It's become fashionable to rubbish the reputation of some classic marques as being nothing but show bikes: all glamour and no go. It's true that some models have become precious collector's items which rarely see the light of day or are ever ridden on the road. Many Brough Superior, Manx Norton and Vincent-HRD motorcycles now exist in air-conditioned, de-humidified isolation - a far cry from the days when they first took to the open roads as sporting tourers or roared around the race tracks of yesteryear. But not all of these machines are condemned to an existence cocooned in cotton wool. This 998cc ohv Vincent Black Prince has been in near-constant use since it was first registered, and has been suitably modified to survive and thrive on modern roads.
The Vincent marque was very well established by the 1950s and its V-twin flagship machines had evolved from the pre-war 110mph Series A model, via the Rapide and the 55bhp Black Shadow with its 150mph speedo, through to the Series C roadsters with Girdraulic forks, and the Black Lightning record-breaking racer. The Series D bikes were presented to the world in 1954, and are considered by many to be 'probably the best of all Vincents'. The Black Prince was described by Philip Vincent himself as a 'two wheeled Bentley'.
With its innovative full enclosure fairing and sidepanels the new grand-tourer Black Prince was the sensation of the Earl's Court show that year. The new fairing and bodywork were designed primarily for rider comfort and not for additional speed, as it was generally considered that the big-twin Vincents already had power-a-plenty for touring duties. When tested by the Motor Cycle magazine, the Black Prince was reported as handling as well as the Black Shadow while recording improved fuel consumption. The rider also benefited from being shielded from the elements and suffered less fatigue on long journeys, increasing the Black Prince's potential as a high mileage touring machine.
Hampered by limited funds, Vincent wasn't able to upgrade the twins' specification as far as he would have preferred, but the Series D bikes benefit from coil ignition and improved starting, Monobloc Amal carbs which reduced fuel leakage, and long-travel Armstrong shock absorbers which gave improved comfort and road holding. A lever on the left of the machine enabled it to be lifted on to its stand with ease. Although launched in 1954, it was early 1955 before delivery of the fibreglass components had been sorted out and the first models were offered to the public. Despite the kerfuffle caused by these new bikes, Vincent ceased production in the December of 1955 and so very few Black Prince bikes were actually built.
The bike you see here is one of them - and it's been ridden, repaired and improved in a manner which would surely have met with approval from Phil Vincent himself. The current owner bought this Black Prince in 1955 from St Andrews Motors of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Some 56 years later, that original owner is still the only person who has ever ridden this machine - with the sole exception, presumably, of the original works tester. Together they have travelled 721,703 well documented miles at the time of writing.
In Vincent circles this Black Prince is known world-wide as 'Vinnylonglegs'. Until 1980 it was used for riding to work and long distance touring holidays and in subsequent years was extensively used as lead bike on European tours in the owner's guided motorcycle tours business.
Many modifications were carried out to ensure that Vinnylonglegs became the ultimate Vincent for coping with Continental tours in mountain terrain and temperatures often between 30°C and 40°C. The original front fairing, mudguard and engine enclosures were replaced with a redesigned front fairing with twin sealed beam headlights and two large side pockets were added. This significantly enhanced cool running.
The original flimsy upper frame member was replaced with the much stiffer box section Series C frame member, and a Primmer Series C four gallon fuel tank was fitted. The Series C upper frame member is now a six pint reserve fuel tank (the original upper frame member and fuel tank have been kept safe, of course). The electrics were enhanced with the fitting of a 240 Watt alternator together with a range of modern electrical accessories including indicators, high level LED brake light, high intensity rear fog lights, Lucas Rita ignition, electronic rev counter, twin six volt Cyclon batteries (recently renewed) and headlamp flasher.
Disc brakes have been fitted along with Koni dampers, hydraulic steering damper, O-ring drive chain complete with fussfree Scottoiler, magnetic drain plugs in crankcase, gearbox, primary chain case and in the return oil supply to the tank. The Black Prince has also sprouted a sidestand - very handy. The pannier frames carry two five-gallon boxes and the frame above normally carries a large army kit bag with full camping kit.
Most of the original parts removed from the bike have been retained and include the original six Volt Lucas dynamo and regulator, Lucas distributor with long bolt and stud, six Volt coil with bracket, original front fairing cross piece, battery carrier and strap, brake balance beam and two adjusting screws and steel magneto cover. So if you're obsessed by originality then you could return the Black Prince to something like standard specification, although a sensible man would just get on it and ride.