The ex-Brian Verrall
1939 Vincent-HRD 998cc Series-A Rapide
Registration no. HJO 500
Frame no. DV1753
Engine no. V1070
Of all the many makes and models of motorcycle produced during the 1930s, there are two outstanding v-twin-engined thoroughbreds that feature at the top of every knowledgeable enthusiast's 'fantasy barn find' league table: the Brough Superior SS100 and Vincent-HRD Series-A Rapide. These days the chances of finding an example of either hidden behind a pile of straw bales are slim indeed, all the more so in the case of the ultra-rare Series-A Rapide, a mere 78 of which were produced between late 1936 and the summer of 1939. (Expert opinion differs on this point, but most authorities favour a total in the high 70s). By way of comparison, production of the rival SS100 ran into the hundreds.
The Vincent-HRD marque originated in 1928 when Philip C Vincent acquired the name, jigs, tools and patterns of the recently liquidated HRD Company. ('HRD' stood for Howard Raymond Davies, the Isle of Man TT winner who had founded the firm in 1924). Vincent moved production from Wolverhampton to Stevenage, pioneering his own design of sprung frame on an entirely new range of machines. Like Davies, Vincent relied on proprietary engines, but increasing dissatisfaction with suppliers led to the creation of Vincent's own engine in 1934. A 500cc high-camshaft overhead-valve single, this all-new power unit was designed jointly by PCV and his Chief Engineer Phil Irving who, so legend has it, came up with the idea of a 1,000cc v-twin after seeing two drawings of the single superimposed on one another. By producing a v-twin in this fashion, many of the existing single-cylinder components could be utilised, thus reducing costs, an important factor for the fledgling concern.
Despite its plethora of external oil pipes - an arrangement that gave rise to the famous 'Plumber's Nightmare' sobriquet - the Series-A v-twin is undeniably handsome, its high-set camshafts and relatively short cylinders endowing this magnificent motorcycle with a muscular, broad-shouldered look. On test, the prototype engine proved to be as powerful as its looks suggested, delivering a maximum of 45bhp at 5,500rpm on a relatively low 6.8:1 compression ratio. It was installed in a new version of Vincent's sprung frame equipped with Burman four-speed gearbox, girder front fork and powerful twin front brakes, the complete machine tipping the scales at an admirable 430lbs. On the road the Series-A Rapide fulfilled all of its maker's expectations, proving capable of reaching 110mph, comfortably faster then the rival JAP-powered SS100.
The prototype Series-A Rapide was proudly displayed on Vincent's stand at the 1936 Motor Cycle Show at Olympia, but only a handful were sold in 1937, the first full year of production, as the motorcycling public remained sceptical of the upstart firm's performance claims. This scepticism was soon dispelled by the exploits of the works Series-A racers piloted by Manliffe Barrington and 'Ginger' Wood, the latter shattering the Donington Park lap record in 1938 and returning a staggering standing quarter-mile time of 11.75 seconds at the Gatwick sprint.
The outbreak of WW2 in 1939 brought production of all Series-A models to a halt, and when Vincent resumed production in 1946, it was with the all-new Series-B. By July '39 when the last Series-A twin was built, the model had been in production for a little over 30 months, and the fact that so few were made has in no small part contributed to this legendary model's mythic status. Around 50 Series-A Vincent v-twins survive worldwide today and for one to be offered for sale is an event of exceptional importance.
First registered on 24th June 1939, this ultra-rare Vincent Series-A twin is one of the last of its kind produced before production ceased. Assorted correspondence on file includes detailed notes written by previous owner Alan Edwards, recording that he purchased the machine in 1966 and restored the cycle parts soon after, the engine being rebuilt later on in the 1970s. Mr Edwards also records further details of the Vincent's restoration and the (mainly insignificant) changes from original specification, and a close inspection of his notes is recommended. Also on file is a letter from marque specialists Conway Motors stating that 'the late pattern hubs made in steel that are fitted to the bike are correct for this machine. Several of the last bikes made before the war had these hubs, which went into production in cast alloy for all the Post-War machines.'
Alan John Edwards is recorded as previous keeper on the accompanying old-style Swansea V5 document, although correspondence on file indicates that Brian Verrall bought the machine in 2003 from an American collector who had acquired it in 2000. The Vincent was purchased by the current owner at Bonhams' sale of the Verrall Collection in September 2008 (Lot 267) and since then has been kept in his private museum. It has also been displayed at the Goodwood Revival meeting.
'HJO 500' retains its original registration number and comes with a copy of the Verrall sale catalogue; assorted DVLA and other correspondence; various export/shipping/customs documents; a quantity of photographs; expired MoT certificate (2003-2004); copy and old-style Swansea V5s and current V5C documents. The customary safety checks and re-commissioning are recommended before use.
One of the most exciting motorcycles to be offered on the open market in recent years, this wonderful Series-A twin represents a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for discerning collectors.