Vincent Black Lightning: The fastest production motorcycle for its time


The 1951 Vincent Black Lightning holds a special place in Australian history when in 1953 Jack Ehret broke the Australian land-speed record reaching an average speed of 227.7 kilometres per hour.

‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’ exhibition

Installation view of ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane highlighting the Vincent Black Lightning on display / Photograph: N Harth © QAGOMA

Vincent Black Lightning 1951

The Vincent Black Lightning developed from the 1936 Vincent Rapide, a V-twin designed by Englishman Phil Vincent and Australian Phil Irving that was the world’s fastest production motorcycle for its time. The innovative design has the engine ‘hang’ from a stiff backbone, rather than be surrounded by tubes, lowering the motorcycle and thereby improving its handling.

In 1948, Rollie Free (illustrated) set the United States speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah, at 241.85 km/h on a specially tuned Vincent V-twin. Subsequently, Black Lightnings set national speed records in Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa, as well as in Australia.

AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION: Read about our local history


Rollie Free

Rollie Free riding in minimal clothing during his record-breaking run in 1948 / Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

In 1953 this particular machine on display was used by Jack Ehret to set the Australian speed record at 227.7 km/h on a short stretch of road near Gunnedah, New South Wales.

Approximately 30 Black Lightning motorcycles were produced by revered British manufacturing company Vincent Motorcycles during the 1950s, purely for racing, and the motorcycle has been described as a ‘holy grail’ for collectors. Only 19 are believed to still be in existence. Western Australian collector Ian Boyd holds the world’s largest private collection of Vincent Motorcycles, including two Black Lightnings.

RELATED: Read more about the bikes in ‘THE MOTORCYCLE’ exhibition

Vincent Black Lightning 1951

Vincent Black Lightning 1951 / The Peter and Frances Bender Collection / © Bonhams Auctioneers


Country: United Kingdom
70 hp

Engine: 998 cc 50° V-twin
Designer: Phil Vincent & Phil Irving
Production: 1948-53

Interesting facts

  • The famous photograph (illustrated) from motorcycling history shows American speed record-breaker Rollie Free — stripped to swimsuit, cap and lightweight shoes for speed — prone on his Vincent machine — the situation pictured is outrageous, incredibly dangerous, and impossible to repeat today.
  • In 1953 Jack ‘Black Jack’ Ehret broke the Australian land-speed record on his 1951 Black Lightning, reaching an average speed of 227.7 kilometres per hour. Ehret was pulled over by police while returning home to Sydney from his record-setting Gunnedah trip, for travelling eight miles per hour over the speed limit.
  • In 2018 Ehret’s Black Lightning became the most valuable motorcycle sold at auction — for AU$1.28 million.

Watch: The most expensive motorcycle sold at auction

View ‘The Motorcycle’ exhibition

Watch our installation time-lapse

‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’ exhibition was in Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 28 November 2020 until 26 April 2021.



  1. I had a C series Black lightning and the paperwork that came with it stated 92.? BHP at about 6000 RPM.
    The magneto was sealed & had lifetime warranty from Lucas..
    A great motor and gearbox A+, but the brakes and handling C-.