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Bike Review - Posted 23rd January 2007
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Vincent Black Shadow Series C

The Vincent Owners' Club have made a classic bike rider's dream come true and built a brand new Black Shadow. Here's how, and why...

When the Vincent Owners' Club decided to build a brand new Vincent motorcycle, the choice of model wasn't too hard to make. The Black Shadow was when new the world's fastest production motorcycle. Probably the best known of all Vincent-HRD machines, it's been described as 'one of the world's most fantastic motorcycles.' Motor Cycling magazine heralded its introduction in 1948 with the headline 'More Than Two Miles A Minute!'. To this day, the Black Shadow continues to fascinate Vincent aficionados and the general public alike.

An iconic triumph of 1948 technology....

The Black Shadow was introduced at the 1948 Earls Court Motor Cycle Show as a tuned version of the Rapide and it was built until the production of Vincent motorcycles ceased in 1955. A 998cc 50-degree V-twin, it got its improved performance from a higher compression ratio, a larger bore carburettor and greater attention to detail - for instance, the Shadow was fitted with specially tested Lucas magnetos. The engine was painted black to improve heat dissipation, and the machine was provided with finned brakes to handle the higher cruising speed (which was quoted in the Owner's Handbook as 100mph). Oh, and it boasts that massive, marvellous speedo - the one bigger than most dinner plates!

When new, the Black Shadow was found to reach 60mph in 6˝ seconds and covered 0 to 120mph in 44 seconds. Motor Cycle in its test added to the bike's mystique by giving 110mph as the maximum speed achieved in third gear, but had to quote 'not obtained' for top because they couldn't find enough road to hit the high spot in fourth!

In later years, Motor Cyclist magazine took a Shadow up to 123mph; discovered that it would pull 60mph at just 2700rpm, said it had 'unbelievable torque' and reckoned it was 'a motorcycle with a real future here in the United States.'

...or a triumph of enduring brand strength?

The actual machine you see pictured here is a brand new one, built over the past year by Glyn Johnson of the VOC using components supplied the VOC Spares Company Limited. The VOC Spares Company is a private company, founded by the Vincent HRD Owners Club in 1975 to keep Vincents on the road by safeguarding the long term future supply of spares. It has developed from being a manufacturer and supplier of pattern spares into a design-based operation, working to over a thousand engineering drawings. These have been produced by two professional engineering members of the VOC and are vetted by their Technical Committee.

Certainly yet another bike with a seat that doesn't quite fit.

This ensures that all parts supplied meet or exceed the original design requirements for material specification, tolerances and fit and finish. Use of these drawings enables the company to procure Quality Assured components from reputable first line suppliers. Together with in-house quality control and inspection procedures, this has enabled it to become a member of the Classic British Quality Charter organisation.

Following its success in 2005 when the Spares Company supplied all the parts to a club member to enable him to have a Black Shadow engine built from scratch, the team then accepted the challenge to go one better and supply all the parts for a complete Black Shadow, to be sponsored by the VOC. Easy when you say it fast - but it then took project manager Glyn Johnson a year to complete the job, building the bike to a set of exacting standards.

Vincent builder Glyn JohnsonThe purpose of the exercise was to prove that all the parts were available to repair, rebuild or complete a post-war Vincent. To this end strict adherence was paid to the original specification and no attempt was made to update it, nor to build a 'modern' Vincent.

Adopting this policy also gave the Spares Company a unique opportunity to prove the buildability of their parts and they are grateful to Glyn Johnson and the various specialists, such as Bob Dunn, for the valuable feedback which they gave as the project progressed -- and to all those in the trade and the club who gave their support and encouragement.

The decision about which model to build was something of a no-brainer for the VOC team. To score points for complexity, it had to be a V-twin rather than the simpler, single-cylinder Comet. In terms of customer appeal it had to be the top-of-the-range Black Shadow. It had to be a Series C because this was the most relevant model, having been in production the longest from 1948 to 1954.

The major obstacles to be overcome at the start of the project were the availability of the main chassis units: the unique Vincent Girdraulic front forks, the oil carrying frame member which sits atop the engine (the UFM) and the triangulated rear swinging arm (the RFM).

The front forks feature 27˝" long aluminium blades which originally were forged in aircraft-quality aluminium alloy. By using the latest machining technology, exact replicas are being produced from heat-treated solid billets of superior strength. In fact the first pair were supplied for an insurance claim by a club member from Stockport, who had the misfortune to hit a deer whilst touring in Canada!

The simple-looking UFM, the 'frame' of the frameless Vincent, does in fact comprise of 25 pieces welded together, and it is integral to the steering head, a massive steel forging. Two types were used; early models had a cast iron version but later models had a steel forging of improved design and this is the one which has been re-tooled. This forging will now be available as a loose piece for the repair of UFMs with damaged headstocks.

Similarly, putting the RFM back into production now means that there is a supply of the cast rear fork end lugs. These castings are known to be broken by abuse when the machine is on the rear stand. Therefore as well as offering complete RFM assemblies, the Company can now offer a repair service for damaged assemblies or will supply loose, fully machined lugs to competent repairers.

Many of the proprietary parts are still available either as quality replicas or in some cases have been commissioned by the company from the original suppliers. The only exceptions were magneto, dynamo and carburettors. In the case of the first two it was felt that it was not in the spirit of the project to use the reconditioned units which are available.

An Alton generator has been used in place of a dynamo. Its improved output gives the bike a permanent 'lights on' capability to meet modern riding conditions. Fortunately a new BT-H magneto incorporating modern technology and developed to fit Vincents has recently become available. Burlen Systems have just re-introduced the original Amal Type 276 carburettor as used on Vincent Rapides, so these have been used in preference to any of the later substitutes more commonly used.

Classic Projects on Now...
MD of the spares company David Meadowcroft and Paul Adams of the VOC.

Put it all together and - voila! - one brand new Series C Black Shadow. The machine was handed from the Spares Company to Paul Adams, the information officer of the Club in January 2007.

Paul expects to have the machine road-legal in mid-February, when it will be the star of the Show at the Bristol Classic Bike Show at Shepton Mallet. After appearing at other selected events this year it will be offered for sale by tender to bona fide VOC club members.

Don't despair - if you're not a VOC club member, you could always commission another one to be built to your specification…


Vincent HRD-Owners Club

  • Email Paul Adams at

    VOC Spares Company Limited

  • Tel: 01925 753367

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