Back in the 50s, the Grey Flash never came close to the success that the factory expected for its new racer. For the first season, in 1950, two Grey Flash finished 12 and 51 at the Senior TT and 12 at the Ulster Grand Prix. In 1951, none of the bikes aligned at the TT and Netherland Grand Prix finished and it was no different in 1952. Of course Grey Flashes have been raced subsequently for decades privately by enthusiasts around the world, but at the Continental Circus level, this is it and for many Vincent enthusiasts this is quite a sad story as we believe that the bike had the genetic potential to do much better, like its twin brother did. Eventually, a too short career and a lack of success in Grand Prix left only 31 Grey Flash manufactured.

1952 was also a key year, as the Italian 4 cylinders started their domination for nearly two decades, so when Norton first pilot Geoff Duke moved to Gilera in 1953, fate was sealed for the Manx, Grey Flash and other great singles. However the Manx will continue to be the reference and the preferred bike of the private racers during the following years with huge tuning efforts to maintain its competitiveness. In 1955, 164 pilots signed up for at least one of the seven Grand Prix, and 92 of them were riding a Manx!

Today through the classic championship such IHRO and other US AHRMA, all these Manx, Matchless G50 and Velocette KTT continue to give their voices. What about the Grey Flash? It was rare yesterday, so … it is as rare today! It also becomes more and more incongruous to race it as its value increases and also because continuing the development to make it competitive potentially alters the value of the bike, not to mention the potential risk of destruction. David Dunfey has for example retired his Grey Flash a few years ago to restore it in stock condition and has develop a competitive racer based on a 500 Comet. The Comet has indeed a very similar architecture, is much more affordable and they are much more common with 3,893 manufactured.

With a DOHC, the Manx had a greater competitive advantage, but the “Comet Avengers” will also tell you that the Manx head has a lesser potential to get more power than the Vincent pushrod head! This is precisely where our Avengers try to win the battle that the factory never won. When Godet introduced his new Egli Comet Racer, he mentioned that this bike was a 30 years dream: make a Comet competitive enough to beat a Manx! Patrick already exceeded the Power and Torque of his benchmarked Manx and he recognizes that with more work he expects to get there. Ian Boyed’s Vinton 500 Comet has reached 58.1HP at the crank, which tells us that it can be done. So there is no secret; to beat a Manx, the Comet needed at least a decent big port cylinder head and also a bigger bore to keep up with the modern Molnar Manx either in 90 or 95 mm bore configurations.

If you both love the Vincent and racing, there is no question that you have to race a Vincent. Randy Hoffman which own and race Manx, KTT, Norvin and Comet mentioned that it also quite exciting to race an “underdog” among other prestigious racers. For the Vincent Avengers, this quest of the fastest Vincent will never end; make a Comet much more than a half Vincent that too many people believe it is, and give its nobility as the fastest single on wheel.

Philippe Guyony © 2014

Today most of the 31 genuine Grey Flash are retired in private collection, museum but are sometime used in demonstration meeting such this one which belongs to John Surtees. Surtees started as apprentice at the Vincent works before starting to race a Comet (not a Grey Flash) and subsequently becoming the multi world Champion that we know.
Today most of the 31 genuine Grey Flash are retired in private collection, museum but are sometime used in demonstration meeting such this one which belongs to John Surtees. Surtees started as apprentice at the Vincent works before starting to race a Comet (not a Grey Flash) and subsequently becoming the multi world Champion that we know.
In Geoff Preece book "A Photography Miscellany" published by The HRD Vincent Owner's Club, you realize that in the mid sixties there were an awful lot of Vincent racing all across the place, but not that much by ladies. This awesome picture was taken at Church Lawford in 1965 and "Margret Reiser, straight ahead, gets away smoothly. Margret had ridden the Comet all the way from Switzerland".
In Geoff Preece book “A Photography Miscellany” published by The HRD Vincent Owner’s Club, you realize that in the mid sixties there were an awful lot of Vincent racing all across the place, but not that much by ladies. This awesome picture was taken at Church Lawford in 1965 and “Margret Reiser, straight ahead, gets away smoothly. Margret had ridden the Comet all the way from Switzerland”.
Although this Comet looks very “Classic”, without the tank and the seat, you can see the external development such the rear damper, the twin spark B-TH electronic ignition, the oil filter likely hiding a modern oil pump in its design, the primary belt drive and the Terry Prince Vincent engine.
Although this Comet looks very “Classic”, without the tank and the seat, you can see the external development such the rear damper, the twin spark B-TH electronic ignition, the oil filter likely hiding a modern oil pump in its design, the primary belt drive. David mentionned that he has some records at Land Speed Racing events in the Vintage Class and thus he had the constraint to rebuild  the engine with original vintage parts.
David Dunfey retired his Grey Flash to restore it stock but develop a beautiful and competitive Comet racer. This bike was acquired by Randy Hofmann earlier in the winter and will be raced by him in 2014. Randy says that the bike is well developed and is pretty fast.
David Dunfey retired his Grey Flash to restore it stock but develop a beautiful and competitive Comet racer. This bike was acquired by Randy Hofmann earlier in the winter and will be raced by him in 2014. Randy says that the bike is well developed and is pretty fast.
Randy Hoffman on his Norvin
Randy Hoffman on his Norvin which has a TPV engine.
This Comet prepared for the track looks pretty much stock. This would not be sufficient to win a championship today or even pretend to compete with a Manx or a G50 but this is enough to provide you a lot of fun. © Patrick Douki
This Comet prepared for the track looks pretty much stock. This would not be sufficient to win a championship today or even pretend to compete with a Manx or a G50 but this is enough to provide you a lot of fun. © Patrick Douki
Ben Kingham has raced for years an Egli-Vincent Twin and this Comet. Today Ben is still racing it in the BHRC championship. This Comet currently features a 572cc (90x90) engine with twin spark B-TH electronic ignition, Bob Newby multi-plate dry clutch/belt drive and a modified Burman 4-speed gearbox.
Ben Kingham has raced for years an Egli-Vincent Twin and this Comet. Today Ben is still racing it in the BHRC championship. This Comet currently features a 572cc (90×90) engine with twin spark B-TH electronic ignition, Bob Newby multi-plate dry clutch/belt drive and a modified Burman 4-speed gearbox.
You cannot miss Bernie Stovin and his Comet nicknamed "Kermit" like the Muppet Show Frog.
You cannot miss Bernie Stovin and his Comet nicknamed “Kermit” like the Muppet Show Frog.
RRR as Red Red, Red or Red Rocket Racer, which is its name. This 1950 Comet has spent a time in a museum but has been run at Isle of Man and Bonneville. Al Mark built the bike and added his own personal interpretation, including the red paint job and bolted on the Manx Norton replica Peel Dolphin Mark II fiberglass fairing. It is truly a rare piece of British racing history and some original and rare Grey Flash parts.
RRR as Red Red, Red or Red Rocket Racer, which is its name. This 1950 Comet has spent a time in a museum but has been run at Isle of Man and Bonneville. Al Mark built the bike and added his own personal interpretation, including the red paint job and bolted on the Manx Norton replica Peel Dolphin Mark II fiberglass fairing. It is truly a rare piece of British racing history and some original and rare Grey Flash parts.
Mike Hawthorne, winner of the Belgian TT and Belgian championship 2013. Look at this video live and you will probably change your opinion about the 500 Comet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGrlItVGuf8
Mike Hawthorne, winner of the Belgian TT and Belgian championship 2013. Look at this video live and you will probably change your opinion about the 500 Comet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GGrlItVGuf8
True Grey Flash or genuine Comet? As none of the 31 Grey Flash were built with the same specification and they have received so much modifications across the racing years, only the serial number can tell.
True Grey Flash or genuine Comet? As none of the 31 Grey Flash were built with the same specification and they have received so much modifications across the racing years, in many cases only the serial number can tell. This particularly bike belongs to Ken Genecco and is ex-Marty Dickerson Grey Flash, so it is the real thing!
Marty Dickerson and Ken Genecco  with the ex-Marty's Grey Flash.
Marty Dickerson and Ken Genecco with the ex-Marty’s Grey Flash.
A 500 Vincent racer with two Manx in the paddock. This is an image we would like to see more often.
A 500 Vincent racer with two Manx in the paddock. This is an image we would like to see more often.
Carleton Palmer, who like David Dunfey raced a real Grey Flash and then a Comet. Carleton won three national championships with the Flash and two with the pre-war TT Replica that was originally owned by Eric Oliver. All five were with AHRMA.
Carleton Palmer, who like David Dunfey raced a real Grey Flash and then a Comet. Carleton won three national championships with the Flash and two with the pre-war TT Replica that was originally owned by Eric Oliver. All five were with AHRMA.
From left to right, Tom Kerr on a Comet B, David Dunfey  on the Comet C and Alex McLane on the Stu Rogers Norton on the starting line at Virginia International Raceway.
From left to right, Tom Kerr on a Comet B, David Dunfey on the Comet C and Alex McLane on the Stu Rogers Norton on the starting line at Virginia International Raceway.
58.1 HP, this is the proof that a Comet had a good DNA. This Vinton 500 own by Ian Boyed and raced by Tony Hynes was just 0.3s off the 500cc lap record at Phillip Island and was second in the 2008 Australian Historic Road Racing Championship, 500 Classic Class.
58.1 HP, this is the proof that a Comet had a good DNA. This Vinton 500 own by Ian Boyed and raced by Tony Hynes was just 0.3s off the 500cc lap record at Phillip Island and was second in the 2008 Australian Historic Road Racing Championship, 500 Classic Class.
Randy Hoffman with two of his racers: a ’49 Velocette KTT in a ’51 Manx frame and a ’48 Comet in a ’66 Slimline Featherbed frame.
Randy Hoffman with two of his racers: a ’49 Velocette KTT in a ’51 Manx frame and a ’48 Comet in a ’66 Slimline Featherbed frame.
The same bikes side by side: Norcette or Norvin, which one do you prefer?
The same bikes side by side: Norcette or Norvin, which one do you prefer?
Big Sid’s 600cc single, Overtime Tina. Tina’s best outing came at Bonneville in 2011 where it turned a one way speed of 110.9 mph. Unfortunately team was not able to do a back up run due to ignition failure. Still, Tina set two records at Maxton NC, and one at Wilmington Ohio (ECTA records). Tina was run on the street for two years as well. It is a lot of fun to ride. Left to right: Logan Robinson, Big Sid Biberman, Aaron Franck and Matthew Biberman http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/features/122_1002_vincent_motorcycle_project_overtime_tina/
Big Sid’s 600cc single, Overtime Tina. Tina’s best outing came at Bonneville in 2011 where it turned a one way speed of 110.9 mph. Unfortunately team was not able to do a back up run due to ignition failure. Still, Tina set two records at Maxton NC, and one at Wilmington Ohio (ECTA records). Tina was run on the street for two years as well. It is a lot of fun to ride. Left to right: Logan Robinson, Big Sid Biberman, Aaron Franck and Matthew Biberman
http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/features/122_1002_vincent_motorcycle_project_overtime_tina/
The heart of the Comet Racer: are you still seeing a half Vincent? © Gordon Calder
The heart of the Comet Racer: are you still seeing a half Vincent? © Gordon Calder

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Bibliography:

Büla, Maurice & Schertenleib, Jean-Claude (2001). Continental Circus 1949–2000. Chronosports S.A

http://www.thevincent.com/greyflashchart.html by David Dunfey

http://www.oldracer.co.uk/grey-flash.html by Ben Kingham

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9 thoughts

  1. Ben Kinghams Comet was first raced by me around 1965 (see first Vintage scene by BMS) its now back to 500cc as it gets more points for a position in BHRC races than a 600cc Tim Kingham (Bens Dad)

  2. http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/features/122_1002_vincent_motorcycle_project_overtime_tina/

    The above link details Big Sid’s 600cc single, Overtime Tina. Tina’s best outing came at Bonneville in 2011 where it turned a one way speed of 110.9 mph. Unfortunately we were not able to do a back up run due to ignition failure. Still, Tina set two records at Maxton NC, and one at Wilmington Ohio (ECTA records). Tina was run on the street for two years as well. It is a lot of fun to ride.

  3. Philippe,

    Very nice! I thought I should mention two of the riders that rode for Coburn Benson on the Grey Flash, 3407. Kurt Fisher from Massachusetts rode the bike extensively and qualified for the 100 mile race at Daytona in 1968 at 113.7 MPH. Kurt ran the race at the time when there was no “Bus Stop” or chicane to slow you down on the back straight. There were not many 1950 bikes that could complete a 100 mile race without a problem.

    John Clark also rode the bike and in the early 1970’s after he moved to England, he and his brother in law built a pair of very highly engineered Comets to race in England. He brought his bike back to the U.S. and sold it in the late 1990’s to Rob Ianucci. I believe that Dave Roper raced it at Mid Ohio at least once.

    Another international rider of note is Lindsay Kyle from NZ. Lindsay came over to Barber and Daytona in 2011 and won the Class C AHRMA races at both earning him an international championship title. The bike was developed by Ken McIntosh and Lindsay.

    Finally, Graham Buller and his son raced a Comet and a Twin for many years with quite a bit of success. I believe both bikes were built initially by John Renwick and developed by the Bullers for many years. I remember that the Comet racer was the first I saw that had a coil-over shock on the front, doing away with the stock spring boxes.

    David Dunfey

    1. Nice to read about the Grey Flash. I raced it for coburn in 1970.
      When will it run again? John clark would be great to see it.

      1. John,

        Nice to hear from you. I emailed you a few years ago and got no reply, so I was at a dead end. The Flash is fine. I raced it complete until 2000. Then I did what you did, built another bike, but I ran the Flash motor in it until the big end went in 2009 at Road America. So, the engine is now going back together with the parts that were in it when you raced it. The whole chassis is restored back to original. It was great that Ben kept all the original parts. I hope to get the engine in it soon.

        I do remember Ben telling me back in the 1970’s that you were the only rider he knew that could go around a corner you had never seen at very close to the maximum speed, so I know he had a lot of confidence in you abilities.

        David

      2. Thanks for update. I have some pics of bike I can forward you if you would like.
        Ben built a lighting that I rode and it lost a valve seat so we put the
        Flash together. It was such a treat to ride and I often think of how
        that experience effected my life and career .
        I was in uk and needed some spares for the Comet I was making and the
        Local machine wanted a bunch of money. I told the guy I couldn’t afford it.
        He sent me to nights school were you could use the machine shop
        For one pound a semester. I learned a trade and after I quit racing started my
        Oem machine shop. It has been going for over 30 years. I now
        ride mostly with my sons and friends. A group of us went to Ireland
        In 2011 and went to tt on rented triumphs. I raced Manx and southern
        100 in 1974. All the best jclark@citygearinc.com or citygear@aol.com
        One more thing where are you located? Wanted to ride vincent at
        Manx never made it.

  4. Hi the grey flash Mike Hawthorne raced is now for sale, lots of history, lap records double Belgian champion
    See above

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