The Big Car Database

Vincent Motorcycles

Vincent Engineers Ltd
Trading name
Vincent Engineers (Stevenage) Ltd.
Formerly called
Vincent HRD
Industry Manufacturing and engineering
Fate Bankrupt
Successor Harper Engineering (Stevenage)
Founded 1928
Founder Philip Vincent
Defunct 1959
Headquarters Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England
Key people
  • Phil Irving (Designer and development engineer)
  • Ted Davis (Chief tester)
  • George Brown (Tester)
Products Motorcycles, three-wheelers, pumps, amphibious vehicles, drones

Vincent Motorcycles was a British manufacturer of motorcycles from 1928 to 1955.

The business was established by Philip Vincent who bought an existing manufacturing name HRD, initially renaming it as Vincent HRD, producing his own motorcycles as previously with bought-in engines. From 1934, two new engines were developed in 500 cc and 1,000 cc capacities. Production grew from 1936, with the most-famous models being developed from the original designs after the War period in the late 1940s.

The 1948 Vincent Black Shadow was at the time the world's fastest production motorcycle. The name was changed to Vincent Engineers (Stevenage) Ltd. in 1952 after financial losses were experienced releasing capital to produce a Vincent-engined prototype Indian for the US market during 1949. In 1955 the company discontinued motorcycle production after experiencing further heavy financial losses.

The Vincent remains one of the most prestigious brands, well beyond the time it stopped manufacturing motorcycles in December 1955. Numerous builders of specials indeed maintained the V-twin very competitive with special frames such as those made by Derek Parkin in the early 1960s or Fritz Egli from 1967, not to mention the most famous bitsa of all, The NorVin, an hybrid of Norton Manx frame and Vincent engine. Even today re-creations of this mythic machine are possible since engines are remanufactured by craftsmen such as Patrick Godet or Ken Horner (Irving-Vincent) enabling the Vincent to keep up with more modern gears.


Vincent Motorcycles, "the makers of the world's fastest motorcycles", began with the purchase of HRD Motors Ltd less the factory premises, by Philip Vincent in May, 1928.

HRD was founded by the British Royal Flying Corps (RFC) pilot, Howard Raymond Davies, who was shot down and captured by the Germans in 1917. Legend has it that it was while a prisoner of war that he conceived the idea of building his own motorcycle, and contemplated how he might achieve that. It was not until 1924 that Davies entered into partnership with E J Massey, trading as HRD Motors. Various models were produced, generally powered by J.A.P. engines.

Unfortunately, although HRD motorcycles won races, the company ran at a loss. In January 1928 it went into voluntary liquidation. The company was initially bought by Ernest Humphries of OK-Supreme Motors for the factory space, and the HRD name, jigs, tools, patterns, and remaining components were subsequently offered for sale again.

Phil Vincent

Detail of Vincent cantilever suspension

Philip Vincent was advised to start production under an established name. He had built a motorcycle of his own in 1927 and in 1928 had registered a patent for a cantilever rear suspension of his own design. With the backing of his family wealth from cattle ranching in Argentina, Vincent acquired the trademark, goodwill and remaining components of HRD from Humphries for £450 in 1928.

HRD motorcycle badge.JPG

The company was promptly renamed Vincent HRD Co., Ltd and production moved to Stevenage. The new trademark had The Vincent in very small letters above the large "HRD". After World War 2 Britain had an export drive to repay its war debts, and the USA was the largest market for motorcycles, so from 1950 the HRD was dropped from the name to avoid any confusion with the "HD" of Harley Davidson, and the motorcycle became The Vincent.

In 1928 the first Vincent-HRD motorcycle used a JAP single-cylinder engine in a Vincent-designed cantilever frame. The earliest known example extant exists in Canberra, Australia. Some early bikes used Rudge-Python engines. But after a disastrous 1934 Isle of Man TT, with engine problems and all three entries failing to finish, Phil Vincent and Phil Irving decided to build their own engines.

Phil Vincent also experimented with three-wheeled vehicles, amphibious vehicles, and automobiles. In 1932 the first 3-wheeler, "The Vincent Bantam" appeared, powered by a 293cc Villiers engine. It was a 2.5 cwt delivery van with a car seat and a steering wheel. The Bantam cost £57-10-0 and the windscreen and hood option cost £5-10-0. Production ceased in 1936.

Phil Irving

Vincent Comet from 1950 at the Deutsches Zweirad- und NSU-Museum

In late 1931 Phil Irving first joined Vincent as an engineer alongside fellow-engineer E.J. Massey from the original HRD company after initially working on metallurgy for Velocette, leaving to return to his native Australia in 1949. His first engine design was an OHV 500 cc single-cylinder engine in 1934 called the "Meteor".

World War II

In 1937 Phil Irving went to work for Velocette but returned to Vincent Motorcycles in 1943. Vincent primarily made munitions, but Vincent engines were trialled in boats and portable pumps during the war, and the end of hostilities saw Vincent ready to return to motorcycle production. Vincent developed a highly efficient opposed-piston two-stroke engine for use in air-dropped lifeboats, although development outlasted the war and it never went into service.

Vincent already looked to the United States for sales, and in 1944 Eugene Aucott opened the first USA dealership in the city of Philadelphia. Others followed.


Meteor and Comet

Vincent HRD (4156704856).jpg

The standard motor was known as the Meteor and the sports motor was the Vincent Comet; it was distinguished from earlier Vincent models of that name by the “Series-A” prefix. There was a TT replica & the Comet Special (basically a TTR with lights, horn etc.), which used a bronze head. The Meteor motor produced 26 bhp (19 kW) @ 5300 rpm,

An unusual feature of the valve design for these motors was the double valve guides, and the attachment of the forked rocker arm to a shoulder between the guides, to eliminate side forces on the valve stem and ensure maximum valve life under racing conditions.

The Series-A Comet could do 90 mph (140 km/h), but Phil Vincent and his racing customers wanted more.

1936 Series A Rapide

Vincent Series 'A' Rapide

Whilst working in his office at Stevenage in 1936, Phil Irving noticed that two drawings of the Vincent HRD engine lay on top of each other in a "V" formation. He set them out on the drawing board as a v-twin engine in a frame Vincents had made for a record attempt by Eric Fernihough, who no longer required it. When Phil Vincent saw the drawing he was immediately enthusiastic, and a few weeks later the first Vincent thousand had been made, with Meteor upper engine parts mounted on new crankcases.

The Vincent V-twin motorcycle incorporated a number of new and innovative ideas, some of which were more successful than others.

The Vincent HRD Series A Rapide was introduced in October 1936. Its frame was of brazed lug construction, based on the Comet design but extended to accommodate the longer V twin engine. It continued the use of "cantilever" rear suspension, which was used on all Vincents produced from 1928 until 1955. Other innovations included a side stand.

Innovative telescopic forks were not adopted by Vincent, with both Phils believing girder forks were superior at the time and beyond. The Series-A had external oil lines – known as "the plumber's nightmare" – and a separate gearbox.

With 6.8:1 compression ratio, the 998 cc Series A Rapide Vincent produced 45 hp (34 kW), and was capable of 110 miles per hour (180 km/h). The high power meant that the Burman clutch and gearbox transmission did not cope well.


  • Engine: 998 cc, 47.5 degree v-twin ohv four-stroke
  • Bore and Stroke: 84 × 90 mm
  • Compression Ratio: 6.8:1
  • Power: 45 bhp (34 kW) @ 5500 rpm
  • Produced: 1936–1939
  • Wheelbase: 58.5 inch
  • Dry Weight: 430 lb (200 kg)
  • Carburettor: 1.0625 inch Amal
  • Gearbox: Burman 4 speed, triplex chain primary, wet multiplate clutch
  • Frame: Brazed lug duplex tubular cradle. Cantilever rear springing
  • Front forks: Brampton girder forks
  • Top Speed: 110 mph (180 km/h)

1946 Series B Rapide

The Series B Rapide designed during the war and released to the press before end of hostilities looked radically different from the A: now the oil pipes were internal, and the gearbox was part of the engine casting (Unit Construction). The angle between the cylinders was now 50° instead of the 47.5° of the Series A engine. This allowed the use of the engine as a stressed member of the frame, which consisted of an oil-tank spine with the engine hanging below, and the front and rear suspension attached at the ends. This was considered sensational at the time, and the arrangement was not seen again till the late seventies. The use of the engine-gearbox unit as a stressed member became more usual. Brakes were dual single-leading shoe (SLS), front and rear. The 55.5-inch (1,410 mm) wheelbase was three inches (76 mm) shorter than the Series A, and its dimensions were more like a 500 cc bike of the time.

A more modern hydraulic shock absorber and spring assembly later replaced the old twin springs and friction damper. The rear seat was supported by a sub-frame down to the rear frame pivot point, providing a semi-sprung seat with 6 inches (150 mm) of suspension. (Yamaha would rediscover this suspension system nearly 40 years later.)

The Series B had a Feridax Dunlopillo Dualseat, and a tool tray under the front.

The Series "B" incorporated an inline felt oil filter instead of the metal gauze of the Series "A".

Vincent used quickly detachable wheels, making wheel and tyre changes easier. The rear wheel was reversible, and different size rear sprockets could be fitted for quick final-drive ratio changes. The brake & gear shift were adjustable for reach to suit individual feet. The rear mud guard was hinged to facilitate the removal of the rear wheel.

From today's perspective, it seems incongruous that Vincent could see the need for, and design, a cantilever rear suspension, as well as incorporate so many other new ideas, yet use Brampton girder forks with friction dampers up front. The two Phils felt that the telescopic forks of the time were prone to lateral flex, so they persisted with girder forks, and did use hydraulic damping in the Series C "Girdraulic" forks.

Starting in 1948, Indian Motorcycles distributed Vincents in the United States along with other British motorcycles including AJS, Royal Enfield, Matchless and Norton. That same year an Indian Chief was sent to Stevenage to be fitted with a Vincent Rapide engine. The resulting hybrid Vindian did not go into production.

1948 Series C Vincents

Black Shadow and Black Lightning

Vincent Black Lightning from 1950 at the Zweirad-Museum Neckarsulm

The 1948 Series C Rapide differed from the Series B in having "Girdraulic" front forks – which were girder forks with hydraulic damping. By 1950, the Series C featured a 998cc, 50-degree V-twin that put out between 45 and 55 horsepower, depending on the state of tune (Rapide or Black Shadow).

The Black Shadow, capable of 125 mph (201 km/h), and easily recognised by the black coating on the engine and gearbox unit known as Pylumin, and large 150 mph (240 km/h) speedometer, was introduced. The engine produced 54 bhp (40 kW) @ 5700 rpm in Black Shadow trim.

The Black Lightning was a racing version of the Black Shadow; every necessary steel part on it that could be was remade in aluminium, and anything not essential was removed altogether. These changes helped reduce the weight from 458 lb (208 kg) to 380 lb (170 kg). Every bit the racer, it had a single racing seat and rear-set footrests.

The 500 cc Meteor and Comet singles were introduced, along with a 500 cc racer, the Vincent Grey Flash. The Grey Flash racer used Albion gears, for the greater choice of ratios available. The 500 cc bikes used a wet multiplate clutch, while the 998 cc V-twins used a dry, drum-type servo clutch.

Most Vincents were painted black. In 1949 a White Shadow (a machine to Black Shadow mechanical specification, plus additional modification) was available, but only 15 were sold, and the option was dropped in 1952. In 1950 16 Red Comets were shipped to the United States. There were also 31 of the 1948 Grey Flash built.

From 1950, HRD was dropped from the name, and the logo now simply read The Vincent.


  • Make: Vincent HRD
  • Model: 1948 Series C Black Shadow
  • Engine: 998 cc (84 × 90 mm bore and stroke) 50° OHV V Twin, 7.3:1 CR, polished conrods
  • Carburetor: 2 × 1.125-inch (28.6 mm) type 29 Amals
  • Ignition: Lucas magneto (1955 models: coil ignition)
  • Electrics: 6v 45w dynamo
  • Lubrication: Dry sump, 3 US quarts
  • Gearbox: Integral Vincent four speed, triplex chain primary, dry servo – drum clutch
  • Final Drive: 530 chain, 46/21 sprockets
  • Tyres: 3 × 20 in front, 3.50 × 19 in rear
  • Wheels: Front: 1.65 × 20 in. steel rim; Rear: 1.65 × 19 in. steel rim.
  • Frame: Spine frame with engine as stressed member
  • Rear Suspension: Cantilever rear springing
  • Front forks: Vincent Girdraulic forks, 3" travel
  • Brakes: Twin drums, 7 in diameter in front and rear, single leading shoe 7/8" wide.
  • Weight: 458 lb (208 kg) – 206 kg Wet – 500 lb (227 kg)
  • Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1415 mm)
  • Seat height: 32.5 in. (826 mm)
  • Performance: 125 mph / 201 km/h – 55 bhp (41 kW) at 5500 rpm
  • Fuel Capacity 3.5 gallons / 16 litres
  • Manufacturer: The Vincent-HRD Co. Ltd., Great North Road, Stevenage, Herts

1954 "Series D" Vincents

Vincent power land speed record holder Rollie Free featured in one of the most iconic photographs in motorcycling history.

The term "Series D" was not used by the factory, but was taken as a natural progression by the motorcycling world, and indicates a change of the rear subframe with a new seat support, which freed the passenger footpegs from the swingarm-connected-seat struts of the Series B and C models. With sales falling, Vincent tried modernizing his existing line by enclosing the motorcycles in fiberglass bodywork; fairings, engine shrouds, and an enclosed tail section; these were named the Victor (an upgraded Comet), the Black Knight (an upgraded Rapide) and the Black Prince (an upgraded Shadow). They were poorly received by the public, and suffered delays in production, waiting for the new bodywork. A short-lived unfaired version of the Black Prince was then produced, and a Series D Comet.

Rolland "Rollie" Free (November 11, 1900 – October 11, 1984) was a motorcycle racer best known for breaking the American motorcycle land speed record in 1948 on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah. The picture of Free, prone and wearing a bathing suit, has been described as the most famous picture in motorcycling and Russell Wright won another World Land Speed Record at Swannanoa with a Vincent HRD motorcycle in 1955 at 184.83 mph (297.46 km/h).

However, sales declined further after the post-war motorcycling boom owing to the availability of cheaper motor cars, so not many "Series D" models were made.

Fireflys, three wheelers, and NSU

The Firefly was a 45 cc "clip on" engined bicycle built from 1953 to 1955 under licence from Miller, who were suppliers of electrical components to Vincent. It was also known as the Vincent Power Cycle. The Vincent Owners Club was predictably surprised by this new, cheap, entry-level Vincent.

By 1954, Vincent Motorcycles was in an increasingly difficult situation. In the quest for solvency, Vincent looked for ways to improve their position. The trike idea was revived. In 1932 "The Vincent Bantam" was first introduced: Vincent's first 3-wheeler, powered by a 293 cc SV JAP or 250 cc Villiers engine, was a 2.5 cwt delivery van which used a car seat and steering wheel rather than the standard motorcycle saddle and handlebars. The Bantam was priced at £57-10-0 with a windscreen and hood available for an additional £5-10-0. It ceased production in 1936 – the first year of the Series A motorcycle.

NSU-Vincent Fox

In 1954/1955, due to falling sales of motorcycles, the prototype 3-wheeler powered by a Vincent Rapide 998 cc engine was produced. (Some years later,the vehicle was named "Polyphemus" by its owner, Roy Harper.) To keep development and production costs low, it used a parts-bin approach, including pieces from Vincent motorcycles, as well as wheels which came from a Morris Minor. The body was made from 16-gauge aluminium. With the standard Rapide engine, "Polyphemus" could reach 90 mph (140 km/h). Before it was sold, in the hands of Ted Davis, it achieved 117 mph (188 km/h) with a Black Lightning engine. The “Vincent 3-wheeler” was eventually sold to a member of the public for £500 – a high price for any vehicle at the time (the BMC Mini launched four years later for £497), especially for a vehicle with no reverse gear, self-starter or hood.

Unfortunately Vincent motorcycles were hand-built and expensive – only a total of 11,000 machines were sold post–World War Two. A sales slump in 1954 forced the company to import and sell NSU mopeds. One hundred sixty two-stroke Foxes NSU-Vincent 123 cc were built. There were also 40 98cc OHV four-stroke NSU-Vincents, and Vincent also sold the "NSU Quickly" moped; too well it appears (selling about 20,000 in one year – a footnote to how the market had changed again), as NSU took control of its own sales after a year.

The Last Vincent Motorcycle

At a Vincent Owners' Club dinner in the summer of 1955, Phil Vincent announced that the company could no longer continue in the face of heavy losses and that production of motorcycles would cease almost immediately.

In 1955, one week before Christmas, the last Vincent came off the production line and was promptly labelled "The Last".

Post motorcycle manufacturing

Vincent Amanda watercraft at the London Motorcycle Museum

The factory then turned to general engineering, the manufacture of industrial engines, and there was the Amanda water scooter. A Vincent engineer lost his life testing it, drowning at sea.

Vincent tried for a government contract supplying motors for the ML Aviation U120D target aircraft. The motor had to be capable of passing prolonged full power operation tests. This was called the Picador project. The Vincent motor was upgraded with a better crankshaft, Scintilla magneto, double speed oil pump and fuel injection. They did not get a contract. (Russel Wright's record breaking bike was fitted with a Picador crank and oil pump, by Vincent, while in England for Earls Court, shortly after the 1955 record attempt.)

The company went into receivership in 1959. The name and motorcycle component manufacturing rights were taken over by a local business, Harper Engines Ltd., of Stevenage, Herts., and has since been bought and sold by other engineering firms. In the early 1970s the Vincent Owners Club created via public subscription the VOC Spares Company Ltd to ensure continued availability of spares. The company is independent of the club who retain a majority share holding.[better source needed]

Subsequent developments


Norvin in traditional 1960s style showing Shadow engine finish in a Manx Norton frame, forks, swinging arm and wheels with rear hub reversed to suit the Vincent timing–side final drive

Vincent engines have been fitted to other frames. The most common was the Norvin, using a Norton Featherbed frame. Other names were used, including Vincent–Norton, Vinton and Vin–Nor.

Somerton Viscount 998 cc Norvin with Manx Norton frame, swinging arm and wheels with Norton roadster 'Roadholder' front forks

Whereas most were one-off builds, an early attempt at production was announced by Staffordshire engineer Tom Somerton in late 1959, with an intended low-volume run from 1960. It's not known how many were completed.

New Norvins were announced by Hailwood Motorcycle Restorations in 2008, a brand associated with David Hailwood (Mike Hailwood's son) and bike restorer John Mossey. The business soon was dissolved.

The Norvin is now available from John Mossey under a new brand, JMC Classics, together with the Egli-framed Vincent.

Fritz Egli

Egli Vincent
Main article: Fritz Egli

Fritz Egli, a specialist frame manufacturer based in Switzerland, produced an Egli-Vincent, and around 100[citation needed] were produced between 1967 and 1972.[clarification needed] Egli-Vincents were subsequently built under licence in France by Patrick Godet. JMC Classics also produce new Egli framed Vincents in UK.

Vincent RTV Motorcycles

Vincent RTV1200

In 1996, a new motorcycle company was formed by three individuals, Rodney Brown (a metallurgical engineer), Terry Prince (a Vincent enthusiast and specialist) and Ron Slender. Brown provided the financial start and along with Prince were the founding directors, with Slender specialising with business development post-production. The company was named RTV Motorcycles. Its ambition was to produce a modern-day classic Vincent motorcycle that could be marketed, in reasonable volumes, worldwide. It used a redesigned and modernised version of the Vincent engine, engineered by Prince, with an increased capacity and in an Egli-style frame. The motorcycles were to be built individually by hand.

The range was to include both a touring and sports model in capacities of 1,000 cc (RTV1000) and 1,200 cc (RTV1200). Complete new engines would also be made available for separate purchase. Production was initially to begin for the larger capacity machine designated the RTV1200. These were to be fitted, as standard, with state of the art; Bosch electric start, Brembo brakes, adjustable Paioli upside down forks, Ohlins rear monoshock and V-2 multiplate clutch. The first factory prototype RTV was built in 1998, other RTV prototypes were in various stages before the company went into voluntary liquidation towards the end of that year.

Vincent Motors

Vincent Motors USA founder and president, Bernard Li, acquired the Vincent trademark in 1994 and formally launched Vincent Motors USA in 1998, spending about $2 million building prototypes that resemble the original Vincent but utilised modern components like the Honda RC51 V-twin engine. Vincent Motors was based in San Diego.

Beau 'Beato' Beaton on the Irving Vincent at Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2012

A resurrection of the Vincent name is now unlikely as the RC51 engine is out of production, and Li was killed in a motorcycle accident in Arizona in 2008.

Irving Vincent

The Irving Vincent is produced in small numbers by HRD Engineering (Horner Race Development - Ken and Barry Horner) in Hallam, Victoria, Australia. It is a re-engineered version based on the original Phil Irving drawings, with engine capacities of 1000 cc, 1300 cc or 1600 cc.

The marque gained worldwide recognition by winning the Daytona (Florida, US) ‘Battle of the Twins’ in its first attempt in 2008, ridden by Craig McMartin.

1950 Vincent Black Shadow

This is a list of Vincent Motorcycles.

Year Engine Model Notes
1932 250cc Bantam trike delivery van
1935 500cc Meteor First in-house Vincent engine
1934 500cc Comet  
1935 500cc Comet Special TT replica
1936 1000cc Series-A Rapide  
1946 1000cc Series-B Rapide  
1948 500cc Series-B Meteor  
1948 500cc Series-C Comet  
1948 500cc Series-C Grey Flash  
1948 1000cc Rapide  
1948 1000cc Series-C Black Shadow  
1948 1000cc Series-C Black Lightning  
1949 1000cc Series-C White Shadow  
1950 500cc Series-C Red Comet  
1953 45cc Firefly Power Cycle
1954 1000cc Series-D Black Knight faired Rapide
1954 1000cc Series-D Black Prince faired Shadow
1954 50cc NSU Quickly  
1955 1000cc Three Wheeler  
1955 123cc NSU Fox