Thursday, October 16, 2008


Bonham's is selling (on October 19th at Stafford) the original/unrestored ex-Reg Dearden supercharged Black Lightning, which was built in the factory under direct supervision of Phil Vincent (with a little help from George Brown et al). Dearden decided to make an attempt at the Motorcycle Land Speed Record in 1949, spurred on by a prize offered by The Motor Cycle for a successful all-British M.L.S.R., with a prize of £500 (the Vincent cost Reg £400).

Realizing that the 'standard' Lightning was unlikely to break the record, he commissioned the factory to supercharge the machine in 1950 - a job which entailed fitting a Shorrock blower (and attendant 'plumbing'), the extension of the drive side crankshaft and gearbox mainshaft to accomodate the blower drive, the creation of a one-off clutch to handle the power, panel-beating that outrageous petrol tank (derived from a Grey Flash item), and extending the 'chassis', with strengthened plates etc, by 6". The work took about 6 months in all, and cost Dearden several thousand pounds.... 'speed is expensive'.

The Vincent was shown at various events when completed (see pic of the bike atop a pile o' Vinnies at the Kings of Oxford dealer, in 1950), but Dearden's attention was increasingly occupied by his sponsorship of a fleet of Manx Norton racers (with as many as 20 riders!), and the bike remained unused until 1953, when it was announced that Les Graham (former World Champion) would ride the machine at Bonneville. Unfortunately, Graham was killed in the Senior TT that year, and the trip to Bonneville never materialized.

The Lightning was thrashed a few times at Pendine beach, where it was timed at 150mph before the big end went (still crowded rollers or the aluminum cage?). When repaired at Stevenage, a factory tester had the pleasure of riding the beast on the road, with a silencer! Other rides brought other problems, such as engine shaft failure, and all the while the NSU factory was setting and re-setting records at Bonneville with their streamlined 500cc dohc machines.

By 1956, NSU brought the record to 211.40mph (as noted in a previous post), and Dearden was inspired once again to make a trip to Bonneville. He planned to fly the Vincent in his own Cessna, but the Civil Aviation Authority, in its wisdom, refused to allow a small passenger plane to carry such cargo, and all hope of the Lightning hitting the salt was extinguished. The bike sat until 1970 when Eric Biddle purchased the machine, and it has passed through a few hands since then.

In the end, the bike remains a mystery, having only a few hundred (or less?) miles, and has never been stretched out fully on beach, salt, or track. But, it has remained completely original while passing through various hands, and is fully functional today. A curious but compelling prize, and let's hope it remains in the public eye... estimated price is £320,000. I will be very interested to see how recent financial events will affect the auction price; my two cents - this machine will set a new record for a British motorcycle at auction, but will not break the $500,000 mark. Anyone laying odds?


Anonymous said...

with out going to my turf accountants i would give odds of 11to 3 for 420k dave bowen is going to be there , even hedging my bets i would do a even money bet each way of 375k , i think you comment on the present state of invesments will push the price of the cow up , bye the bye , today on the speed channel is the first day of the barrett jackson from viva las vegas , watch the car prices hit the roof , more bye the bye your blog is getting stronger it might even get to the stage off a saleable cd lol dave

Brian B said...

any news on the winning bidder and what they have done, or plan on doing with the bike?