"MAXIMUM SPEED: NOT OBTAINED." Those four words must have set the pulses of thousands of enthusiasts racing when they read the first road test report of the Series B Vincent Rapide in May 1947.
And why wasn’t a maximum speed hit? The test rider couldn’t find a private road with a long enough run-in to get an average two-way maximum in top gear! With 56mph available in first gear, 86mph in second and 98mph in third, the Rapide was quicker than most other motorcycles - with a gear to spare. And with an all-new 998cc unit-construction alloy engine, almost straight handlebars, light alloy mudguards and a sprung frame, the Vincent looked every millimeter the sporting rider’s dream. The catalogue proclaimed: “The world’s fastest standard motorcycle!” and “This is a Fact - not a Slogan.” The Vincent Rapide was King of the Road. But not for long.
A year later and just a few weeks before the 1948 Isle of Man TT, Phil Vincent sent a note to the editor of Motor Cycling magazine with the tantalizing promise: "… in the Island will be a 'Black Shadow' for your transport and road test to follow …" The Black Shadow was based on an early Rapide that had been tuned by factory tester and racer George Brown, his brother Cliff, and designer Phil Irving. The engine came from a road bike they thought was too mechanically noisy to be sold. The Rapide was raced and sprinted for a year, often setting lap records, and was even tested by Motor Cycling magazine. The journalist was so impressed with the performance that he used a quote from a famous Rudyard Kipling poem about an Indian water carrier who saved the life of a British soldier as an introduction to his report:
“Tho’ I’ve belted you an’ flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
After that, George Brown’s Rapide was known as “Gunga Din.” When Phil Vincent decided to build a production version, he ordered the engine stove enameled black to give the new model a dignified appearance to match the name. Not everyone at the Stevenage factory liked the idea of covering that glorious alloy engine in paint, but Phil Vincent was proved right when the Shadow went on to outsell the Rapide.