There are two main ways to be involved in sponsorship: the “passive way” which consists to write a check, and the “active way” that requires operation capabilities to support directly a team. Motorcycle dealers or works are often involved in that second way, supporting or managing racing teams. However, it is quite rare that a general business decides to leverage its engineering and operation capabilities to build a competitive bike, with the single intent to use it as a communication platform. Indeed it clearly shifts focus, resources and profit from the core business that only the passion and a solid financial footprint can overcome what an investor might define as “completely irrational spending.” That’s in a nutshell how the Horner Brothers have developed the Irving-Vincent, however “irrational” might not be the right word in this case…
For those who are not familiar with the Vincent Heritage, Phil Irving was one of the key people who made the Vincent legend; his contribution was equal to Philip Vincent himself. Indeed, as the Chief Engineer, he led the design of the Vincent engines from the pre-war Meteor to the late Black Shadow. In honor to his memory and his Australian origin, his name was associated to Vincent, courtesy of his family. Today the Irving-Vincent is still based on a 1946 Vincent Series-B Rapide but, of course, extensively re-engineered to create this fabulous and cheeky Superbike that dare to challenge the most modern and respected pieces of Engineering.
Ken and Barry Horner own KH Equipment in Australia. Passionate about Vincent, they started to work on the Irving-Vincent in 1999 to address the demand for Vincent parts and demonstrate their business capabilities. However, it did not take long before they bet that they would be able to design a complete bike, competitive enough to win in the Superbike Historic championship. From 2003, the Irving-Vincent started to align victories and finally in March 2008, the air-cooled two-valve pushrod V-twin made its outing on the Daytona Speedway, where it beat a horde of liquid-cooled multi-valve Superbike race replicas, ridden by experienced riders such Doug Polen, a two-time world Superbike champion.
“We wanted to go to Daytona, because especially after the Britten raced there, it gets maximum exposure worldwide, and it’s the top race to be in for the later kind of bikes,” said Ken. However, anyone knowing the capabilities of modern machines such the lineage of the Ducati 851-998 would have predicted that it would be “impossible” for the Vincent, a bike designed in 1945, to simply play against an 8-valve Desmo machine, whatever the noble DNA of the original design.
The Horner Brothers believed in the Vincent engine and its ability to deliver massive power and torque at relative low revs, but the challenge was to turn a seventy years old engine into a monster of the modern track racing. It is where KHE expertise was able to make a difference, leveraging their technology and experience gathered from the Australian V8 Supercars championship and their capable skills in metallurgy and precision engineering. The Evolution 1 of the Vincent delivered 135 bhp, running on a mix of methanol with a 1299cc configuration, but later the 1571cc pushed further the limit to 165 bhp @ 6500rpm and 130 Lbs/ft on racing gasoline. Finally, the latest Evolution 4, with its 4-valve heads (8-valve total), delivers a hefty 186 bhp @ 7300rpm with 142 Lbs/ft @ 6500rpm.
The chassis was never seen as a major challenge simply because the best components were available for the project. The general architecture remains similar to the original Vincent with its stressed engine, but as you can guess the result is far away from the 1946 design. Top notch components are used such upside-down forks and a fully-adjustable monoshock, both from Ohlins, 17-inch Dymag cast magnesium wheels and massive radial mount AP brakes with 320mm disks on the front and 225mm on the back. The result is extremely compact and weighs less than 385 pounds with oil but no gas.
The latest 8-valve engine is also incredibly smooth for such big displacement with no balance shaft. It pulls very hard from 3000 rpm to the shifter limit at 7000 rpm. It also provides a massive and flat torque curve that makes the difference compared to the modern super-square engines, especially when you get out of the curve, complementing its aptitude on the brakes with a very stable and predictable demeanor. Exceeding 170 mph is “quite something” if you consider that the engine retains most of its ancestors’ signature: an air-cooled mill with typical short pushrods, including the 4-valve head design which were conceptually designed by Phil Irving before the factory shutdown, but was never implemented.
Ken Horner remains quite open on future derivative road bikes, but this is another leap from where KHE is today. The difficulty to establish a profitable business case for mass production added with product liability, global distribution network and tough emission compliance are where most of the entrepreneurs stumble in those projects. We wish Ken Horner all the best on that perspective in the future, maybe partnering with big name of the motorcycle industry will be the solution?
Philippe Guyony © 2014
Evolution 1 (the original and Period 4): 1298cc engine measuring 92 x 97.7mm under-square design with 14:1 compression ratio to run on a methanol mix, debuted in 2003 at the Geelong Speed Trials with around 135 bhp @ 6500rpm and 113 Lbs/ft of torque @ 5500rpm. 15 wins in 15 races between 2007 and 2008.
Evolution 2 (Period 5): same displacement with 1298cc but measuring 100 x 82.55mm super-square, delivering 145bhp @ 7000 rpm and 113 Lbs/ft of torque @ 6000rpm. 14 wins in 15 races between 2007 and 2008.
Evolution 3 (stroked | Injection): the engine is stroked to 100 x 100mm for a 1571cc displacement running on racing gasoline. Significant modifications include stroke and crankshaft, plain-bearing crank, Carrillo steel con-rods; Nikasil bore cylinders housing full-skirt JE three-ring flat-top pistons with 11.5:1 compression. V8 Supercar technology applied on various components such the cams and combustion chamber design. Fuel injection delivering 165 bhp and 113 Lbs/ft of torque @ 5800 rpm; Transmission is a KHE 5-speed based on a Quaife design.
Evolution 4 (8-valve): Same base with 4-valve heads. Compression Ratio: 13:1. BHP: 186 at 7000 rpm. Torque: 142 Lbs/ft at 6500 rpm.
Ken Horner Engineering Open Day, 2014. It will provide you some insight about the kind of business KHE is involved.
To be filed under the ‘ What If ‘ category ; What if KHE and Bernard Li had joined forces back when Li was trying to revive the Vincent brand for the road ? Between Li’s money / business acumen and these guys engineering and knowhow . One can only imagine what might of ensued . If only . Sigh .
I believe it is one of the scenario that could have happened. Indeed David Holder who owns the Vincent brand historically through the buy back of the remaining of the inventory and IP by his family, plays quite hard to protect his brand portfolio (including Velocette). Should Bernard Lee have survived, he would have likely faced him in court. The issue could have been uncertain as the Trademarks’ owners have hard time to protect their inactive brands (See the Royal Enfield case that was won by Enfield India), but The Irving-Vincent could have been a very possible alternative.
If fact, my pick would rather be a “name” of the motorcycle industry such Harley Davidson or Polaris (Indian) who already have manufacturing and distribution infrastructure as well as capability to industrialize and design products. See for instance what Polaris has done with the Indian engine…. Amazing!