“The World’s Fastest Standard Motorcycles, this is a fact, not a slogan” was claiming a Vincent advertising in 1952. By that time, nobody would have disputed this fact, but in the world of the speed records, it was also a bold statement as no record last forever…
Pre WWII, the speed record activity was pretty intense thanks to BMW that moved the needle four times up to 168.92 mph by 1936, before Brough Superior and Gilera achieved 169.68 and 170.27 mph respectively. Finally, Hernst Henne on his BMW will have the final say at 173.68 mph in 1937 before WWII broke out. But it is not before September 3 of the same year that Bonneville, Utah became famous, when Malcolm Campbell exploded the wall of the 300 mph at 301.129 mph with the famous Blue Bird. So when WWII ended, what better place would be than Bonneville to prove that The Vincent were the World’s Fastest Standard Motorcycle?
The first attempt to open the ball was this morning of September 13, 1948, when Rollie Free (1) broke the American motorcycle one-mile speed record on his HRD Black Shadow. For his first attempt, Free crushed Joe Petrali’s 11 years old record (136.183 mph) with 148.6 mph. For his final run, Free even broke the 150 mph wall with 150.313 mph. That would certainly have been sufficient to make him the hero of the day, but the fact that he stripped down to tight-fitting swimming shorts and laid flat on the Vincent wide open to him the doors of the fame. In 1950, Free even moved his own record, averaging 156.58 mph on his Vincent. Rollie Free’s Legend was born, and so was the mythic Black Lightning.
When Rollie Free set up his records, another guy was just about to carry on the challenge, Marty Dickerson (2). Dickerson first run on the Salt Flats was in 1948 with his stock Rapide, establishing 122 mph and even 123 mph with polished ports. In 1950, Dickerson was part of Free’s team, and when he came back to compete at Bonneville, he push his limits further and set his own class C record in 1951 at 129 mph and 147.85 mph two years later, record that stood for 20 years.
A quest for speed records never ends and in 1955, Russel Wright (3) achieved 185.15 mph on his Black Lightning Supercharged in Swannanoa New Zealand. In 1956, Wright also tried to improve his own record on Salt Flats but was unsuccessful while in the same time and within a few months, Allen on Triumph and Herz on NSU moved the bar to 193.73 and 211.4 mph before Allen took it back at 214.5 mph.
When the production of the Vincent ended in 1955, the business motivation was gone, and future speed records will have to be carried entirely by Vincent enthusiasts. A number of them including Marty Dickerson perpetuate speed trials at Salt Flats. In 1987, John Hanson failed to qualify his 205 mph run at 200 yards from the line due to a holed piston. It is not before 1990 that Max Lambky undertook the challenge to build the first Vincent streamliner when Dave Campo took the 1978 record away from his old friend Don Vesco. Campo clocked 322.150 mph on his Harley Davidson.
In 20 years Lambky built nine “Black Lightning” streamliners (4) to perpetuate the Vincent’s quest to be the “World Fastest Motorcycle”. However, despite his enthusiasm, motivation and the support of over 600 donors (7), the team was unfortunate in its multiple attempts to nail this moving target. The best attempt was in 2007 when Hartmut exceeded 250 mph before having to give up due to a deficient clutch (8). During this decade of trials, the bar continued to increase from 318.598 mph to 376.363 mph in 2010 with Rocky Robinson. Nowadays, competing against modern horses makes this challenge nearly impossible to win.
More recently, two pilots have been also chasing Rollie Free’s ghost across Salt Flats under a different angle. Steve Hamel from 2005 with his Irving-Vincent and Kurt Carlson since 2007 with one of the 30 original Black Lightning. Two different approaches but the same spirit to chase him on a 998 cc displacement while it would be so easy to fit a 1600 cc. For his first attempt in 2005, Hamel got the award for the fastest European V-Twin with 151 mph. The following year, on Oct 14, 2006, Hamel signed an impressive 155 mph which was just 1.6 mph away from 1950 Free’s record.
In 2007 Steve Hamel came back and shared his bike with Marty Dickerson (respectively #711 and #712). Their best run, 148.511 and 151.685 mph respectively for Steve and Marty, were lower than the previous year, while Kurt Carlson (6) first attempt was 116 mph, with the self-constraint of using only the parts and technology available in the fifties.
The following years, Kurt Carlson continued to improve the performance of his Black Lightning, and the team set a vintage fuel record at over 132 mph in 2010 and 145.804 mph in 2011 on a bike that looks incredibly standard. In the meantime, Steve Hamel broke his own record and 1950 Free’s legendary record in 2008 with a stunning 157.3 mph (5).
Thanks to these Vincent enthusiasts, the legendary Bonneville hall of fame is still alive, and so is the quest to be “The world Fastest Standard Motorcycle.” The next goals are now set to the magic 150 mph mark for Kurt and 180 mph for Steve.
Philippe Guyony © 2013
More on Max Lambky | by courtesy of WhereTheHellisMurph.com
Marty Dickerson’s bike at Bonhams: https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/16122/lot/387/