Marty Dickersons Vincent Rapide racer, known as The Blue Bike iconic Bonneville Record Breaker
1948 Vincent 1000cc Rapide Series B
Engine no. F10AB/1/301
Over many years a select group of race competitors possessed of a profound determination have demonstrated their ability to put an indelible stamp on certain race events, time after time. A handful of these same racers, furthermore, have evolved a visible affinity with just one brand of motorcycle and, occasionally, a lifelong connection with one bike in particular. Is there a finer example of this than the historic links between Bonneville Salt Flats, legendary competitor Marty Dickerson, and his 1948 1000cc Vincent Rapide? Known universally as the Blue Bike Marty gradually developed this machine into one of USAs most successful Record Breaking motorcycles?
In 1948 a young Dickerson was obsessed with the racing scene, coupled with an energetic affection for the Vincent brand, and the overhead valve v-twins manufactured at Stevenage, Hertfordshire, back in England. With help from Mickey Martin, Vincents official West Coast distributor, in whose L.A. store Marty was virtually a permanent fixture, Dickerson managed to exchange his ride-to-work Triumph Tiger 100 for a near-new Series B Rapide, arguably the most traumatic transportation on two wheels currently then available on an over-the-counter basis. But, half a century ago, even die-hard enthusiasts had little knowledge of these 50-degree British v-twins, despite their formidable appearance, or the fact Vincent were twenty years established or, since 1947, had been advertising how they made The Worlds Fastest Standard Motorcycle. Martys purchase didnt disappoint; rather, it exceeded expectations. Already a regular participant in southern California Speed Trials he was no sooner in the saddle than the free running Rapide was cutting thru the traps at Rosamund Dry Lake at speeds in excess of 120mph.
Perennially anxious to increase sales Mickey Martin engaged Marty to visit a list of potential Vincent dealer outlets located throughout the Southwest. In June 1949, and mounted on the still street-legal Vincent, Dickerson duly set forth on the expedition. In retrospect, though, as far as a projected increase in sales was concerned, it was not considered a very productive trip. However his lengthy itinerary of both planned and unscheduled visits, calling by the stores of bemused dealers, unwittingly laid the foundations of Marty Dickersons future reputation. Heres how. Inevitably, it seemed, when riding to a halt outside the shop of a towns cycle trader, hed almost certainly be shortly challenged to a drag contest by one or other of the communitys 2- or 4-wheel Hot-Shoes. Almost invariably, of course, that towns mechanical mafia had failed to recognise or fully appreciate the machine on which Marty had ridden-into-town! In those days of course unofficial drag racing was a widely accepted pastime, often overlooked by tolerant authorities; suburban street drags were part of small city culture amongst the Under-25s. Throughout the hot, dusty southwest Marty became known as The Stranger. More importantly, while participating in these spontaneous sprints irrespective how tired or unprepared he and the Vincent may have been he was never once outrun!
Much encouraged by these performances he returned to soCal and, with four new bikes on consignment from Martin, became a Vincent dealer in his own right, an occupation he followed over the next 15 years. It was a fulfilling period providing a passionate concentration on his favorite marque. Given an inborn mechanical ability Marty began a series of improvements to the machine itself. The extensive program included the fitment of a complete new bottom half whose polished crankcases carried the celebrated number 301, still in place today coupled with gas-flowed cylinder heads, exhaling now through massive 2 header pipes. This typical upgrade necessitated moving the kick-start shaft and crank to the nearside but, fortuitously, the parts were a listed Vincent option. At the same time he rigidified the rear end, and replaced the existing B Series Brampton girders with a set of Girdraulic forks removed from a 500cc Grey Flash that he was, at this point, road racing very successfully. Finally, in an inspired move, he painted what by now had morphed into an out-and-out racer in distinctive translucent color blue. Resulting from so many alterations and improvements the fine looking Blue Bike now tipped the scales at approximately 400 lbs, prompting Marty to contest a few European-style black top races, winning several of these along the way.
Following a 1950 trip to the Salt Flats at Bonneville, in the role of spectator, he finished his initial Speed Week attendance wielding the spanners, no less, for well-known Vincent Record Breaker Rollie Free who, back in 1947, had cracked 150mph, after famously stripping to his bathing trunks. Lying prone for what became a widely chronicled pair of Runs Rollie had used John Edgars prototype Black Lightning for that memorable attempt. Thus, Martys first visit to Bonneville was an irrevocable catalyst, forever hooking him to The Salt, triggering innumerable returns in the years ahead.
Bonneville regulars, definitely, and moviegoers, maybe, understand the magnetic appeal this glaring white salt-crystal arena can exert on visitors. Nevertheless, and even by Hollywoods inaccurate standards, it should be stated The Flats were fairly portrayed for The Worlds Fastest Indian, the compellingly filmed biography of Burt Munro, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins. All in all TWFI was a commendable non-confrontational film, favorably received by a worldwide audience. [It was, perhaps, also the first 2-wheel movie to clearly explain Mans Immovable Fixation with the Humble Motorcycle!] It is fulfilling, too, to record Martys appointment as Technical Advisor for the superb sequences shot at Bonneville. Whether its The Salts reflection, which is relentless, or those tortured WFO engines echoing away well beyond the horizon, or whether its that eerie mountain backdrop captured so evocatively in Bruce Browns On Any Sunday, Speed Week is a phenomenon that etches into the mind.
In 1951 Marty took the Blue Bike to second place, at 129mph, close behind an Ariel Square 4, but one year later he gained the A.M.A. Class C Record with a winning speed of 141.72mph. He and the Blue Bike capped that in 1953, raising the Record to 147.56mph, a feat remaining unbroken for the next 20 years. A grateful Vincent factory acknowledged this achievement by depicting Marty and machine on the front cover of the firms 1953 brochure. Likewise, the Indian company, who were national distributor for Vincent in the early 1950s, published an image of Marty in action at Bonneville on a contemporary promotional flier. Copies of relevant correspondence from the A.M.A. [signed by EC Smith], which confirm these Records, a personal letter to Marty from Phillip Vincent, an original 1953 Vincent brochure [as mentioned], various period photographs and graphics, some technical notes, are but part of an interesting collection of Blue Bike memorabilia accompanying the machine. In addition there is included Martys original red tam-o-shanter headgear, seen in so many off-track illustrations, plus the back issues of MPH [Journal of the Vincent-HRD Owners Club] covering his substantive interview in which, with amazing recall, he covers the events of yesteryear a meeting with Mr Vincent, for instance in fascinating detail. Against the quite extraordinary speeds he consistently clocked it should be remembered that Class C Rules restricted these un-faired machines to using pump fuel, compression ratios could be no higher than 8:1, coupled with a regulation confining contestants to riding in a conventional sitting position!
Martys prowess with Vincent extends further still. Having won some early black top events on a much modified 500cc Comet hed borrowed, and continued the winning streak on a 1949 Grey Flash of his own, he confirmed in 1955 a liking for [and his skills with] single cylinder Vincents by taking the half liter Flash past the Bonneville timekeeper at 118mph. The tally was again increased in 1963, astride Joe Simpsons Black Lightning, a bike Marty later purchased, when he gained the Class A Record at 163.31mph! But nothing is forever; his final run on The Salt was in 1996, exactly 45 years down the road from the first.
In 2007, justifiably so, he was a revered Honorary Judge at Half Moon Bays Legend of the Motorcycle on the occasion this prestigious Concours event chose Vincent as one of the joint Featured Marques. Marty and the Blue Bike were poignantly reunited. In good form all day long, bursting with raw energy and a host of relevant anecdotes, Marty Dickerson was a popular figure with the large crowd of knowledgeable and discerning enthusiasts.
Following half a century of ownership, Marty eventually sold the Blue Bike a few years ago to a Vincent devotee in Texas. Still in its As-Last-Run condition, and lovingly cherished by Marty over so many years, the bike has remained in this state, aside from a microscopic de-salting exercise, subsequent to several sessions of assiduous re-polishing. Proudly still sporting its mandatory SCTA seals the machine has since been run only sparingly. Deliberately, rather than coincidentally, Marty has been present on each of these occasions.
The Blue Bike, quite literally, mirrors a lengthy 2-wheel chapter of Speed Week history, unfolding over countless Runs at Bonneville Salt Flats. Equally the Blue Bike is the epitome of how American engineering improves upon an already fine British design!
- Please note, Rollie Free achieved his 150mph record in 1948, not 1947 as stated in the fifth paragraph of the description.