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1952 Vincent Black Lightning: Just Because


As I type I am waiting for ‘The Keeper of The Guzzi’ to come round for a coffee. He has already had a mention in this blog and was briefly discussed on bonfire night amongst mutual friends. You see he has a coffee table with a Vincent V twin engine bolted to it, not for alternative furniture but part of an ongoing project for a special bike. It currently has a bespoke Reynolds trellis frame, I think replacing the Norton Featherbed frame.

Anyway, my first knowledge of Vincents was as a schoolboy. We used to do some lessons in the huts in the secondary modern school across the road. This was a good thing for many reasons, the Robert Pat. uniform being dark blue was so much more appealing than the NKGS green. But the real excitement was in the form of two motorbikes.

Firstly one of the secondary modern boys had a Triumph Saint café racer with alloy tank and megaphones. This was terribly exciting. I knew it was an ex-Police bike but hadn’t realised that they called it SAINT because it Stops Anything In No Time. Ah, those Laughing Policemen eh, you can’t hold them back.

Sometimes, even as a spawny schoolboy, you know that something is so right but you don’t know why. For me this was the case with the Robert Pat girls uniform. Sorry I’ll start that again.

Sometimes, even as a spawny schoolboy, you know that something is so right but you don’t know why. For me this was the case with the Robert Pat. caretaker’s motorbike, a Vincent Black Shadow. At the time it would have seemed a tad old fashioned, we were stepping into the era of the Jap multis, to be honest the British bike industry was on it’s way out.

Anyway, this post was put up to go with the “Food of Life” music vid which was of course Richard Thompson’s, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. I was introduced to this track by a man called Stuart who helped me out at a very bad time: thanks all round Stuart, thanks. For the record I’m OK with Wassily Kandinsky’s Farbstudie Quadrate now.

High Speedos

Rollie_Free,_record_runOn 13 September 1948, Rollie Free achieved the US national motorcycle speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah riding the first Vincent Black Lightning. During test runs Free reached average speeds of 148.6 mph (239.1 km/h). To reduce drag, Free stripped to his swimming shorts for the final run, which he made lying flat with his legs stretched out and his head low, guiding the Vincent by following a black stripe painted on the salt bed. The stunt worked as Free covered the mile in 23.9 seconds, passing the 150 mph (240 km/h) barrier and on the return run he reached a record average speed of 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h).[ This led to one of the famous photographs in motorcycle history, known as the "bathing suit bike". The AMA certified Free's record. Innovative features of the bike included the first-ever Vincent rear shock absorber, the first Mk II racing cams and horizontally mounted racing carburettors.[1] In 1950, Rollie Free returned to the Bonneville Salt Flats and broke his own record, averaging speeds of 156.58 mph (251.99 km/h) on the Vincent despite a high-speed crash during those speed trials.