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Bike Profile - Posted 17th March 2010

Vincent Black Prince
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Examples of the fully-faired Series D V-twins are seldom seen for sale. One of the high-performance, top of the range Black Prince models goes under the hammer this spring...

Philip Vincent aimed high. His motorcycle would be 'a two-wheeled Bentley Continental in which the comfort of the rider rated as highly as any aspect of sheer performance.' That aspiration led to a range of remarkable machines which, even if utterly unattainable to the average classic bike enthusiast, remain intriguing to this day.

Vincent built his first bike in 1927, funded by his father. He scooped up the HRD marque and used that to sell his innovative but intimidating expensive and unusual machines when Howard R Davies' business concern failed. The well-respected racer's name was intended to 'overcome motorcyclists' natural reluctance to buy an untried new model.'

This example was sold for 35k Vincent Black Prince

Collaborating with engineer Phil Irving, Vincent launched a range of litre-class V-twins which became famous for their engineering excellence and superlative high performance. The initial Series A big twin, built from 1937, was genuinely capable of sustaining 100mph and would peak at close to 110mph.

After the war came a proliferation of models which developed Vincent's theme: the Rapide which could maintain 100mph at just 3500rpm; then the Black Shadow with a 10bhp power boost to 55bhp which justly claimed to be the world's fastest production motorcycle with a 120mph-plus potential. The Series C machines were launched in 1949 complete with Girdraulic forks and a smaller, single-cylinder 500cc sibling, the Comet.

However the Vincent business was under-funded throughout its lifespan, and profit from sales did not provide significant capital for development or expansion. A new range of Series D machines was launched at the end of 1954 but they were the company's last hurrah. One of the prototypes, the 500cc Victor, didn't even get into production. Vincent stopped building motorcycles altogether shortly thereafter.

Expensive maybe, but it's no looker... Vincent Black Prince

It had been Philip Vincent's belief that provision of ample weather protection combined with enclosure of engine and gearbox, would make the Vincent Series-D the ultimate 'gentleman's motorcycle'. However, delayed delivery of the glassfibre panels -- plus continuing demand for traditionally-styled models -- resulted in over half the production leaving the Stevenage factory in un-enclosed form.

The enclosed versions of the Rapide and Black Shadow were known as the Black Knight and Black Prince. In contemporary road tests the enclosed models were found to handle just as well as their un-faired counterparts, despite initial scepticism from the riders, and provided better fuel economy thanks in part to the streamlined profile.

Note centrestand lever next to seat-nose. 1955 Vincent Black Prince

Other Series-D innovations included a new frame and Armstrong rear suspension; a steel tube replaced the original fabricated upper member/oil tank while the paired spring boxes gave way to a single hydraulic coil-spring/damper unit offering a generous seven inches of suspension travel. The magneto was dropped in favour of coil ignition, while the electrical system was uprated to include a 60-Watt dynamo with components from Lucas instead of Miller. In place of the integral oil reservoir there was a separate tank beneath the seat. The user-friendly hand-operated centrestand was a welcome addition, and there were many improvements to the 998cc V-twin engine including Amal Monobloc carburettors which helped both starting and fuel economy.

Simples... 1955 Vincent Black Prince - Exploded view of the bodywork

The biggest change was external, however, and the new Vincents incorporated a full front mudguard and rear enclosure which hinged upwards to facilitate rear wheel removal.

Legshields with integral crash bars formed part of the sidepanels; these were carefully designed to maximise air-flow to the engine although you'd be a brave rider to test their efficiency in modern urban traffic. The half-fairing and screen housed a smaller three-inch Smiths' speedometer; the magnificent 150mph five-inch speedo was gone for good.

Although Philip Vincent felt that the Series-D was his finest design, the motorcycle-buying public greeted the innovative new models with suspicion. The appeal of the Vincent, and the Black Shadow in particular, lay in its ability to out-perform just about every other vehicle on the road, and in the early post-war years there was nothing to compare with it.

Its creator's vision of the Series-D as a luxury touring machine just did not conform to the public's perception of the Vincent as the ultimate sports motorcycle.

The firm lost money on every machine made, and when production ceased in December 1955 just 460 Series-D V-twins had been built, some 200 of which were enclosed models.

This scarcity means that although opinions about the Black Knight and Prince were mixed when they were launched - not helped by poor quality panelling on the show bikes - their values have risen steadily in the half century since their production. Clean examples of whole bikes now sell for around 35,000 to 45,000 ($65,000 in the USA).

Vincent bits on Right Now......

However, if you are brave and fancy taking on the challenge of a lifetime, then a much more affordable Black Prince will be sold at auction at the Stafford Show in April 2010 at the Bonhams auction. This bike was supplied new via Conway Motors, first registered on 1st November 1955 and bought by its late owner in January 1956.

A wipe down with an oily rag and a dollop of fresh oil and she'll be right... 1955 Vincent Black Prince Project

The machine was last taxed for the road in 1957. It was dismantled some while ago and is offered for restoration in incomplete condition, the front enclosure, exhaust system and speedometer being among the parts obviously missing. It does however come with its original logbook and current V5C. Interestingly, it boasts twin-plug cylinder heads and a fuel tank that has been increased in capacity. It's also - as you can see - an unusual colour. Vincent Blue Prince, anyone?

The Blue Prince is expected to sell for between 6000 and 10,000, and should provide many years of entertainment for an enthusiast to return to working order. It wouldn't be easy, but it might be worth the investment to experience owning what was once described as 'the last and probably best of all Vincents.'

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Auction catalogues available from www.bonhams.com

The Vincent Owners' Club offer a wealth of information, including original factory drawings, and support: www.voc.uk.com

The VOC also run a separate Spares Company with over 1500 components in stock: www.vincentspares.co.uk


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