Whiteknuckler Brand's designs draw inspiration from a bygone era when things were made differently! We don't use plastic or modern materials that could give away what era our products are from. We want our products to have a timeless quality so that they fit in with the classics — like the Vincent. In this series, we're covering classic designs that inspire us, and Vincent motorcycles are definitely in that category!
The Vincent Black Shadow is now one of the most coveted bikes ever manufactured. It was also one of the fastest bikes of its time and remained so long after. But that is not why this bike is so well known. The Vincent Black Shadow was the motorcycle that set the standard and design for everything that came after it, even into the modern era. Let’s take a look back at one of the rarest, most influential bikes ever made and see how it came into its own.
The company that started it all
Vincent Motorcycles began as a British motorcycle manufacturer. It was established in 1928 when Philip Vincent bought HRD in the late 1920s and named it Vincent HRD. Soon after acquiring HRD, Vincent started manufacturing his own line of motorcycles from the ground up with innovative designs.
What does HRD mean to the Vincent name and legacy?
HRD was a British Motorcycle company founded in 1924 when Howard Raymond Davies, a First World War veteran and a member of the British Royal Flying Corps, partnered with E. J Massey. During the First World War, Davies' plane had been shot down and he was caught by the Germans. Legend has it that as a prisoner of war, Davies came up with the idea of building his own motorcycle.
But the glory of HRD was short-lived. Although HRD Motorcycles had won a variety of different championships between 1924 and 1928, the business was floundering and they were selling motorcycles at a loss. Ultimately, they were forced to liquidate their company and sell to Philip Vincent, a man who would turn the company into the stuff of legends.
Philip Vincent was a bike enthusiast who came from a family of wealthy cattle farmers. His enthusiasm for bikes led him to create his first machines in 1927, and in 1928 he also patented a suspension of his own design. But this was not enough for Vincent.
When Vincent decided to start an official manufacturing company, friends and family advised him to start production under an established name. So, with the help of his family’s fortune, he was able to purchase the goodwill, trademark, and all remaining components of HRD in 1928 for £450.
He changed the name to Vincent HRD, moved production to Stevenage, and changed the trademark to The Vincent. It wasn't long before Vincent was crafting motorcycles with single-cylinder JAP engines. While the engines were fine in their own right, they weren't powerful enough to meet Vincent's standards.
The Path to the Black Shadow
In the quest for a more powerful engine, Vincent decided to start using different engines, specifically the Rudge-Python engine. These engines were among the most powerful at the time, and powerful enough to still be used in later models. But the engines — although faster than their previous JAP engines — were still not fast enough. To add insult to injury, the Rudge-Python engines broke down during the 1934 Isle Of Man TT Races.
Frustrated, Vincent and Co. went back to the drawing board and resolved to create their own engines, designed specifically for their bikes. By 1934, after much trial and error, Vincent was able to develop two brand new engines. The first one developed was a 500cc single-cylinder engine; soon after came the 1,000cc v-twin engine. These were incredibly powerful by the standards of the day and perfect for these bikes as they provided both the power and the reliability that they sought.
With the release of these engines, the Series A Vincent Rapide motorcycle became one of the fastest in the world. But this amazing innovation in engine power was cut short by the eruption of the Second World War.
Second World War
With the Second World War starting in 1939, the company’s priorities shifted towards aiding the war effort. The Vincent Company's contributions during the war ranged from supplying engines, producing munitions, and even designing a new type of engine. Their new two-stroke opposed-piston engine was used in air-drop lifeboats, designed to rescue survivors of emergency water landings. Once the ware ended, business really started to take off.
Post World War II
The Second World War lasted seven years, and throughout that period, plenty of innovations managed to make their way from the battlefield to the commercial sector. On the shoulders of the automobile industry, the U.S. economy saw unprecedented growth. And with that economic surge, there was a massive demand for motorcycles.
The U.K. started an export effort to help pay off the debt that it had accumulated throughout the War. With a major, untapped motorcycle market in the United States, the U.K. began exporting some of the best Vincent bikes being built at the time. The increase in both supply from the U.K. and demand from the U.S. lead to Vincent garnering quite a reputation in America and also led to the first Vincent dealership opening in the U.S.
The Black Shadow Arrives
Series C Rapide: Black Shadow
During the war, Vincent continued to develop their bikes for better performance. In 1946, following the war, they released the fastest bike at the time, which could reach speeds of 110 mph. Even while the Series B was still held the title as the fastest bike in the world, they released the series C Rapide — the Black Shadow. Reaching speeds of 125 mph, the Black Shadow was easily recognizable thanks to the black paint on its engine.
Soon, the Black Shadow was remade into a racing variant of the original called Black Lightning. This bike had an aluminum chassis and anything that was not essential was removed altogether. The bike went on to win a variety of different races and became one of the fastest racing bikes of the time.
Unfortunately, in 1955, the Vincent Company stopped producing motorcycles, leaving the world with only a handful of Black Shadows.
Today, an original Black Shadow can command six figures at auction. It remains one of the most influential machines of all time, even though its been out of production for more than 65 years!
Its classic lines, style, and function are just the kind of things that drive and inspire the team at Whiteknuckler Brand!