Vincent HRD Motorcycles

Text: Rick Schunk • Photography: Rick Schunk

"The World's Fastest Standard Motorcycle" - for over 10 years, this simple phrase was the cornerstone of Vincent HRD's advertising campaign.

In the immediate post-World War II years, most motorcycles were considered extremely fast if they could hit 90 mph. This was true of the two surviving American brands, Harley and Indian, as well as machines from England and the Continent. "Breaking the ton," one hundred miles per hour, was not in the cards for most street motorcycles.

In contrast, the two 1000cc V-twins from Vincent, the Rapide and the Black Shadow, would run 110 and 125 mph respectively. Compared to today's machines, this may not seem very impressive, but consider this. The Black Shadow, at 125 mph, was more than 25 percent faster than any other stock machine on the road at the time. In modern comparisons that would be like having a Suzuki Hayabusa running 232 mph and Kawasaki's top dog, the ZX-14, topping out at only 186 mph.

Company president Philip Vincent's goal was not only to build the world's fastest production machine, but one with long legs capable of eating up the miles. And with the assistance of his brilliant Australian-born designer, Phil Irving, he did just that.

Philip Vincent purchased the HRD firm in 1927 from Howard R. Davies, hence the HRD moniker. Before and after the purchase, HRD built machines with engines sourced from Rudge, Villers, and J.A.P. However, these engines weren't always up to Philip Vincent's demanding specifications, and eventually the company decided to design and build their own 500cc single cylinder engine. Thus, the first complete HRD motorcycle, designed by the two "Phils," hit the streets in the fall of 1934.

As successful as this new engine was, Vincent and Irving realized they needed something with a bit more steam. How their historic V-twin engine came to be is a story that has circulated among the Vincent faithful ever since.

One warm summer day in 1936, chief engineer Phil Irving had several engine blueprints from their newly designed single scattered about his drawing board. His task that day was to make only a few minor design changes. But Irving noticed how two engine drawings, laying over one another, formed a V. The inspiration for Vincent's world-beating machine was born.

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For the complete article of the riding impression(s) and technical specifications, please purchase the September/October 2009 back issue.