Vincent Black Lightning

Vincent Black Lightning

Vincent Black Lightning
Vincent Black Lightning
Manufacturer Vincent HRD Co., Ltd
Production 1948–1952
Engine 998 cc Twin cylinder, OHV, air cooled, pushrod V-twin
Power 70 bhp (52 kW)
Wheelbase 55.5 inches (1,410 mm)
Related Vincent Black Shadow

The Vincent Black Lightning was a British motorcycle designed and built in September 1948 at the Vincent works in Great North Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire UK between 1948 and 1952. At the time the Black Lightning was the fastest production motorcycle in the world.


Vincent Motorcycles began motorcycle production in 1928 and were well established after World War II when they launched the 1000 cc Black Lightning. This was a production version of the Black Lightning which held the world land speed record, with a similar engine specification.

Vincent Series C Black Lightning

Available to order, a 'standard' Black Lightning was supplied in racing trim with magnesium alloy components, special racing tyres on alloy rims, 'rear-set' foot controls, a solo seat and aluminium fenders. This reduced the Lightning's weight to 380 lb. The 998 cc twin cylinder, OHV, air cooled, pushrod V-twin engine specifications were always based on standard parts but upgraded with higher performance racing equipment. The Black Lightning had higher strength connecting rods, larger inlet ports, polished rocker gear, steel idler gears, racing carburettors, a manual-advance magneto and was available with compression ratios between 6.8:1 and 12.5:1. This resulted in 70 bhp and a top speed of 150 mph. Only 31 Black Lightnings were ever built before production ended due to Vincent's financial problems in 1952.

World Record

On 13 September 1948, Rollie Free achieved the US national motorcycle speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah riding the first Vincent Black Lightning. During test runs Free reached average speeds of 148.6 mph (239.1 km/h). To reduce drag, Free stripped to his swimming shorts for the final run, which he made lying flat with his legs stretched out and his head low, guiding the Vincent by following a black stripe painted on the salt bed. The stunt worked as Free covered the mile in 23.9 seconds, passing the 150 mph (240 km/h) barrier and on the return run he reached a record average speed of 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h). This led to one of the famous photographs in motorcycle history, known as the "bathing suit bike". The AMA certified Free's record. Innovative features of the bike included the first-ever Vincent rear shock absorber, the first Mk II racing cams and horizontally mounted racing carburettors. In 1950, Rollie Free returned to the Bonneville Salt Flats and broke his own record, averaging speeds of 156.58 mph (251.99 km/h) on the Vincent despite a high-speed crash during those speed trials.

Rollie Free record run

Supercharged Black Lightning

In 1949 The Motor Cycle magazine offered a trophy and £500 prize (£10 thousand today) for the first successful all-British attempt on the World Speed Record, held since 1937 by BMW at 173.54 mph (279.29 km/h). Reg Dearden, a motorcycle dealer at Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester fitted a supercharger to a brand new Black Lightning and made extensive modifications including strengthening and lengthening the frame by about 6 inches (15 cm). Phil Vincent personally supervised the work, which took months to complete. NSU increased the World Record to 180.29 mph (290.15 km/h) in 1951, and in 1953 the 500 cc World Champion Les Graham was to make an attempt for the UK but was killed in a crash in the 1953 Senior Isle of Man TT. The supercharged Vincent changed hands several times but never made a record attempt. In 1999 journalist Mick Duckworth had a test ride and wrote a feature article for Classic Bike magazine. In October 2008, the supercharged Vincent Black Lightning was sold by Bonhams for £221,500 at the Stafford Motorcycle Show, finally setting a record as the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction in the UK. There is a Supercharged 1949 Black Lightning at the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum in Solvang, California.