Unlike Indian, which changed ownership several time since the production ended in 1953, The Vincent H.R.D. Ltd did not go through the same tumultuous ownership, as the continuity of the parts supply was in place after the works closed in 1955, further supported by the V.O.C. from the 70s(1). So to make the story short, Vincent never closed its doors, it just stopped the production of motorcycles. However the story is not that simple, as in the meantime “The Vincent” brand, property of the V.O.C. seems to have been lost in the USA.
In 1994, Bernard Li, a Californian entrepreneur and motorcycle enthusiast, acquired “The Vincent” trademarks. After selling off his own business to Valvoline, Li started to reinvest for several years in his new venture, the Vincent Motors USA, which was formally established in 1998.
Li explained that his vision was to “create a modern motorcycle in line with the Stevenage production and consistent with its tradition of legendary performance”, targeting the mid-fifty riders. A first prototype was done in 2001 in collaboration with Terry Prince on the original Vincent 50-Degrees V-Twin stroked to 1200cc, but very quickly it became clear that it would be impossible to meet the 21st century riders and manufacturing quality standards, not to mention the future emission tiers that the 1948 Vincent based would not pass without heavy development and investment.
One of the tour de force succeeded by Li was to reach an agreement with Honda Motor Co. to supply Vincent with the RC51 engine, a fuel-injected liquid cooled V-Twin, DOHC and 4-Valve delivering 130 hp. It was also the biggest controversy as many enthusiasts saw in this exercise “a simple rebadged Honda” approach, no matter that “The Vincent” was embedded in the casting. David Wright relates in his latest book(2), the fact that among criticisms, there was a defendant voice in Glenn Shriver, which said that back in 1928, “there is no doubt that loyal H.R.D. enthusiasts of the day bristled and howled with righteous indignation…” as the new owner Philip C. Vincent went about designing and building his own motorcycle with no regard to the earlier H.R.D. design, with new J.A.P. engines and “The Vincent” added on the top of it. We have today definitely a very different opinion about what did Philip Vincent!
Four prototypes were designed, engineered and assembled by Roush Industries in Detroit and presented in 2002: The “Black Shadow” as the standard model, the “Black Lightning S” as the sport model, the “Black Lightning ST” as the touring model and the “Black Eagle”, which is the cruiser version. All these bikes had the same architecture and common engine. Equipment and accessories were selected from tiers one suppliers such inverted forks, Brembo forged calipers, forged billet tubeless wheels, carbon fiber bodywork and craftsmanship style work.
The production was to be started in 2004, but due to “legal hassles” (n.d.l.r. was it about international trademark?) the project was yet to move to production phase in May 2008, when Bernard Li tragically died in a bike crash while touring with friends in Arizona. Li was 62, and his dream to revive the legendary Vincent was gone with him. The four prototypes were put for auction by Bonhams at the Quail in 2010 and were acquired as a lot by Allen Smith for $105,000 including premium.
It requires serious investment to resurrect brands, Indian failed several time until Polaris took the business over. Triumph came back at the right time and in its last attempt, Norton was again very closed to fail. What future will be made for Brough Superior?. Today the Vincent brand remains in the hands of the V.O.C., while the US trademark is own since 20111 by the Vincent Motors LLC, privately own by Dave Green. It is interesting to know that Chad McQueen is among the strategic advisors of the company. Will a new bolted entrepreneur give a try to resurrect Vincent in the next future?
Philippe Guyony © 2013
To make your own opinion, listen to Li himself: www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=vb.439034106186774&type=2
Bernard Li himself explains his vision http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=539314699492047&set=vb.439034106186774&type=3&theater
(1) The VOC did not take over the production of spares when the ‘works’ closed. It was taken over by a subsiduary of Cope Allman International and enventually was bought by Matt Holder’s company, The VOC Spares Company is an entirely separate company set up by the VOC in the 1970s to ‘protect the supply of spares’ (Jane Hammond).
(2) Vincent Motorcycles since 1955, the continuing story by David Wright, VOC (page 179).
More about the new ownership: