One of only 15 produced
1950 Vincent Series C White Shadow
Frame no. RC6376A
Engine no. F10AB/1A/4476
Dawn in the desert was cool on the Bonneville Salt Flats on September 13, 1948. Later that morning, a motorcycle and Indianapolis 500 racer and sometime service station manager stripped to a Speedo-style bathing suit, a bathing cap and sneakers. Then, Rollie Free mounted a Vincent Black Lightning, a hopped-up version of the 1000cc British V-Twin that was the fastest production motorcycle in the world at that time. This was the very first Black Lightning and was owned by Los Angeles sportsman, John Edgar. Running down the salt supine on the bike, with his legs stretched behind him and toes pointed like a high diver, Free broke the 150 miles per hour barrier and the U.S. motorcycle speed record. A speeding car had captured a picture of the hurtling black Vincent with Free on top, seemingly floating in the white background of the endless salt flats. When it was published in Life magazine, the Vincent burst into the psyche of both American motorcycling and a startled public. (Please see lot 40 for the Rollie Free Archive)
Motorcycle cognoscenti knew Vincent as descended from H.R.D., founded by Howard Raymond Davies in 1924. The company manufactured specialist, high performance models powered by J.A.P. (J.A. Prestwich) engines of various displacements. The company never made a profit and went into liquidation in 1928. The name, tools, jigs and patterns ultimately ended up with Phillip Vincent, who purchased the lot for £500. The new firm operated under the name Vincent H.R.D., although the Vincent name alone was used from 1949.
In 1931, an Australian engineer, Phil Irving became Chief Engineer at Vincent and by 1936 had combined two singles into a 1000cc V-twin called the Series A Rapide. Among the many features was rear suspension, the first on a production motorcycle. The Rapide was capable of 110 miles per hour, an almost unthinkable rate of speed for a street bike in the 1930s. The Rapide would set the template for all top of the line Vincents until production ceased in 1955.
By 1943, Irving was working on the Series B Rapide, laying the groundwork for Vincent to become the first British motorcycle manufacturer to get back into production after the war ended in 1945. The design was brilliant, with the front and rear suspension as well as the engine hanging from a monocoque design covered by the gas tank.
After the war, the British public was not allowed to buy many goods that could generate foreign exchange by being exported and Vincent looked to the U.S. market. An even more modified design was the Black Shadow. Americans who saw its enameled engine cases and gearbox and 150 mile per hour speedometer were awestruck and purchasers enjoyed 100mph cruising and a top speed of 125mph. Dealers of all makes bought them as showroom attractions and to ride themselves.
The consigned machine is a rare White Shadow. Unlike the Black Prince, Black Shadow and Black Lightning, the White Shadow eschewed black, stove enamel engine cases, and these rare models were sold with bare metal cases. This example is one of them, thus the White Shadow nomenclature. A further rarity is the Chinese Red frame. Once again, most Vincent frames were also black, with precious few done in red by the factory. Some Vincents have had their frames repainted red by subsequent owners.
This machine comes with a Certificate of Authenticity from the Vincent Owners Club, as well as documents like the factory Despatch Check Sheet, Works Order Form and Non Standard Specification Sheet. Unfortunately, the page of the factory assembly data sheets that would confirm the frame color is missing. What is known is that the second owner was a Mr. Frank Alexander, who purchased this Vincent in 1955. When he bought the bike, the frame had been painted a non-standard color some feel was gold. Mr. Alexander was a wealthy Vincent enthusiast, well connected at the factory and known in Vincent circles. The consensus among the survivors of the period describe him as a purist who went to great lengths to assure his bikes were as manufactured. Their opinion is that upon purchase of the subject machine, he would have contacted the factory so he could return the bike to its original condition. At this point in time, we have no documentation to assure that this happened.
Leaving the red frame question aside, the buyer of this bespoke motorcycle will be acquiring an icon, not just of the golden days of the British motorcycle industry, but of the entire history of the motorcycle. Its rarity as a White Shadow is assured by its gleaming metal cases, full factory documentation and matching numbers. This is a turnkey situation that will allow the owner immediate riding pleasure plus providing entrée to the premier elite shows and tours of the International motorcycle world.
- Please note, this motorcycle is currently equipped with its original magnesium brakes and exhaust silence. Furthermore, this bike is titled with the engine number.