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