1939 Vincent Rapide
Year of manufacture1939
1939 Vincent-HRD 998cc Rapide Series-A Project
Registration no. GNU 148
Frame no. DV1699
Engine no. V1060
Rear frame no. DV1699
One of circa 78 made
All matching numbers
Present ownership since 1962
Offered for restoration
Rare TT specification forks & brakes
Of all the many makes and models of motorcycle produced during the 1930s, there are two outstanding v-twin-engined thoroughbreds that feature at the top of every knowledgeable enthusiast's 'fantasy barn find' league table: the Brough Superior SS100 and Vincent-HRD Series-A Rapide. These days the chances of finding an example of either hidden behind a pile of straw bales are slim indeed, all the more so in the case of the ultra-rare Series-A Rapide, a mere 78 of which were produced between late 1936 and the summer of 1939. (Expert opinion differs on this point, but most authorities favour a total in the high 70s). By way of comparison, production of the rival SS100 ran into the hundreds.
The Vincent-HRD marque originated in 1928 when Philip C Vincent acquired the name, jigs, tools and patterns of the recently liquidated HRD Company. ('HRD' stood for Howard Raymond Davies, the Isle of Man TT winner who had founded the firm in 1924). Vincent moved production from Wolverhampton to Stevenage, pioneering his own design of sprung frame on an entirely new range of machines. Like Davies, Vincent relied on proprietary engines, but increasing dissatisfaction with suppliers led to the creation of Vincent's own engine in 1934. A 500cc high-camshaft overhead-valve single, this all-new power unit was designed jointly by PCV and his Chief Engineer Phil Irving who, so legend has it, came up with the idea of a 1,000cc v-twin after seeing two drawings of the single superimposed on one another. By producing a v-twin in this fashion, many of the existing single-cylinder components could be utilised, thus reducing costs, an important factor for the fledgling concern.
Despite its plethora of external oil pipes - an arrangement that gave rise to the famous 'Plumber's Nightmare' sobriquet - the Series-A v-twin is undeniably handsome, its high-set camshafts and relatively short cylinders endowing this magnificent motorcycle with a muscular, broad-shouldered look. On test, the prototype engine proved to be as powerful as its looks suggested, delivering a maximum of 45bhp at 5,500rpm on a relatively low 6.8:1 compression ratio. It was installed in a new version of Vincent's sprung frame equipped with Burman four-speed gearbox, girder front fork and powerful twin front brakes, the complete machine tipping the scales at an admirable 430lbs. On the road the Series-A Rapide fulfilled all of its maker's expectations, proving capable of reaching 110mph, comfortably faster than the rival JAP-powered SS100.
The prototype Series-A Rapide was proudly displayed on Vincent's stand at the 1936 Motor Cycle Show at Olympia, but only a handful were sold in 1937, the first full year of production, as the motorcycling public remained sceptical of the upstart firm's performance claims. This scepticism was soon dispelled by the exploits of the works Series-A racers piloted by Manliffe Barrington and 'Ginger' Wood, the latter shattering the Donington Park lap record in 1938 and returning a staggering standing quarter-mile time of 11.75 seconds at the Gatwick sprint.
The outbreak of WW2 in 1939 brought production of all Series-A models to a halt, and when Vincent resumed production in 1946, it was with the all-new Series-B. By July '39 when the last Series-A twin was built, the model had been in production for a little over 30 months, and the fact that so few were made has in no small part contributed to this legendary model's mythic status. Around 50 Series-A Vincent v-twins survive worldwide today, and for one to be offered for sale is an event of exceptional importance.
First registered on 25th March 1939, this ultra-rare Vincent Series-A twin is one of the last of its kind produced before production ceased. The accompanying old-style continuation logbook (issued 1944) lists four owners, the last of whom (the current vendor) acquired the Vincent in 1962. 'GNU 148' was last taxed for the road to September of that year and comes with a contemporary MoT certificate.
Copies of factory records held by the Vincent Owners' Club confirm that this machine retains matching registration, frame (upper/lower), engine, gearbox, and oil pump numbers. Like the majority of Series-A models, it has no crankcase mating numbers. The machine was despatched from the factory on 22nd March 1939 bound for the Chesterfield depot that the company ran for a short time, and was then registered in Derbyshire. Noteworthy features include TT-specification forks and brakes. Presented in 'barn find' condition, ripe for restoration, this highly original Series-A Rapide is offered with aforementioned documentation, an old-style V5, and a copy of the Works Order Form showing that it was tested by 'S Wood'. The latter was none other than Stan 'Ginger' Wood, who is well known to Vincent enthusiasts from the famous photograph of him aviating the Series-A racer at Donington Park in pre-war days.