Production stopped but enthusiasm for Vincent Motorcycles lives on
- Credit: Archant
MANY people when they walk past Alleynes School in Stevenage Old town will notice its beautiful old buildings. But what many people may not realise is that some of these buildings were home to ‘the makers of the world’s fastest motorcycles’,
Vincent Motorcycles manufactured motorcycles in the Old Town from 1928 to 1955. Philip Vincent originally brought the HRD (Howard Raymond Davies) name because it had a good reputation - Howard Davies was one of the very few people to win a TT on a bike of his own manufacture. The business started in 1928 with around 12 staff, employing in its peak about 200.
The Vincent Black Shadow became one of the best known motorcycles of the 1950’s but at a Vincent Owners’ Club dinner in the summer of 1955, Phil Vincent announced the closure of the company due to heavy financial losses.
One week before Christmas 1955, the last Vincent came off the production line, reportedly labelled ‘the last’.
However, even though production stopped, enthusiasm for the brand did not.
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73-year-old, David Jones, who describes himself as a total Vincent maniac, said: “Just after world war two they were selling the bikes for over £300 which was a lot of money in those days. People were prepared to pay because it was the fastest thing on two wheels. Between 1947-1970 they would knock spots off everything - they were the first superbikes really. If you ask someone in America about a Vincent they will immediately say ‘thats the Black Shadow’.
“They also a made a pre-war bike called the Rapide, that started out in 1937 but it all got knocked on the head because of the war. After the war they redesigned the Rapide which had a top speed of 110 mph and a year later brought out the Black Shadow which was a even faster version, a sports version if you like. That had a top speed of 125 mph - it became the superbike of our generation.
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“I think the company found it hard to get the price right, it was expensive. It was the mass produced car which killed the large motorcycles. Rather than having a side car added people just brought a car which was a year round thing.”
David owned a Vincent from 1959 to the mid 1980’s. He had one sent out to Australia where he was working and trusted its reliability so much he rode it 2000 miles across the Nullarbor Plain. But after a year he decided to come home and brought his beloved bike back with him.
He said: My wife was not as enthusaistic about the bike as I was. “When we toured France and Austria and we had to brave the elements, my wife said to me ‘we do have two cars at home you know’. I think she has been tolerant of it over the years.
“One of the differences I would say is that they were so well made and designed - 60 years later they are still around, where modern bikes are not designed to last.”
David sold his bike in the mid 1980’s, he said: “I haven’t seen it since but I am pretty sure it still exists. it’s a bit like an old girlfriend, you shouldn’t meet again.”
Today the Vincent Owners’ club is the largest single-branded motorcycle club in the world and the motorcycles amoung the most sort after.
Letchworth resident and enthusiast Bob Culver added: “Basically they were hand-built and expensive, bikes that are made like that tend to be exclusive, like an Aston Martin. Vincent was quite innovative, he had some unusual ideas, quirky is not the word but it gave them an identity, they were different.”