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Ehret Vincent Series C Black Lightning | Columns | Gassit Garage

Famous in the 1940s and ’50s, today the Black Lightning is perhaps the most coveted production bike ever built. Sir Al takes one for a spin…

More than six decades ago, the Vincent Black Shadow delivered the most performance from a street-legal vehicle that money could buy – on two wheels or four. Officially timed at 122mph (196km/h), it outsped the Jaguar XK120 two-seater, then the world’s fastest production car, making the Shadow the first superbike.

The ultimate Vincent was the Series C Black Lightning, a production version of Rollie Free’s 1948 land speed record bike. Its genesis famously began with London dealer and sidecar racer Jack Surtees (father of future world champion John Surtees), who in 1947 ordered a Vincent Rapide with special tuning parts. This engine was built alongside one used by Vincent tester George Brown in the bike known as Gunga Din – the test bed for the Black Shadow and Black Lightning.

First shown at the Earls Court show in 1948, the production Black Lightning caused a sensation. It’s generally accepted that only 33 complete customer versions – all Series C except for one Series D model – were built before production ended in 1952.

One of the first to leave the factory was sent to Sydney in March 1949 and purchased by sidecar racer Les Warton. From 1949-1952, six complete Black Lightnings went to Australia – the company’s second-largest export market after the US – plus two private imports.

Sydney rider Tony McAlpine had great success on a Black Shadow, becoming virtually unbeatable in Unlimited class events and winning 12 major races from 13 starts.

McAlpine decided to try his hand in Europe in 1951 on an AJS 7R, finishing 13th in the Isle of Man Junior TT. McAlpine also worked at the Vincent factory at Stevenage and assembled a Black Lightning with engine number F10AB/1C/7305 and frame number RC9205. This was completed on 5 June 1951 and in testing hit 130mph (209km/h) in third gear.

McAlpine’s final race in Britain before sailing for home was at the very fast Boreham Aerodrome circuit, where Vincent had invited McAlpine to ride Gunga Din, which he did with great verve, sliding speedway-style through the turns to demolish the field.

Read the full story in the current issue of AMCN (Vol 67 No13) on sale now