1952 Vincent 998cc Black Shadow Series C
Frame no. RC10266B/C
Engine no. F10AB/1B/8366
Crankcase mating no. YY94
Ever since the Series A's arrival in 1937, the Vincent v-twin has been synonymous with design innovation, engineering excellence and superlative high performance. From Rollie Free's capture of the 'world's fastest production motorcycle' record in 1948 on a tuned Series-B Black Shadow to the final, fully enclosed Black Knight and Black Prince, Philip Vincent's stress on appearance and performance is legendary. His machines bristled with innovative features, offering adjustment of brake pedal, footrests, seat height and gear-change lever. The finish was to a very high standard commensurate with the cost of the machine, which was virtually double that of any of its contemporaries.
But above all else it was the v-twin's stupendous performance that captivated motorcyclists, whether they could afford one or not. The appeal of the Vincent, and the Black Shadow in particular, lay in its ability to out-perform just about every other vehicle on the road, and in the early post-war years there was nothing to compare with it. This was a time when the average family sedan was barely capable of reaching 70mph, and not until the advent of Jaguar's XK120 was there a production sports car that could live with the thundering v-twins from Stevenage.
Indeed, when it was introduced in 1946, the Vincent-HRD Series-B Rapide was immediately the fastest production motorcycle on sale anywhere, with a top speed of 110mph. The basic design clearly had even greater potential though, as was demonstrated by the tuned Rapide known as 'Gunga Din', ridden by factory tester George Brown, that proved unbeatable in UK motorcycle racing in the late 1940s. Private owners too had expressed an interest in extracting more performance from their machines, all of which convinced Philip Vincent that a market existed for a sports version. Despite opposition from within the company's higher management, Vincent pressed ahead with his plans and together with Chief Engineer Phil Irving, clandestinely assembled a brace of tuned Rapides. The prototypes incorporated gas-flowed cylinder heads, Comet cams, polished con-rods and larger carburetors, these changes being good for a maximum output of 55bhp despite a compression ratio limited to only 7.3:1 by the 72-octane gasoline that was the best available in the UK at the time. Ribbed brake drums were fitted to cope with the increased performance, while in a marketing masterstroke Vincent specified a 5"-diameter '150mph' speedometer and black-finished engine cases for his new baby the Black Shadow. With a claimed top speed of 125mph, soon born out by road tests, the Vincent Black Shadow was quite simply the fastest road vehicle of its day.
Deliveries commenced in the spring of 1948 and only around 70-or-so Series-B Black Shadows had been made before the Series-C's introduction at that year's Earl's Court Motorcycle Show. One of the most famous of this first batch was the bike ordered by wealthy American journalist, John Edgar, whose ambition it was to beat the production machine speed record of 136mph held by Harley-Davidson. The stock Shadow's 125mph maximum was some way short of the Harley mark so Phil Irving designed new cam form (known as the 'MkII') which was tested by George Brown prior to the bike's dispatch to the USA. Brown had reached 143mph on a relatively short airstrip, so hopes were high that Edgar's rider Rollie Free would achieve 150mph on the expansive Bonneville salt-flats. The manner in which Free took the record is the stuff of legend; the improbable photograph of him, stretched full-length on the seat-less Shadow wearing only a helmet, swimming trunks and running shoes, being one of motorcycling's most famous images. It was the first time that anyone had ridden an unsupercharged motorcycle at such a speed and Vincent lost no time in capitalizing on Free's achievement, launching a racing version of similar specification, the legendary Black Lightning.
The Black Shadow was indeed a legend in its own lifetime, and in the half-century since production ceased, the esteem in which this iconic motorcycle is held has only increased, fueling the demand among discerning collectors for fine examples of the marque, such as that offered here. A matching-numbers example, this Series-C Black Shadow was acquired by John Shola in October 1974 from Carl Lundell Jr. The purchase receipt is on file. Copy factory documentation supplied by the Vincent Owners Club reveals that the machine was dispatched new in January 1952 to Indian Sales Corporation in Springfield, Ohio, the US importers.
It appears that John Shola commenced the Shadow's restoration during the mid/late 1970s, there being on file numerous letters of this period from Ted Davis, the famous Vincent factory test rider and motorcycle racer, who supplied many of the parts needed. Ted Davis's final letter dates from April 1991, though when John finally completed the rebuild is not known. However, it must have been prior to May 2004, which is when acknowledged marque specialist Sid Biberman supplied the appraisal that accompanies the machine. In this document, 'Big' Sid describes John's Shadow as 'a recently restored, running example.' He goes on to say: 'With respect to cosmetics, the motorcycle was restored to top concours levels and Mr Shola continues to maintain it in such a fashion. The bike is in also excellent mechanical condition and features new internal components throughout, all of the highest grade as available through the top vintage motorcycle parts suppliers. The machine is basically standard.'
In addition to the aforementioned documentation, this well restored Black Shadow comes with an original rider's handbook, spare parts list, Vincent Owners Club Certificate of Authenticity and State of Illinois Certificate of Title.