1938 Vincent-HRD 998CC Series-A Rapide By Bonhams

HRD gained their initials from Howard Raymond Davies, the founder of the company in 1924, and a motorcycle racer of some repute. One of his claims to fame was winning the Senior TT in 1921 on a 350cc AJS, relegating Freddie Dixon and Bert Le Vack, both riding Indians, to second and third places. Intending to produce high-quality machines, Davies utilised JAP engines initially, and achieved a second Senior TT triumph, on a machine of his own manufacture, in 1924. Financial troubles lay ahead, however, and in 1927 HRD was placed in voluntary liquidation by its founder.

It was acquired by young engineer Philip Vincent, with financial backing from his father. After an initial flirtation with Swiss-made MAG engines, Vincent settled on JAP engines, as his predecessor had, and introduced his trademark rear-sprung frame. A Rudge ‘Python’ engine was offered as an alternative to the JAP but, unimpressed by the standard of ‘bought-in’ engines, Vincent and fellow engineer Phil Irving designed their own engine for 1934, with their (now traditional) high-camshaft layout; this was christened by the makers as ‘Semi-OHC’. Initial models with this engine were the Meteor and Comet, later variations being the Comet Special and the TT model.

Soon after, by the relatively simple expedient of mounting two top ends onto a common crankcase, the A series 998cc twin was evolved in 1936, with the apocryphal tale of the design being conceived as a result of two single-cylinder drawings being overlapped. Production of this model began in 1936 for the 1937 season, and was curtailed when war broke out in 1939. The Rapide was a step-change in performance, using virtually the same cycle parts as the single cylinder model, but with much-increased power output. The maker’s sales brochure for 1938 describes the Rapide thus:

‘The performance is electric. Power appears almost limitless, yet it is so smooth and controllable that it is a delight to ride, even in thick traffic. There is only one snag we have discovered in owning a “Rapide.” You never get a scrap with another machine, because no ordinary motor cycle can live with a “Rapide.” Here at last is a performance equal to the fastest T.T. models, coupled with silence, comfort, and tractability. A true Jekyll and Hyde.’

Factory records indicate that DUR 142 was manufactured in February 1938, listing the customer as ‘Demo’ and giving no date of despatch, as the bike was retained by the factory to be used as a demonstrator and for promotional purposes. Accordingly, it was loaned to Motor Cycling for their road test which appeared in the 6th April 1938 edition (copy on file). The machine was taken to Brooklands for speed tests and was timed at 102 mph. The following year another Rapide on test, DUR 99, reached 110 mph. DUR 142 continued to be used as a demo bike, and appears in various advertisements and photographs of the period.

We have kindly been passed a copy photograph, taken pre-war, of Bill Clarke on board DUR 142. Clarke was a director of the Vincent Company. His father, Captain G. Clarke was chairman, and a significant investor in the firm. It has been suggested that, as well as demonstrator duties, DUR 142 may also have been used on numerous occasions by Bill Clarke until the war, when he saw service with the RAF and was sadly killed in action.

One photo (copy on file) shows Philip Vincent astride the machine, and an advertisement, which appeared around the end of the war, pictures a serviceman on the bike which sports a black-out cowl on the headlamp (copy on file). After the war, when the Series B model was announced in 1946, promotional duties for DUR 142 were limited, but the machine was retained by the factory. It resurfaced in 1955, when motorcycle production ceased, and Motor Cycling covered the sad event by testing the last machine off the line, together with DUR 142 which they described as ‘one of “The First” Series “A” ‘. Written by Bruce Main-Smith and entitled ‘The Last of the Vincents’, the road test appeared in Motor Cycling dated 29th December 1955, and DUR 142 was described by Main-Smith as being in ‘as-new condition’ at that time. The condition then may be ascribed to the fact that we believe the bike to have been renovated at the factory in 1947/48.

After motorcycle production ceased in 1955, Vincent continued to make other products, such as the Firefly autocycle, plus an industrial two-stroke engine used to power rotavators and Amanda water scooters. By 1958 they were in financial difficulties, and went into administration, being sold to Harper Engines Ltd.

During 1959, keen to capitalise on their new asset, Harpers sold off various things they did not need going forward, one of which was DUR 142. Having applied for a duplicate log book for the Rapide (on file), they duly sold it to Alan Ransome of Hounslow. As far as we are aware, this is the first time that ownership of DUR 142 had passed outside the company, making it possibly the last machine ever to leave the Vincent factory, albeit some 21 years after being built. Ransome kept the machine until selling it to the present owner’s brother who, in turn, sold it to the present owner during the 1960s. Since that time, it has not been used on the road, and has never seen the light of day until it was wheeled from the vendor’s garage for consignment to this sale.

As is often the case with factory-owned and used demonstration vehicles, DUR 142 has undoubtedly had parts changed while at the factory, and may well have had the engine rebuilt at least once, or been subject to repairs whilst in use by the factory. In this case the crankcases and the main frame section are un-numbered, whilst the rear frame still carries the original number. We are advised that there are several known factory/works series A machines extant which similarly are missing some of their identification numbers.

Some parts of DUR 142 were removed over the years, and are missing from the machine, and this historic motorcycle is sold strictly as viewed, in need of restoration and prospective purchasers must satisfy themselves as to the condition, completeness, and originality of this project prior to bidding.

Documentation accompanying DUR142 includes the various copy articles and aforementioned photographs, together with the original duplicate RF60 dating from 1959, and an old-type V5. Parts accompanying the machine comprise a mudguard, wheel rims, exhaust pipes, silencer, filler cap, rear number plate holder, magdyno cover, front number plate (un-numbered) rear mudguard stay, and rear lamp unit.

Seldom does the possibility arise of obtaining a Series A Rapide. Even rarer still, is the opportunity to purchase one with such historical significance, which has seen service as factory demonstrator, Vincent Director’s mount, road test star (twice!) and oft-photographed stellar publicity vehicle for one of the most iconic British motorcycle marques. With its existence interwoven with the fabric of the company, it has been a first-hand eye-witness to ground-breaking history; the racers, the boffins, the characters, the dreams, the trials and tribulations of life in the Vincent factory for most of its significant being. Awakened from over half a century of hibernation, there can be few Vincent-HRDs which can create so much excitement and interest among the true cognoscenti. The chance will not come again.

Report by bonhams.com