The ex-John Ulver
1952 Vincent 998cc Series C Black Shadow Racer
Engine Number F10AB/1B/8711
Engine Mating Number: B59B
Frame Number: RC10611B
Rear Frame Number: RC10747B
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 Stevenage 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!
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 petrol 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-inch-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 few Series-B Black Shadows had been made before the improved Series C’s introduction at that year’s Earl’s Court Motorcycle Show in west London.
The Black Shadow was indeed a legend in its own lifetime, and in the 60-plus years 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.
The example on offer here has been in the custodianship of famed racer, John Ulver, for many years. Verification from the Vincent Owners Club Registrar confirms that F10AB/1B/8711 & RC10611B are from a March 1952 series C Black Shadow. The crankcase mating number is correct. The RFM is from a June 1952 series C Black Shadow. The delicate Rear frame members were prone to breaking, so it is not unusual for one to be simply replaced as a more effective alternative to repair.
Seriously ‘modded’ for sprint racing and Bonneville Speed Trial purposes, the hugely successfully piloted machine stands as sculpture to commemorate the achievements, or it could be returned to the racetrack, or to a fully restored original road machine. Original parts are quite easy to come by (fenders, wheels, etc.) and we would be more than happy to assist with the accumulation of such parts for a restoration.
All the parts for racing, photographed, accompany the bike, as does a clean, clear title.