Lot 78

1955 Vincent Black Knight Series D
Realised: $100,000 March 2011

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While reading mechanical science at Cambridge University, Philip Conrad Vincent had already decided he wanted to build great motorcycles. He completed his first custom build using a 350cc MAG engine that was capable of 80mph. Soon after this, Frank Walker joined Vincent in his intrepid enterprise and they established a workshop at the now-legendary Stevenage site where, over the course of the next 30-odd years, they and Australian history-maker Phil Irving conceived of and brought to life one of the most intoxicating pieces of 20th-century design in existence. Initially developing a strong and aggressive single-cylinder 500cc in 1935, Irving saw this as a critical step in creating the 47-degree V-twin with which Vincent became synonymous. Having solved the gearbox and clutch problems that the 1,000cc power plant initially caused, over 70 Series A vehicles were sold before WWII ceased production. Vincent’s concept for the Series B Rapide reflected a highly evolved understanding of performance design. The angle of cylinders was increased to 50 degrees and the wheelbase was shortened by using the engine and gearbox as a structural component. It proved to be the fastest production bike ever created with a top speed of 110mph. Putting that aside, it was quite possibly one of the most attractive and formidable pieces of industrial design ever released to the general public. However, more was to come. Only two years later, Vincent unleashed the Black Shadow which, in full race fettle it produced an astounding 150mph. Vincent’s machismo and sophisticated brute strength set aspirational benchmarks. Vincent reflected a global appreciation of what a super bike should be. The fact that it was British and aimed squarely at the gentlemen privateer was also a very important aspect which gave each of the Vincents a very defined accent both in terms of style and performance. In 1951, the Series B machines were replaced by a range of Series C designs which, due to tough economic conditions, did not evolve in any radical manner. By 1955, Vincent held a privileged place in the world of high-performance motorcycle design. Vincent was synonymous with design innovation, engineering excellence and superlative high performance. So, in September 1955, when it was revealed that production of the Stevenage-built machines would cease, the news stunned the motorcycling world. At the time its demise was announced, Vincent’s final twin – the Series-D – had been in production for just six months. It offered a new frame and rear suspension, a userfriendly centre stand plus many improvements to the peerless V-twin engine, and Philip Vincent, always the creative visionary, also offered the public the world’s first fully faired super bike – a two wheeled Bentley, as he put it. This machine represented a remarkable development for the time and created a sensation at the Earls Court show that year. The enclosed Rapide and Black Shadow were known as Black Knight and Black Prince respectively. When production ceased in December 1955, around 460 Series-D V-twins had been built, some 200 of which were enclosed models. This immaculate example reflects for many one of the great feats in 20th-century design. The culmination of over 30 years of sustained creative dedication by Phil Vincent and his team, the Vincent Black Knight underscored the fact that, even in the face of severe economic challenge, their commitment to innovative high performance was and remains unmatched.

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