The Vincent V-Twin…a Rare Café Racer Gets Another Look


by Eileen Marable

Hi Café Racer Fans! You know I can’t spoil what the guys do in their shops right? You have to tune in to see what they get up to. That doesn’t mean I can’t give you a hint.

In tonight’s 10:00 p.m. E/P episode you’ll meet Sam Manganaro, owner of Vincent Works custom shop out of Dolores, CO. Sam is a very big fish in the small pond of Vincent motorcycle owners. At 33 he became the youngest member of the Vincent Owners Club and as owner of the Vincent Works shop he is an expert in the world of sourcing parts, restoring and sometimes customizing the bikes for owners.

Why is it such a small pond of Vincent owners? There were only 11,000 of the original Vincent bikes made between 1928 and 1959.

Caption: Are we tempting you with these photos?

In addition to being in short supply – which automatically makes a collector salivate, these bikes out of Stevenage, UK were known as the fastest bikes around during the height of their production in the 50’s.

The bikes, with model names like “Rapide,” “Black Shadow,” and “Black Lightning” just had to be fast. These bikes were different from your normal roadster of the day.

With a distinctive V-Twin engine, the Black Shadow was said to have regularly hit speeds of 125 mph – though it had a speedometer that went to 150. The bike was produced with a signature black engine and gearbox unit. 

If you can believe it, the Black Lighting was the racing version of the Black Shadow. (You mean they got faster??) Steel parts were turned out into aluminum and anything extra on the bike was dumped to get the weight down.

The Vincent forever entered motorcycle lore when on September 13, 1948 Rolland “Rollie” Free hit a motorcycle speed record of 150.313 mph while on the back of a modified Vincent at the Bonneville Salt Flats. 

Free, and the Vincent’s owner John Edgar, were interested in nothing but speed, speed, and speed. Free's bike used a rear shock absorber, the first Mk II racing cams and horizontally mounted racing carburetors.

Perhaps even more interesting was Free’s unconventional style of riding to minimize drag. He removed the seat and lay flat on the back of the bike placing most of his weight over the rear wheel. While Free had used protective leathers he found they tore when he hit the higher speeds. 

He solved that problem by discarding all of his clothes and wore nothing but a bathing cap, a Speedo and some sneakers. Apparently showing some skin and lying on his stomach was the difference it made to get to the record of 150.313 mph.

And, fortunately for the world his attempt was captured in what is considered to be one of the most famous motorcycling photos ever made. You can see it here at the Motorcycle Museum site

So, clearly Vincents are bikes with some serious history, right? The V-Twin design, the speed records and the distinctive look add to the already collectible value that comes with a limited amount coming off the production line.

Caption: Here's a bigger view of the Vincent as it goes through its transformation at Vincent Works 

In tonight’s 10:00 p.m. episode Sam takes a Vincent and starts a transformation of the bike that will get people talking. At CaféRacer TV they note that former rocker Ian Kennedy says Vincent purists will “hemorrhage” over it.

We know there is nothing like a little controversy to make for riveting TV – and of course any build is fascinating to watch. One that takes a different path just makes it that much better!

You don't think we're signing off at 10:30 did you? Of course Café Racer continues at 10:30 p.m. E/P, and the rest of the evening will hold more of the good stuff you’ve come to expect. We’ll see Big Sid’s last stand on the Bonneville Flats, catch up on the fate of the Royal Enfield, and learn about an Egli-framed Norton.

That’s a lot of action folks but I know you’ll be paying attention. So when the Vincent transformation starts taking shape why don’t you stop by here and let us know what you think?

Café Racer airs every Thursday at 10:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. E/P.

Caption: A little look at the Egli built frames at Vincent Works


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