Sid Biberman, Jacqueline Bickerstaff, Kevin Cameron,
Marty Dickerson, Roy Harper, Herb Harris,
Jerry Hatfield, Bill Hoddinott, Somer Hooker,
Stuart Jenkinson, Bruce Main-Smith, Glenn Shriver, and David Wright
down, or click on the name above to go directly to that individual’s
Working with PCV
By Roy Harper
When Rollie Free sped across the Bonneville Salt Flats aboard the first Vincent Black Lightning in 1948, he established the Vincent legend and an immortal place for himself in Vincent lore.
The preceptor of this world-famous motorcycle, Philip Conrad Vincent, had been an imaginative schoolboy whose hero was Howard Raymond Davies, founder of H.R.D. Motors Ltd. and brilliant rider, particularly on the tough T.T. course of the Isle of Man. After Vincent bought those famous initials in 1928, they gained added lustre as record after record fell to the thundering twins from Stevenage.
What sort of a man was their creator? I learned much about
him during the four years in the seventies that we worked
together producing our four books under the Vincent Publishing
Company imprint. At times, he could be enthusiastic, positive,
witty, creative, fanciful, self-mocking, or impractical.
I first met PCV in the sixties and corresponded with him in
the early seventies during my editorship of MPH.
Little was known of the history of his company, particularly
the pre-war models, and he would fill the gaps in my knowledge.
Eventually, we collaborated on the history of the Vincent
H.R.D. Company, but the offers from publishers were so dire
that I suggested the formation of a publishing company to
produce books about Vincents.
Vincent agreed that the company should use his name and I agreed to finance it with a loan from my bookshop. I took his initials, PCV, and rearranged them to VPC for inclusion in the centre of a drawing of a Black Shadow wheel to form the company logo.
The Vincent Publishing Company was registered
in 1974 and our first book, "Vincent HRD Gallery,"
was published later that year. "The Vincent HRD Story"
followed in 1975 and is the only Vincent book to include original,
verbatim quotes from H. R. Davies, PCV, Phil Irving, George
Brown, Rollie Free, Bob Burns, Ted Davis, Paul Richardson
Phil’s autobiography, "PCV," was published
in 1976 during a difficult time for him. He suffered strokes
and heart problems, and his wife, Freda, rang me to report
on his condition. She asked me to finish his book, so I based
my contribution on our interviews and his articles. The doctors
had given him up, but he had a will of iron and pulled through.
“I knew his brain was all right,” said Freda,
“when he came to spouting engine formulae.”
I produced leather-bound, autographed, numbered editions of the trilogy in the Vincent colours of gold and black, and all the effort was made worthwhile when Philip said, “No man could ask for a better record of his life’s work.”
In 1976, I suggested that we publish a book to celebrate 50 years of the Vincent marque in 1977. I chose the photos from his collection and Phil wrote the captions.
Phil was a pleasure to work with, always positive and enthusiastic. He was very busy designing and developing his rotary engine and left the editing and production of the books to me, which meant that there was no overlap in responsibility and decision-making, as so often happens in collaborations.
Philip had his generation’s unquestioning patriotism,
and his ambition was to produce a world-beating engine to
challenge the Japanese manufacturers, holding the view that
the four-stroke was obsolete.
He was scathing about other motorcycle designers. I took him to a motor museum and we stopped by a Scott motorcycle. I mentioned that Scott had taken out many patents. Pointing his walking stick at the despised object, Philip said, “It was a waste of time patenting that. Nobody wanted to copy it.”
Politicians also attracted Philip’s ire, not surprising in view of one experience Philip had with a government minister. Once he showed the Minister of Technology a drawing of his rotary engine in the hope of funding. The Minister looked at it in total
incomprehension and Vincent was obliged to say, “With respect, Minister. You are holding the drawing upside down.”
The engine took all his time and money,
and Freda kept the show on the road by working in a hotel.
She was very hospitable and often invited me to stay for a
meal. On one occasion, as Philip made his way to the dining
room, his trousers suddenly fell down to his ankles and Freda,
Philip and I fell about laughing.
There were many light-hearted moments with Philip and Freda, despite the financial and health problems. They had a remarkable determination to succeed, but suffered from the difficulty that creative people experience; while they are working on a new book, engine, painting or whatever, they are not earning a living.
Fortunately for us, Vincent was always more interested in
producing the perfect bike than in making money. Certainly,
a more money-oriented person would have closed the business
within the first three years when sales were so dire that
the directors forsook their salaries.
The last motorcycles, the Series D range, were very much Vincent’s brainchild, co-designer Phil Irving having left the firm in 1949. They were criticised by journalists and the public, and Philip was very hurt by the adverse comments about the bike’s handling. Yet the enclosed bikes achieved his requirements of a high-speed touring motorcycle that would protect the rider from the elements.
I bought a Black Knight and installed it in the hall of my Chelsea flat. What better first sight for the visitor than a Vincent Black Knight. And on the sideboard in the drawing-room was a restored twin engine.
I would ride over to see Philip and tell him of my rides and how well the bike handled in crosswinds, especially on a ride from Toronto to Niagara Falls when the wind was so strong that the bike leaned against it all the way.
He enjoyed the tale of the youth who had heard how badly they cornered. I gave said youth a ride and when we returned to base, the outside of each of his shoes was worn away.
Philip died in 1979, leaving as his legacy a unique motorcycle that has given pleasure to thousands of enthusiasts around the world. Long may the Snarling Beast continue to do so.
About the author:
Roy Harper is best known for writing the official history
of the H.R.D. & Vincent era with H.R.D., PCV, Phil Irving,
et.al. in the seventies. He was editor of MPH from
1969 to 73 and has been a Vincent owner for 52 years. He has
just published "The Snarling Beast," an edited collection
of PCV’s articles. His autobiography, "Beasts and
Beauties," will be published later this year and will
include recollections of PCV, H.R.D., PEI, GB, PR, and Rollie
Free. Roy is an antiques expert and sold them to Jackie Onassis,
Peter Ustinov, and Alec Guinness, all from a Bond Street shop
in London. He lives in a cottage near the seaside and has
two sons, Bickham and Trevelyan. The photograph above of Harper
and Philip Vincent was taken by Freda Vincent in Vincent’s
note: Roy Harper provided the profile image of Philip
Vincent used in the lead graphic for this feature. The photo
was taken by Harper during Christmas, 1977.
Philip C. Vincent: Visionary
By Herb Harris
True visionaries are rare. Individuals who see things as they should be and then bring that dream to reality. Not idle dreamers, they change the way we live in a particular area. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs easily come to mind in today’s world. In motorcycles, the names might include Honda, Britten and few others. Few, but certainly to include Philip Vincent whose motorcycles are even today, greater than half a century later, celebrated on the covers of magazines, raced successfully around the world and treasured by more riders and collectors than ever. There seems to be no end.
Visionaries are different from geniuses and certainly not greatly concerned with fortune building, though it does happen. No, more often than not, the accomplishment of the vision is fought and many times undone by those money realists concerned with wealth over perfection and cost over legend. Such was the case with Vincent, whose life’s shortcomings were generally caused by a continual lack of capital, the changing minds of fickle governmental agencies and second-guessing by his board of directors while he was abroad.
Consider that even
given those adversities, the man dreamed up and produced the
first fully-enclosed high speed touring motorcycle, the Series
“D”, pioneered the use of fiberglass bodywork,
and conceived and made the first true Jet Ski. Oh, and along
the way always gave the world motorcycles so powerful that
they held many of the world’s motorcycle speed records
for years after they were no longer produced. Motorcycles
so fast that for decades, men told and believed legends that
they were banned from use in some places for their unspeakable
power and speed.
Visions of a different
kind accompanied the actual motorcycles. Presumably, it was
the Great Man himself who coined those perfect and enduring
names that sound so good even today. Black Shadow, Black Lightning,
Grey Flash, Rapide, Meteor and so forth. Then, he detailed
the motorcycle to give form to the name. A black engine –
who would have thought? And how about that huge 150 mph speedometer
to proclaim the outrageous speeds possible? But, it worked
and still works today. Others nicknamed his creations “The
Beast.”. This is a Britain which produced other and
less inspiring motorcycles such as “The Dragonfly”
and “The Flying Squirrel.” I am aware of only
two occasions where others truly angered him with mention
of the names of the products. Firstly, he was deeply offended
by a press slur of his Series “A” Rapide as having
so many external oil lines as to be a “plumber’s
nightmare.” What genuinely offended him was to find
that in America, some confused riders thought “H.R.D.”
somehow signified “Harley R. Davidson.” Some many
hours were spent grinding the initials off of cases, covers
and more to remove the offensive suggestion from his motorcycles.
As a young man, he left college before graduation, unable to wait any longer to build the perfect
motorcycle, based on his patented rear suspension. Variations of it continue to be built today on modern motorcycles. The world has come to his vision of just how a bike should be suspended.
My particular favorite may be one of his rare failures. I speak of the idea of using aluminum crankpins in his racers. In theory, quite a good idea, but when foreign bits got into the business, it failed. Not unlike life as a whole for Mr. Vincent.
with L.J.K. Setright some years ago, he recalled to me his
conversation with PCV. I never met him, so LJKS described
the Great Man to me as having both a brilliant mind for engineering
and getting right to the point.
Consider if you
will, photographs of Mr. Vincent. How not unlike Bill Gates’
expression does PCV’s own look. More of a half-dreamy
smile than anything, as if either had half his mind on some
engineering solution rather than concern over the saying of
No, for me, the Vincent motorcycle simply reflects the man. Built entirely differently from anything else, but bold, big and inspiring. Nothing else was ever so ahead of its time and dominant in motorcycling as the Vincent. He dreamed it and in spite of all that the real world could do to stop him, he built it. Philip C. Vincent, a visionary beyond any question or else we would not be celebrating the century past since his birth and you would not be reading this.
About the author:
Herb Harris, 61, an attorney living in Austin, Texas, is a collector of motorcycles, artifacts, and cutaway engines who describes his wife, Karen, as “the most patient and loving wife a man could ask for.” He explains, “She lets me spend scads of money on my motorcycles and keep them in the family room.” “Vincents,” he says, “have been a passion since I sat and stared at my first one.” He is co-publisher of Jerry Hatfield’s biography of Rollie Free and runs an internet store that sells remanufactured Vincent racing parts. Harris is pictured above with the famous Rollie Free record bike – one of his collection – at the Legend of the Motorcycle Concours d’Elegance at Half Moon Bay, California, in May, 2007.
Phil Vincent, His Motorcycles, and What Might Have Been
By Jerry Hatfield
At the dawn of memorable life, around 1943 and age five, over and over I pedaled my tricycle ten yards down the sidewalk and back. These were epic journeys in my little mind. Sometimes I was a Flying Tiger pilot of a Curtiss P-40. Sometimes I was a cowboy on a horse. But most of the time I was on a big motorcycle with the car-sized tires and the two big round things under the gas tank that made the power and the noise. I favored motorcycles because they were the grownups’ extension of my tricycle and the big kids’ bicycles. Motorcycles made the greatest sounds of any motor vehicle, a low-pitched lumpety-lumpety-lumpety when stopped, and a sort of horse gallop when motoring away. I loved imitating the galloping noise by blowing air through my closed but relaxed lips. The mist of my spit added a touch of drama. In the back seat of the family car, on summer days, with a window down, I couldn’t resist poking my head out into the air stream to feel the current the way the motorcycle people must feel it.
A few years later, but long before girls looked good, I had
advanced to a bicycle. Mine was fitted with the inevitable
clothes pin that pinched the fork and held the cardboard strip
against the rotating spokes. The year was around 1948. As
a 10-year-old, my vocabulary now included the word “cylinder”
as the name of the two big things that made the power on big
motorcycles. One day, and then another and another, some skinnier
motorcycles began to roll by our home. I read the names on
the parked motorcycles and asked a rider about them. These
were English motorcycles! Instinctively, I thought they were
better looking than Harleys and Indians. The English motorcycles
had skinny tires that looked right, instead of fat car tires.
The foreign jobs didn’t have those cluttered-looking
forks with lever action and exposed coil springs, but instead
had telescopic forks that looked terrific and obviously worked
as great as the landing gear of any airplane.
These new and different motorcycles, seemingly, had only one
cylinder. But as they were obviously so much lighter than
Harleys and Indians, a one-cylinder engine made good sense.
I liked the low-down thump-thump-thump of the singles. One
day, one of the “singles” made a purring noise
instead of a thumping noise. Apparently something genetic
kicks in the first time you hear a vertical, or parallel,
twin. You love it or you don’t. I didn’t like
the “sissy” sound. Harleys, Indians, and big singles
were masculine; vertical twins were feminine. Why, I wondered,
didn’t the English companies build a double-up of their
singles, to produce a light, racy-looking V-twin that sounded
In 1951, at age 13, I was riding my own Cushman Eagle. This was a motor scooter that pretended to be a motorcycle by virtue of the tank between the knees. For a few glorious weeks, until the cops ticketed me, I had a megaphone exhaust on the Cushman. In the “sound” department, my lowly Cushman sounded better than any Triumph, as good as any English single, and almost as good as any Harley-Davidson or Indian.
Wow! One day in 1952, at the newsstand the latest Cycle
magazine had a full page cover photo of a Vincent Black Shadow.
Finally, somebody in England had figured it out! I bought
the magazine and about wore it out. Right out of the box,
the 1,000cc Cycle-tested Black Shadow did 128 mph!
The same issue featured a hop-up article on how to make a
1,200cc Harley go 115 mph. I thought, how pathetic!
A year or so later, in the pages of Cycle, this 15-year-old
was introduced to Rollie Free. Somewhere, I’d seen the
picture, the shot of Free in bathing trunks, streaking over
the Bonneville salt at the then mystical 150 mph!
An uncle told me about a friend who was killed on a Vincent Black Lightning – I’m sure the “killer” bike was no more than a Black Shadow, but the “Lighting” name enhanced my uncle’s story. The yarn backfired. Instead of discouraging me, the story added to the Vincent mystique.
We lived in Cleburne, Texas, which was a bit off the main routes around Fort Worth and Dallas. So I checked out every motorcycle that passed through. I gave Indians special attention because I saw 20 Harleys for every Indian. Then, one day the rarest motorcycle of all rolled through town. A couple was touring on a Vincent Black Shadow. With the speed and practiced routine of a motorcycle cop, I kicked my Cushman into life, kicked the side-stand back, yanked the hand-lever into first-gear position, and motored away, determined to catch the couple. The Vincent riders were prudent in the city traffic but I was reckless. So just before the city limit sign, I pulled even and tried to memorize the image in the second or two that I knew was my ration. I caught a glimpse of the shiny black engine and the golden tank logo, as we exchanged waves. Then the Vincent Black Shadow, the only Vincent I ever saw in the era, swiftly accelerated away and into the distance.
I believe that a brilliant idea is sometimes an idea that
comes first to the mind of a special person, and then years
later is branded as “obvious” by ordinary persons.
How obvious it seems now, that the English motorcycle industry
would’ve been better off if the industry had paid
more attention to Philip C. Vincent and less attention to
Triumph vertical twin pioneer Edward Turner. In the 1940s,
every prominent English marque except Triumph was making
350cc and 500cc singles. How natural and easy it would’ve
been for AJS, BSA, Matchless, Norton, Royal Enfield, and
Velocette, to have offered 700cc and 1,000cc double-ups
of their 350cc and 500cc singles. This approach required
a new crankcase and crankshaft, but very few other new parts.
Aside from producing new powerful and functional twin-cylinder
motorcycles, with minimum investment, these might-have-been
English V-twins would’ve found immediate acceptance
in America, where the V-twin mystique was born in the minds
of many a tricycle and bicycle jockey.
Jerry Hatfield has written for more than 30 years about
American motorcycling history. He has been published in Cycle World, The Enthusiast, The Classic
Motor Cycle, Classic Bike, and American
Heritage, the journal of the Smithsonian Institution.
He has written 14 books, two of which have been republished
in foreign language editions. Hatfield has appeared in two
television documentaries about Indian motorcycles, and was
principal narrator for one of these. He is an inductee in
The Trailblazers Hall of Fame, The Indian Motocycle Hall
of Fame, and The Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Jerry
is a retired Air Force colonel, and his latest book is “Flat
Out: The Rollie Free Story.”
The Phil Vincent Centenary
By Bill Hoddinott
March 14, 2008 marks 100 years since
the birth of Philip Conrad Vincent in England. It is a good
time to consider what his life has meant to the world.
The motorcycles that bear his name
have unquestionably earned him a place among the immortals
of the world motorcycle movement. The evidence for it is that
over 60 years since his post-WWII products appeared, and over
50 years since manufacture ceased, his innovative designs
are still frequently mentioned and praised as milestones in
the enthusiast press.
Grand Prix racing
motorcycle practice has progressed very, very far in the years
since Vincent production. And yet, examination of the very
latest MotoGP World Champion Ducati reveals the Vincent principles:
the steering head on a bracket attached to the power unit's
cylinder heads, frameless design, and the rear fork attached
to the back of the crankcase. The finest technical writers
of the current day continue to refer to Vincent design and
acknowledge its amazing vision.
The tremendous esteem in which the marque is held by enthusiasts is proven by the huge sums now changing hands for all the Vincent factory products, and especially the rare Black Lightning racers, which have attained “art object” status.
A great deal has
been written about P.C. Vincent over many, many years, and
all of us who love the marque feel we know the man quite well.
He was a young man who loved motorcycles and this drove him
at the tender age of but 20 to scrape together the money to
buy the established H.R.D. name. He proceeded to set up a
very small company, with just a few hands, to manufacture
his own machines because he had some ideas and believed he
could show the world something new.
From that time forward
his life was a constant, dogged, determined struggle to stay
in business during the world economic depression of the '30s,
and compete with the many famous larger English motorcycle
companies. From 1939 to 1945 his firm produced war materiel,
then for the next 10 years he put his efforts into building
the best and most advanced motorcycles on the planet. From
the late '40s these efforts were crowned with worldwide fame
for the quality, durability, safety, and performance of his
fabulous new 1,000cc road bikes, and the national and world
speed records broken by his racing models in many countries.
In 1953 he married a lovely young woman, Freda. They produced a daughter and Phil settled down
the family life he enjoyed the rest of his days. His daughter,
Deirdre Vincent-Day serves as Patron of the Vincent H.R.D.
Owners Club today.
In 1959 the company
he had fought for so long and hard passed into other hands.
He remained productive with journalism and books up to his
passing in 1979, putting into print for his admirers all the
inside stories of the trials and successes of his firm.
We venerate Phil
Vincent today not only because he built wonderful motorcycles
that we and the world have enjoyed for so many years, but
also because as a man, Phil set an excellent personal example.
He was the embodiment of all the traditional values: honesty,
courage, intelligence, determination, hard work, and love
of family. Besides a man of action, he was a man of letters
- his writings are fascinating and none in the world has ever
come up with better names for high-performance motorcycles
than "Black Shadow,” "Grey Flash," and
Philip Conrad Vincent was a special
man. You'll never see his like again!
About the Author:
Bill Hoddinott, born in 1939, joined
the Vincent H.R.D. Owners Club in 1961. The last few years
he has served as organizer of the Black Lightning/Grey Flash
Section. He enjoys digging up forgotten lore about the Black
Lightning and Grey Flash racers for his monthly review in
the club journal MPH. After a career in Public Health,
Hoddinott retired in 1991. He built and races a 144-mph, supercharged
1932 Ardun-Ford roadster in speed trials, and has done extensive
interviews for Bonneville Racing News as well as
MPH. Bill, his wife Jerry, and their dachshund Britta
live in Chesapeake, Virginia. Pictured above is the whole
family: Bill, Jerry, Britta, and the Ardun-Ford.
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