motorcycles from Vincent became one of the fastest motorcycles in the world. But this amazing innovation in terms of engine power was short-lived with the eruption of the Second World War.
Second World War
With the Second World War starting in 1939, all of the company’s priorities shifted towards aiding in the war. The Vincent Company helped in a major way throughout the war by producing munitions and engines for various vehicles. They also developed a new kind of engine, the two-stroke opposed-piston engine that was used in air-drop lifeboats. And after the war, the business really started to take off.
Post World War II
The Second World War lasted seven years, and throughout that period, plenty of innovations managed to make their way from the battlefield to the commercial sector. The US Economy was seeing an economic high never seen before thanks to the automobile manufacturing sector. And with that economic high, there was a massive demand for motorcycles.
The UK started an exportation drive to help pay off the debt that it had accumulated throughout the War. And with a major untapped motorcycle market in the United States, the UK started exporting some of the best Vincent bikes that the company at the time was crafting. The increase in both supply from the UK and demand from the US lead to Vincent garnering quite a reputation there. This also led to the first dealership opening there.
The Black Shadow Arrives
Series C Rapide: Black Shadow
During the War, Vincent was still busy developing their bikes for better performance. After the war in 1946, they released the fastest bike at the time reaching speeds of 110 mph. And while the Series B was still the fastest bike in the world, they released the series C Rapide or Black Shadow as it was called. Reaching speeds of 125 mph, the Black Shadow was easily recognizable thanks to the black paint on its engine.
Soon the Black Shadow was remade into Black Lightning, a racing variant of the original. This bike had an aluminum chassis, and anything that was not essential was removed altogether. The bike went on to win a variety of different races and became one of the fastest racing bikes of its time.
Unfortunately, in 1955, the Vincent Company stopped producing motorcycles, leaving the world with only a handful of Black Shadows available in the world.