Lot 360: c.1952 Vincent 998cc Rapide to Black Shadow specification
Introduced in 1946, the Vincent-HRD Series-B Rapide was immediately the fastest production motorcycle on sale anywhere, with a top speed of 110mph. The basic design clearly had even greater potential though, as was demonstrated by the tuned Rapide known as �Gunga Din�, ridden by factory tester George Brown, which proved unbeatable in UK motorcycle racing in the late 1940s. Private owners too had expressed an interest in extracting more performance from their machines, all of which convinced Philip Vincent that a market existed for a sports version. Despite opposition from within the company�s higher management, Vincent pressed ahead with his plans and together with Chief Engineer Phil Irving, clandestinely assembled a brace of tuned Rapides. The prototypes incorporated gas-flowed cylinder heads, Comet cams, polished con-rods and larger carburetors, these changes being good for a maximum output of 55bhp despite a compression ratio limited to only 7.3:1 by the 72-octane gasoline that was the best available in the UK at the time. Ribbed brake drums were fitted to cope with the increased performance, while in a marketing masterstroke Vincent specified a 5�-diameter �150mph� speedometer and black-finished engine cases for his new baby � the Black Shadow. A top speed of 125mph was claimed for the Shadow, and this was soon born out by road tests.
Deliveries commenced in the spring of 1948 and only around 70-or-so Series-B Black Shadows had been made before the Series-C�s introduction at that year�s Earl�s Court Motorcycle Show. One of the most famous of this first batch was the bike ordered by wealthy American journalist, John Edgar, whose ambition it was to beat the production machine speed record of 136mph held by Harley-Davidson. The stock Shadow�s 125mph maximum was some way short of the Harley mark so Phil Irving designed new cam form (known as the �MkII�) which was tested by George Brown prior to the bike�s dispatch to the USA. Brown had reached 143mph on a relatively short airstrip, so hopes were high that Edgar�s rider Rollie Free would achieve 150mph on the expansive Bonneville salt flats. The manner in which Free took the record is the stuff of legend; the improbable photograph of him, stretched full-length on the seat-less Shadow wearing only a helmet, swimming trunks and running shoes, being one of motorcycling�s most famous images. It was the first time that anyone had ridden an unsupercharged motorcycle at such a speed and Vincent lost no time in capitalizing on Free�s achievement, launching a racing version of similar specification, the legendary Black Lightning.
The machine offered here consists of a Series-C frame (probably that of a Rapide) dating from 1952 and a 1949 Series-B Rapide engine that we are informed has been remanufactured to full Black Shadow specification. At time of cataloging, no additional information was to hand other than the fact that this motorcycle was purchased from the Harris Vincent Gallery. It is expected that further information will be available at time of sale.
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