Vincent Black Shadow: Fantasy Ride


The Vincent Black Shadow is famous for a lot of reasons. Released in the late-40s, into an era of post-war austerity, it was groundbreaking, intimidating and fast enough to turn a pilot’s eyelids inside out. It made such an impression that Hunter S Thompson still thought it was the last word in hellacious two-wheelers in 1970, 22 years after it was introduced.

“Where can we get hold of a Vincent Black Shadow?” HST wondered in his legendary book ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. “The new model is something like two thousand cubic inches, developing two hundred brake-horsepower at four thousand revolutions per minute on a magnesium frame with two styrofoam seats and a total curb weight of exactly two hundred pounds.

“The f***er’s not much for turning, but it’s pure hell on the straightaway. It’ll outrun the F-111 until takeoff.”

Of course, he got this all wrong. Vincent HRD, the Stevenage-based company that created the Black Shadow, went out of business in 1955. It was just too expensive for the market.  But Thompson was channeling the vibe.

The Shadow is as black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat, highlighted by accents of chrome and bare alloy and a splash of gold coachlining on the curved fuel tank.

It was, still is, a gran turismo rather than a racer, but it’s underseat shock arrangement was still inspiring Yamaha GP bikes in the 1980s.

It helps to put the Black Shadow in context. This is a bike with a claimed top speed of 125mph that was built a decade before Britain’s first motorway. And they were built to last. Even now Black Shadows are bought to be ridden. The 998cc V-twin will tramp along the fast lane at 100mph on ribbed Dunlop Speedmaster tyres more suited to a wheelbarrow. Not bad for a 60-year-old bike.

And Rollie Free rode a Black Lightning, the stripped and tuned version of the Shadow, to 157mph at Bonneville while wearing just trunks and plimsolls.

I hate to think of motorcycles as investments, but a Black Shadow, that you can pick up for between £25-40,000, will outstrip just about anything you care to mention. And you can’t race an F-111 on a share certificate.