Reg Deardens Supercharged Vincent
1949 Vincent Black Lightning
Frame no. RC4436
Engine no. F10AB/1C/2536
Following a glorious era throughout the 1920s period very few British motorcycles were mechanically capable of contesting the rarefied world of Record Breaking. Since WWII the most frequent choice of machine for the Blue Riband of Motorcycling has been Vincents 1000cc Black Lightning. Vincent is undoubtedly revered as Britains most cherished medium-volume manufacturer but, having begun in 1928, and started manufacture at Stevenage (Herts), regularly producing several hundred machines each year, it was to universal disappointment the firm ceased trading in 1955. However, when arguably at their peak during the late 1940s, the American rider Rollie Free formidable former Indian racer, and renowned for his hatred of Harleys gained the World Speed Record at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, USA, for Un-Streamlined Machines on Fuel. This was achieved in September 1947 on a much-modified version of the 50-degree ohv vee twin. The Vincent was owned by John Edgar and, by arrangement, had been especially prepared at the factory. Famously, those last few mph of the Record attempt had proven elusive until Free stripped down to his bathing trunks, whereupon, he thundered through the traps at the magic two-way average speed of 150.31 mph. This important Record saw Vincents contemporary advertising proclaim they made the Worlds Fastest Standard Motorcycle. And, very soon there after, the firm were prompted to introduce the Black Lightning model, incorporating a similar engine specification to that of the Edgar/Free prototype. Priced in excess of £400 it was easily Britains most expensive motorcycle. Is it any surprise, perhaps, but barely 30 examples were ever produced and sold. Today, a Black Lightning is categorically acclaimed as the Holy Grail of post war motorcycles.
By its very nature Record Breaking is traditionally the most demanding of arenas. The roll call of contestants with a realistic chance of success has never extended beyond the resourceful few. However in 1949 The Motor Cycle, Britains leading 2-wheel publication, offered a Trophy, plus a generous £500 prize [more than the price of a new Lightning] for the first successful all-British attempt on the absolute World Speed Record, for which full streamlining was clearly a necessary requirement. The Record had been held since 1937 by BMW at 173.54 mph. Inspired by the Blue Uns offer Reg Dearden, a popular high profile m/c dealer at Chorlton-cum-Hardy [Manchester], purchased a Black Lightning direct from the factory, expressly for the purpose. There was a widely held belief in those days that the guarantee for reaching these targeted speeds was most easily achieved by the fitment of a supercharger. In early 1950, therefore, Reg returned the bike to Stevenage for the retro fitting of a purpose-built Shorrocks charger, together with the necessary but complex plumbing system, which was fed via an outsize S.U. carburettor and float chamber. Other mandatory tasks included an extension of the gearbox and engine main shafts, the making of a special clutch contained by specially cast alloy casings, fabrication of a dramatically re-shaped ex Grey Flash fuel tank and, in order to correctly install the supercharger within the chassis, the main frame, engine plates, and swinging arm were strengthened-and-lengthened by about 6 inches. The work was undertaken under the personal supervision of Phil Vincent, MD, with advice and assistance from George Brown and various other luminaries constantly involved at the Stevenage factory. Press reports of the time quote Deardens subsequent claims to the effect that every individual part on the bike was virtually now one-off, simultaneously admitting in a rueful mode how the work had cost him several thousand pounds! The work in fact proved such a massive undertaking that it took the factory until mid-July to complete.
Public appearances of the Vincent, thereafter, were infrequent, inasmuch the next reported sighting of the now supercharged Vincent was as part of a spectacular display in a branch of Kings of Oxford, whose 20-odd shops were owned by Stan Hailwood [Mikes father], an old friend of Dearden. Reg himself, meanwhile, was enjoying a close relationship with Norton over an arrangement that entailed the entering and supporting of a posse of promising young riders to compete in the Isle of Man TT and elsewhere, riding the Bracebridge Street machines. At any one time Dearden had at least 20 Manx Norton competitors on his books, a programme that continued for many seasons, undoubtedly consuming an immense amount of time and concentration on his part. It is probably this reason, along with the news in 1951 that NSU had now upped the Speed Record to 180.29 mph, which caused the modified Vincent to lay dormant until 1953, when it was briefly announced in the technical press that the intended rider for the Record attempt presumably at Bonneville would be Les Graham [father of Stuart]. Les was already 500cc World Champion, and had been assisted by Dearden in his early career. Sadly, he was fatally injured in the 1953 Senior TT, causing yet another delay and a possible reduction in enthusiasm for the Record Breaking project. Even so there are some recorded instances of the bike in use. It was timed at Pendine Sands at 150 mph, but ran its bottom end. Following this setback it was further modified at the Stevenage factory, whose tester briefly rode the machine, fitted with silencers, on the public highway. Reg, too, apparently tried a series of straight-line Burn Outs, using slave tyres. And, in a letter to Classic Bike dated April 1992, Irelands Vincent agent, Harry Lindsey confirms how he too once rode the bike on an undisclosed aerodrome strip, although his all too brief blast was swiftly curtailed due to engine shaft failure.
The setting by NSU, in 1956, of a new Speed record at Bonneville, at 211.40 mph, seemed somehow to rekindle Deardens interest, for it was reported he would now fly the bike to the Salt Flats although no rider was specified in his own Cessna aeroplane, for one last serious attempt. Yet again it came to nought when the CAA refused to certify the aircraft concerned for this particular mode of transportation! The Vincent thus stayed unused and neglected at Deardens premises over the next decade, until it was eventually sold to Eric Biddle, a publican friend, in 1970. Biddle never used the machine, but sold it on to Michael Manning, a scientist, who lived in Pennsylvania, USA. In 1977 Manning took the Supercharged Vincent to a Vincent Owners Club Rally in Canada, where it was ridden over a short distance but, after returning to his home in Philadelphia, it again remained in storage until acquired in 1987 by the present owner, a passionate collector and user of Vincents, from Texas.
The vendors association with the Stevenage product is a profound and lifelong relationship. As a true aficionado he knows instinctively if a Vincent needs restoring, or when sympathetic preservation is the better route. In the case of the Dearden Vincent hes applied the latter philosophy. After his purchase, and following a gentle re-commission, he was struck by the machines obvious originality. Considered alongside its minimal Running Time, over a period of sixty years, this originality creates something that is utterly unrivalled. During the last 20 years the vendor confirms that the bike has been run on several occasions. The resultant racket emitted by those huge open pipes, he claims, resembles no other. In 1999 the well-known UK photojournalist Mick Duckworth sampled the Vincent on a remote Texas highway for a 7-page feature in Classic Bike. The generous terrain allowed Mick sufficient space, and enough time, for familiarisation. After reaching a speed close to 100 mph in bottom he bravely engaged second gear
at which point he suddenly remembered exactly what a precious artefact he was astride. The test ride concluded happily, however, with the owner stating, Youve probably ridden this Vincent further than anyone in living memory!
The historic Black Lightning reposes in all its visual potential, slightly oily, yet with its original HT leads and the OE Avon tyres first fitted at Stevenage so long ago; even the rims black factory paint remains in place. Original low usage Black Lightnings are rare, supercharged Lightnings rarer still. This one is unique!