The first time I read the catalogue of the Las Vegas 2014 Bonhams auctions, I did not notice this 1947 Vincent Rapide Series B. However, with a second look, a few B&W pictures of the description have captured my attention, and I think the history of this motorcycle worth to be mentioned. Indeed, we all like to share stories about the colorful characters that we have had a chance to know; I have obviously never met the former owner of this bike, Jack Churchill, as known as “Mad Jack”, but he was one of these real-life characters, whose story deserved to be told.
This Rapide was originally own by Alex Phillip, who entered the 1950 Isle of Man Clubman TT, and won the 1000cc class at an average speed of 78.58mph. As a “Gentleman Racer,” Phillip had ridden it all way long from Scotland to the TT with his wife Annie on the pillion, and after the race, they both went back home in the same way. Unfortunately, on their way back, they have been rammed by a truck and seriously injured in the crash. But during his long stay in hospital, Alex did not lose his faith and passion for motorcycles and asked his Rapide to be sent to the Vincent factory for repair and full Black Lightning spec upgrade. Eventually, after about a year, Phillip was back on his feet and took delivery of his bike directly at Stevenage, and rode back home.
However, in the need of cash, he sold it shortly after to Jack Churchill to who he told from his 500 miles riding experience, that the bike was performing “like a rocket ship.” It was certainly what had to be said to seal the deal with Mad Jack Churchill, who was a long time rider and not an ordinary one. Indeed, as early as the 20s, while he was serving in Her Majesty’s Army, he brought to Burma and India his own bike, a Zenith OHV single, that he has ridden in the conditions you can guess at that time in those countries.
Churchill earned his nickname during WW2, when his battle dress included a sword, and 6′ tall bow and custom-made “war arrows” with which he killed the first and only soldier during WW2, using a bow and arrow; can you imagine this picture in 1940? His numerous acts of wars made him famous all across Europe from France to Norway where he received the Military Cross for his actions. Anecdotally, his bagpipe, rowing, and archery skills were immortalized in several famous movies including The Thief of Baghdad and Ivanhoe.
Honestly would you have imagined one second that this quite “ordinary” 1947 Rapide was hiding a genuine IOM TT winning machine, which at a time, was owned by a real-life character, whose story is rather nutcase?