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26th November 2014

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Vincents in the USA

It's not often you get the chance to ride a Vincent outfit in America. Dave Johnson was given that chance. The only snag? He had to help build it first...

I run the sidecar section of the Vincent Owners’ Club and was chatting via email to a friend in the USA, Glenn Bewley in Tennessee. Glenn runs Classic Motorcycle Engineering, and he had plans to fit a Blacknell Bullet sidecar to fit to a Vincent. He suggested we might like to come over for the Hillbilly Vincent Rally and the Barber Vintage festival, dedicated to the Vincent this year.

I told him that we already planned to do a couple of Vincent rallies in Germany and Austria this year, but as a light-hearted postscript added that we might have to come over and road-test the outfit when it was completed. Glenn took me totally seriously and offered to put the outfit together for us to use, if we could come over and help fit the sidecar. Well, what could I say? Nothing apart from ‘yes, you’re on!’ We changed our plans to go to the States instead of Europe.

Before we left, we saw a photo from Glenn showing of a pair of crankcases, with the message that these had to be transformed into an entire outfit in just two weeks’ time!

We flew into Memphis to do the Elvis bit, and travelled east doing the Nashville country music scene and finally getting to Glenn’s place. This was a scene of non-stop activity with two couples from England and Canada working on the bike. Slight panic from me – would we have an outfit in a few days’ time for the rally? The bike was a red touring Rapide; most or all of these models had originally been exported from the factory to the States. I set to and helped out where I could, while our good wives got bored and did a bit of shopping and decided to tidy up Glenn’s garden.

Vincents in the USA Firing up the Rapide

On the Thursday, with the rally due to start on Sunday, the bike was just about ready. With a test petrol tank fitted it started up. A couple of small problems had to be sorted, and the Vin taken for its test run. By then it was too late in the day to think about the sidecar.

So on the Friday Glenn got busy making some fittings and by the afternoon we were ready to fit the chair. Luckily more people had arrived for the pre-rally-rally and help was available to fit the chair. Glenn also has a Lightning replica which has not run for 55 years. He was hoping to take it to the rally and possibly fire it up, so he started working on that. We finished fitting the chair late in the afternoon; too late to test drive the outfit. We’d set it up on the English side, but to be driven on the right, so I guessed the bike lean-in and allowed one-inch toe-in and hoped that would be about right.

Vincents in the USA

On Saturday it time to test ride the Rapide, with my wife Yvonne in the newly-fitted chair. The outfit was pretty much right first time: it handled really well, turned easily with no head shake which is an inherent problem with outfits. Glenn is not really a chair man and even he was happy with the way it handled.

Sunday dawned. People were preparing their own bikes and we sorted out helmets and bike cover. After lunch, we and others set off for the rally in North Carolina whilst Glenn and one or two others were still sweating on the Lightning.

Vincents in the USA

At the rally various events were laid on: a BBQ at a brilliant local private museum; various rides into the mountains including a run to the infamous ‘Tail of the Dragon’ which has 318 bends in 11 miles. It’s an amazing road and enough to make you motion sick. The Americans hardly ever see a Vincent, and the place went quiet when all these Vincents pulled at the restaurant at the start and end of the ride.

Vincents in the USA

We did a few local runs on the outfit to shake it down and sort out a few little oil leaks. Glenn continued working on the Lightning, and finally the rollers came out to see if it would hold petrol and even run. The carbs and magneto had not been touched in 55 years so it was a real magic moment when it fired up – especially with open pipes. The look on Glenn’s face when it started was definitely one to remember. The Lightning even settled down to a tickover so Glenn couldn’t resist taking it out the car park and down the road to the other entrance. Wonderful!

Vincents in the USA The replica Lightning

On the last day of the Vincent Rally, the concours was held with a really good line-up. At the banquet later in the evening we enjoyed the lovely bonus of the outfit getting both the ‘best in class’ and ‘best in show’ awards. Well done to Glenn and all the helpers who put it together in such a short space of time.

Vincents in the USA Barber Vintage Motorcycle Museum Vincent stuff on Now...

The next day everyone departed for the 300-plus mile ride to the Barber Vintage Festival and Museum, which is reckoned to be the biggest in the world. It is truly amazing with something like 300 bikes just in the reserve area. The Vincent was the featured marque and about 50 Vincents were around the stand with everything from an HRD Python to the latest Egli. A challenging race track runs around the museum on the side of a hill, which made for some interesting racing. The Barber Festival is a three-day event with lots going on and heaps to see. In one of the intervals there was even a parade of bikes all aged over 100 years. Great.

All in all this was a great holiday, with the plus of playing and driving someone else's outfit; many thanks to Glenn.

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