Philip Vincent is often celebrated for his engineering genius, but he also had an incredible knack for names. Calling his first V-twin model the Rapide in 1936 was an honest and elegant description of his product: the fastest road-going production motorcycle in the world, with a purposeful arrangement of components that looked fast from every angle. The Rapide knocked the Brough Superior SS100 off its pedestal, and Vincent’s V-twin would retain the crown as the world’s fastest road motorcycle for another 37 years, producing historic machines such as this storied racing 1950 Vincent Black Lightning.
Vincent’s clandestine efforts at redesigning a new and better V-twin during the dark hours of World War II, in the company of Australian engineer Phil Irving, led to a totally revised Series B Rapide in 1946. Philip Vincent wasn’t satisfied with its 115 MPH top speed, regardless of the bike’s “world’s fastest” title—he knew there was plenty more power in the engine. While the likes of racers such as Marty Dickerson were fighting in the streets on their Rapides, taking on all two-wheeled comers and beating them, in 1948, Vincent released a super sports version of the Rapide called the Black Shadow that wore a coat of midnight black paint over the entirety of its body and all of its visible componentry, barring its naked aluminum racing fenders.
The Black Shadow quickly became a legend, especially after Rollie Free stripped to his bathing trunks at Bonneville and recorded 150 MPH on one. Free’s “bathing suit” Vincent was tuned for speed at the factory and was effectively the prototype of a new full-race Vincent V-twin. Rapides and Shadows had, of course, been raced with great success at the Isle of Man Clubman T.T. and taken many a drag strip record, but these were all converted road bikes.
When the Black Lightning was released later in 1948, it was truly an awesome beast, and so much faster than any other motorcycle that it had no peers. It was a specialized machine with, to be honest, few possible outlets for its then-incredible 70 HP and 150 MPH potential, which is why only 31 were built. While there were always speed records to break, Unlimited Class racing for motorcycles of 750cc or higher was rare during the bike’s 1948-1952 production run, although big V-twins were still useful in the sidecar classes of both dirt track and ice racing.
This 1950 Vincent Black Lightning, Serial No. F10AB/1C/1641, was originally ordered by Danish sidecar racing champion David Axelson through the Copenhagen Vincent dealer Villy Egen and delivered on March 20, 1950. Factory mechanic Dennis Minet recorded in one of his famous notebooks (No. 000117) that this Lightning was originally equipped with 2-inch exhaust pipes, 13.5:1 compression pistons and steel wheel rims—21 inches in front and 20 inches at rear. Once in Denmark, it was fitted with a Danish-built dirt track racing sidecar, for Axelson planned to retain his National title in the 1,000-meter round track. In his first race though, a spot of engine trouble forced him to retire. In his second race, the overwhelming power of the Lightning proved too much, and Axelson crashed heavily, killing his passenger, who was a friend. With that, Axelson decided the Vincent was simply too fast, and with the loss of his passenger, he gave up motorcycle racing entirely. The Black Lightning was subsequently dry stored in a chicken coop.
But a Black Lightning is never forgotten. In July 1956, Carlo Sejer Jensen, another Danish dirt track racing champion (from Arhus), grew tired of hearing a group of German racers boasting of the superiority of their “unbeatable” BMW sidecar racers. Jensen told them, in no uncertain terms, that a Vincent V-twin would show them the way around a track, and when goaded to prove it, he turned to David Axelson to borrow his 6-year-old Lightning. Axelson agreed, the Lightning was exhumed from the poultry shed and refurbished, and Jensen set about practicing with it, doing his best to get to know this fearsome beast. On July 16, 1956, Jensen trounced his BMW rivals, winning two trial heats as well as the final race, as reported in the Danish press at the time.
Axelson kept his Black Lightning until 1965, when Kaj Weldingh convinced him to part with his treasure. Weldingh was an aircraft mechanic and a Vincent enthusiast, having already owned several examples of the make, and he carefully disassembled the Lightning, packaging up all the parts packed in grease. Every component was neatly boxed, with notes on the part number and a condition noted for every piece of the machine. It was never reassembled by Weldingh, but no one forgets hearing of a Vincent Black Lightning in boxes. On October 3, 1998, the machine was purchased by Sivert Bomberg, who had been pestering Weldingh since the 1970s. Persistence pays off, and it was Bomberg who reassembled this Lightning during the winter of 1998-99.
Bomberg was a man of meticulous understanding, and he restored this precious machine using all of the original parts that had been carefully stored away. He had to replace a few things, including all the bearings in the engine, plus the pistons and cylinder liners, valves and guides, gaskets and miscellaneous worn bits. Adding up the racing mileage of his Black Lightning, Bomberg estimated that at the time of his restoration, the machine had only been ridden about 83 miles. The speedometer confirmed the calculation, showing only 133 kilometers in 1999. The Lightning has covered a few miles since then, which must be blamed on Bomberg, who returned it to exceptionally fine running condition.
There is only one word for this beast of a motorcycle: magnificent. It fires up easily, revs smoothly, takes up the gears with ease, and it has tremendous acceleration that will surprise even hardened contemporary sport bike enthusiasts. It simply hurtles forward, while its relatively slow revs are confusing—leaving the rider to wonder how on earth it reaches 100 MPH so quickly. And the sound: the open-pipe racing Vincent earned the nickname the Snarling Beast for good reason, as it is simply unlike any other motorcycle ever heard, with an animalistic bellow that is both hair-raising and thrilling to the core. A Vincent with well-documented history is already an enticing motorcycle, but an opportunity to purchase a rare Vincent Black Lightning with a storied history is one that is quite unlikely to strike twice.
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Report by mecum.com