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Bike Profile - Posted Friday 23rd March 2012

1951 Vincent Rapide
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If you want to own 'the world's fastest standard motorcycle' then look no further than the cooking Vin Twin, a real classic buy...

If there is such a thing as an 'affordable' Vincent, then the Rapide is it. The no-frills big Vin twin still sells for under 30,000 although other models from the Stevenage stable regularly fetch six-figure sums. 30k is hardly small change, even in this era of inflated values, so you could be forgiven for thinking that such motorcycles spend their entire lives in air-conditioned carpeted garages, barely turning a wheel from one decade to the next. And in some cases you'd be correct.

I'm loving the curve of the bottom of the tank... Vincent Rapide

But not this time.

Doug Squires' 1951 Rapide is an unusual Vincent to begin with. This is the 'round the world' bike which Barrie Howell left Coventry aboard in 1971. Some 590,000 miles later the Rapide returned to Britain, and Doug has been its custodian since 1999. Inevitably the Vincent needed some mechanical attention after its extended travels, and Doug had a full engine and gearbox restoration done in 2008. Reconditioning the 45bhp, 50-degree vee, 998cc OHV air-cooled engine is a specialist job, and the bill for the work ran to around 6500. Happily for Doug, the Vincent Owners' Club maintains a full supply of components so all the engine spares came straight off the shelf.

'Vincents are different and very special,' says Doug, so not ideal for the home mechanic. 'My advice to a would-be owner is that unless you are very capable and know what you are doing then do NOT tinker! Seek specialist advice through the club and well-known specialists.' Doug used The Vincent Workshop for his major rebuild.

I'm not loving the rack. Sorry... Doug's 1951 Vincent Rapide

Since then the Vin has been fettled with a few 'refinements' as Doug describes them, including a twin disc brake conversion - very handy if you want to stop in a hurry from its top speed of around 115mph. To ease starting (kicking over these twins is an acquired art), Doug has upgraded the electrical system with a BTH electronic magneto replacement, a Kubota alternator, electronic ignition and an electric starter.

Doug's Rapide is a Series C machine, which came with the Girdraulic front end that Vincent introduced to replace the original Bramton fork. Nothing about a Vincent is conventional: the engine forms an integral part of the chassis so there's no frame downtube at the front. The Rapide's complex specification included a self-servo action clutch, cantilever rear suspension, triple roller big end bearings, QR wheels, adjustable controls, twin prop stands and an unusual Feridax dual seat which all helped to make even the most basic Vincent twin a superbike way ahead of its time. Above all else a Vincent could churn out more power than a cammy Norton racer, and it cruised at a relaxed 3500rpm; ideal for long distance touring.

'Pure bred all through'...
Vincent Stuff on Right Now......

Although the Rapide was swiftly followed by the Black Shadow, which benefitted from a 10bhp boost, the standard bike was no slouch. Tested in 1947, a Rapide reached 112mph before running out of steam and covered a standing quarter mile in 15.1 seconds at 89mph. The 455lb beast could cruise at 85mph until the cows came home and would return 60mpg, too. The Vincent even scored TT success: ten Rapides were entered in the 1948 Senior race and nine of them finished, taking first, second and a stack of other top ten places. Before the Shadow came along, the Rapide could genuinely boast about being 'the world's fastest standard motorcycle.' Vincent's advertising confirmed: 'this is a fact - not a slogan.'

As you can see from the photo, this Vincent hasn't been over-restored and is pleasingly free of inappropriate bling - Doug has trimmed the Rapide for long-distance touring, and so far it's proved to be very reliable; 'even when riding solo from Santander to Pamplona, over the remote mountains in driving rain, hill fog and strong winds. The engine and electrics never missed a beat, taking me safely to my destination and then on to the south of Spain.

'So the bike is pretty well sorted,' he says; 'especially now that a small screen and spotlights have also been fitted. A decent twin-tone horn would just add the finishing touch!'

Note second sprocket on rear wheel... Vincent Rapide

We admired Doug's Rapide so much that we gave it a RealClassic concours award recently - not least because he continues to use it for what Phil Vincent and Phil Irving intended. If you're considering purchasing something similar then you will need at least 25,000 in your pocket. Bonhams auctioneers (www.bonhams.com) sold an 'assembled from parts' Rapide last year, which fetched 23,500 but had no paperwork. Another Rapide, this time an original bike which had been dry stored since 1991, sold recently for 27,600 complete with Avon fairing, original tank cover and its original logbook. That may sound like an awful lot of an investment - but as Doug explains, when you buy a Vincent you are owning something unique.

'It's solid British engineering, a really smooth 1000cc V-twin with a wonderful exhaust note.

'It's a real head-turner.'

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Words: Rowena Hoseason
Photos: Doug Squires, archive

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