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Lot 367: 1939 Vincent-HRD Series A Rapide

Sale of Collectors' Motorcycles, Bonhams & Butterfields (12 November 2005)

Of all the many makes and models of motorcycle produced during the 1930s, there are two outstanding v-twin engined thoroughbreds that feature at the top of every knowledgeable enthusiastís Ďfantasy barn findí league table: the Brough Superior SS100 and Vincent-HRD Series-A Rapide. These days the chances of finding an example of either hidden behind a pile of straw bales are slim indeed, all the more so in the case of the ultra-rare Series A Rapide, a mere 78 of which were produced between late 1936 and the summer of 1939. (Expert opinion differs on this point, but most authorities favor a total in the high 70s). By way of comparison, production of the rival SS100 ran into the hundreds.

The Vincent-HRD marque originated in 1928 when Philip C Vincent acquired the name, jigs, tools and patterns of the recently liquidated HRD Company. (ĎHRDí stood for Howard Raymond Davies, the Isle of Man TT winner who had founded the firm in 1924). Vincent moved production from Wolverhampton to Stevenage, pioneering his own design of sprung frame on an entirely new range of machines. Like Davies, Vincent relied on proprietary engines, but increasing dissatisfaction with suppliers led to the creation of Vincentís own engine in 1934. A 500cc high-camshaft overhead-valve single, this all-new power unit was designed jointly by PCV and his Chief Engineer Phil Irving who, so legend has it, came up with the idea of a 1,000cc v-twin after seeing two drawings of the single superimposed on one another. By producing a v-twin in this fashion, many of the existing single-cylinder components could be utilised, thus reducing costs, an important factor for the fledgling concern.

Despite its plethora of external oil pipes - an arrangement that gave rise to the famous ĎPlumberís Nightmareí soubriquet - the Series-A v-twin is undeniably handsome, its high-set camshafts and relatively short cylinders endowing this magnificent motorcycle with a muscular, broad-shouldered look. On test, the prototype engine proved to be as powerful as its looks suggested, delivering a maximum of 45bhp at 5,500rpm on a relatively low 6.8:1 compression ratio. It was installed in a new version of Vincentís sprung frame equipped with Burman four-speed gearbox, girder front fork and powerful twin front brakes, the complete machine tipping the scales at an admirable 430lbs. On the road the Series A Rapide fulfilled all of its makerís expectations, proving capable of reaching 110mph, comfortably faster then the rival JAP-powered SS100.

The prototype Series A Rapide was proudly displayed on Vincentís stand at the 1936 Motor Cycle Show at Olympia, but only a handful were sold in 1937, the first full year of production, as the motorcycling public remained sceptical of the upstart firmís performance claims. This scepticism was soon dispelled by the exploits of the works Series-A racers piloted by Manliffe Barrington and ĎGingerí Wood, the latter shattering the Donington Park lap record in 1938 and returning a staggering standing quarter-mile time of 11.75 seconds at the Gatwick sprint.

The outbreak of WW2 in 1939 brought production of all Series-As to a halt, and when Vincent resumed production in 1946, it was with the all-new Series-B. By July í39 when the last Series-A twin was built, the model had been in production for a little over 30 months, and the fact that so few were made has in no small part contributed to this legendary modelís mythic status. Around 50 Series-A Vincent v-twins survive worldwide today, and for one to be offered for sale is an event of exceptional importance.

This ultra-rare, matching-numbers Series-A Vincent twin is one of the last of its kind produced before production ceased in 1939. Offered without its fuel tank, valve springs and retainers, this machine is undeniably one of the most exciting motorcycle restoration projects to be offered on the open market in recent years and represents a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for discerning collectors.

Lot Details
Auction Sale of Collectors' Motorcycles
Bonhams & Butterfields, Petersen Museum, Los Angeles, CA
Lot Number367
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price$105000
Hammer Price (inc premium)$120500
Condition rating
Registration number
Chassis number
Engine numberV1069
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors