Vincent Black Lightning: The fastest production motorcycle for its time

 

Bike-lovers can experience a whole new view of the motorcycle at ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’. The exhibition opens the throttle on the ground-breaking designs that shaped one of the most iconic objects the world has ever seen. This 1951 Vincent Black Lightning holds a special place in Australian history when in 1953 Jack Ehtet broke the Australian land-speed record reaching an average speed of 227.7 kilometres per hour.

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

‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) / Photograph: Natasha 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 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

DELVE DEEPER: Browse the LIST OF MOTORCYCLES in the exhibition: From humble origins to cutting-edge prototypes

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 / The Peter and Frances Bender Collection / © Bonhams Auctioneers

Specifications

Country: United Kingdom
Power:
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’ Ehtet 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

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