How would you feel if you were to open the crate, knowing it contains a piece of the Vincent anthology? “A land speed record Black Lightning”…. Excited and a little bit thrilled? It is exactly how look Patrick Godet’s mechanics when they discover Jack Ehret’s Lightning in its wood case, flying directly from Australia for restoration. Imported in Australia by Tony McAlpine in 1952, the Lightning was quasi immediately sold to another pilot before being acquired by Jack Ehret, who owned it from 1952 to 1999. After 47 years of ownership, you can affirm, it was Jack Ehret’s bike! but what is even more outstanding is its original condition, and its patina accumulated over 50 years and 5,000 miles of pure racing until its last race in 1993.
But what made this Black Lightning so special is the 1953 Australian land speed record at 141.509 mph, beating the previous record held by Les Wharton on a similar Black Lightning. The event took place on January 19, 1953 at Gunnedah N.S.W where a 2 ¼ mile straight flat bitumen surface had been closed to the traffic. Three days of trials will be necessary to achieve the expected performance, with the support of the local Constable who kept the road closed for an extra day as the first attempts were not successful: “only” 139mph, this was good but not good enough. Ehret told his story to Frank Trento (1) who published it subsequently. Here is an extract telling how Jack lived his final run that Monday he broke the record. The final run started just after a bad luck run, where the finish cord had fouled the peg, with the consequence of nullification of the fastest run he had made at perfection: 149.6 mph! But with his determination and after a last check up on the bike, Jack was back on the saddle for the last attempt:
“Back round the corner, and once again peeling it off in many revolutions, but he slowed up and pulled into the pits. Great consternation, and look at the gear stick, showed that it had sheared off a pin inside, and the net result was no selection. Big panic by this time, with allocated time running away and apparently nothing could be done to effect repairs. But ingenuity is the call sign of the racing fraternity, and a tube spanner was called into service from the tool box. Off came the gear indicator, on went the spanner, much belting tight, plenty of insulation tape, much thought of how to change gear, and back down the road for a run from the Carrol end. All ears were tuned for the note, and finally we heard him take off, noticing the slower change of gear and attendant loss of revs. Much sinking of feelings, but the motor was going well and when he pulled into the pit end the clock said over 142 MPH. With light spirits he pushed off for another run down over the tape, and even with the wind playing havoc with his leg he was able to reach forwards and kick the selector forward with his toe. Had lots of trouble getting the leg back on the rest but was able to put up the mean time of 141.509 MPH for both runs.”
Jack was now officially the fastest man in Australia….
Philippe Guyony © 2014
Sources and complete story
why are they going to restore this bike, I sincerely hope its not a full restoration? Its only original once and is far more distinctive and valuable as it is now.
Interesting reading for those who disagree http://barnfinds.com/pristine-or-patina/
I bet the painter has tears in his eyes as he sands off that sign written record on the side of the tank.
Fortunately, the owner is a genuine enthusiast and also a wise man… so Godet is going to work only to make the bike rideable again and perform as it should, and you can trust Patrick Godet on that point. The patina will remain. I think the exercise is like restoring a masterpiece painting. Ensure it last without altering authenticity.
is this the same jack ehret who lived in lewisham near sydney? i met him in the philippines in 1985. he sent me a picture of his manx norton. he was also owner of big john’s iron horse bar in angeles city
Hi, I have been lucky enough to stand next to this bike, to smell it and feel its presence and history. i have held the throttle and wondered what it would have been like for Jack. I have also smelt these bikes since I was a kid, the smell of methanol and caster oil stays with you for life. please keep this bike as it is with all the old patina, rust, and dents. this is the way the bike lived, and how it did race. there are any number of restored concourse bikes around . and anyone can restore any bike you want. but you can never ever put this history , and this patina, on any bike, and once restored there is no going back because it is not real.. this makes this an absolute one off treasure. so it needs to live as is .. to tell its real story.
Thank you for your great comment, the bike needed some work to be ride able and perform as it should, this is the essential of the work done on the bike. Philippe
I can go one better than that ,because I have ridden it when it was on loan to Bill Morris from the then owner Harold Braun of Bondi,just prior to Jack Ehret acquiring it .
Sorry Barry, the Lightning never belonged to Harold Braun. It was imported to Aus. by Tony McAlpine who sold it to Jack Forrest. Ehret bought it from Forrest. The bike he bought from Harold Braun was always referred to by Jack as the “Bricklayer’s Rapide”. Harold was a bricklayer. His bike was lent to Jack to ride and he was so impressed he bought it. It had been Lightningised but was not a Lightning. Harold, did I believe, own a Lightning at some time.
Yes John C Stumpf Boomerang Jack Ehret’s Iron Horse Saloon, Angeles City PI. was indeed owned by the same Jack Ehret.
Here for anyone interested is an except from his eulogy.
Ehret John Victor (Jack)
X Aust. Land speed Record Holder. Small Bore Rifle Champion Garden Island 1940’s Lately of Toothill St. Lewisham & Angles City P.I. Formerly of Randwick & of Rainbow Victoria. Member of Army and Navy, Long distance motor transport operator, motorcycle retailer, speedway and tar motorcycle racer. Age 78 born Rainbow Victoria Son of John Ernest Ehret dcd.
Jack Ehret was born at Rainbow Victoria, the only son of John Ernest Ehret and Margaret May Stewart. His father, was of German descent and his mother of Scots ancestry, which probably accounted for his outspokeness, determination and tenacity.
The family drove off the property during the depression when Jack was about 12 and came to Sydney where they lived for a time at Cabramatta. Jack secured an aprentiship with the navy shortly before the outbreak of WW2 and at the outbreak of hostilities was forbidden to join the armed forces as all apprentices were “manpowered”.
In typical Ehret fashion he “Shot Through” to Melbourne and joined the Army, he was quickly discovered and sent back to Garden Island for the duration. Whilst at Garden Island he became the small bore rifle champion of the Island for 5 or 6 years running, an accomplishment of which he was always very proud.
When he married he lived at Randwick and it was here that the Vincents that were to give him the land speed record and so many other successes were perfected.
His best effort on motorcycles was he said giving 8 times world champion Geoff Duke 1 mile start at Mt. Druit and running second to him. Jack then pointed out that if Duke had given him the start he (Duke) would probably have still won.
After leaving Garden Island he took over a motorcycle business in Randwick.The motorcycle business grew to 3 shops by 1953 and then started to taper off so Jack diversified into road transport then sold out of the motorcycle businesses entirely and concentrated on road transport exclusively. This period of his life lasted until about 1980 or a bit later and saw him build at least 4 trucks that I know of, I drove 2 of them for him and carried loads far in excess of their design maximums with little or no trouble thanks to their perceptive reconstruction.
I was lucky enough to meet this most remarkable man in ’63 or ’64. We met in the Hollywood Hotel when I was a very knowledgeable 19 year old and I think his first comment about me was “Who is this idiot?” or words to that effect.
By the age of 18 Jack had built the first of many “Jackbuilts” that were to appear over the years. His first effort was a model airoplane engine which he built right down to the sparkplug, others that come to mind were the FIT a blown Villiers motor in a roadracing motorcycle, the rotary valve army BSA/velocette Mov simsmetal creation that only ran once but frightened Jack badly when the throttle jammed open, his two very fast Vincents and of course the various trucks that he built from humble beginnings into vehicles that were far ahead of their time.
He will also be remembered for his outspokenness and boorishness as well as his prowess with things mechanical and fast motorbikes. A mutual friend who doubted some of his claims to fame once challenged him to “Put up or shut up” Jack Put-up and Warren became a believer, telling all comers from there on in that “He’s the best bull artist in the business except that he can and has done it”.
Bill Moline 2001