1955 Series D Vincent Rapide
Barn-find Vincent: The strange story of Jim Tenhoff’s 1955 Series D Vincent Rapide
1955 Series D Vincent Rapide.
Photo by Rick Shunk
1955 Series D Vincent Rapide
Claimed power: 45hp @ 5,300rpm
Top speed: 110mph
Engine: 998cc OHV air-cooled 50-degree V-twin
Weight (dry): 445lb (207kg)
Fuel Capacity: 4gal (15ltr)
Price then: $1,100 (approx.) – original U.S. (1955) list $1,495 (est.)
Price now: $15,000 - $50,000
The story of this particular 1955 Series D Vincent Rapide begins with the birth of James W. Tenhoff in Mountain Lake, Minn., in 1925. His father was a blind piano tuner, who Jim’s mother drove around the Midwest to tuning appointments in their Packard automobile.
Tenhoff suffered from Kallmann’s Syndrome, a condition that wasn’t even described until 1944. A genetic disorder, it leaves its victims short in stature and underdeveloped. While his peers grew normally, Jim stayed the same. By the time he was 18, he wasn’t much more than 3 feet 11 inches tall. When he spoke, it was in a high-pitched, feminine tone.
In 1943 Jim left home, traveling west to work in the Boeing aircraft factory in Seattle, Wash., where he helped assemble B-17 bombers. In an odd twist of fate, it was his small size that got him hired, as the Boeing factory needed small people who could work in tight places, like inside wings and other restricted spaces. People of Jim’s height were well suited to the task.
“I would think he was proud,” says Sid Chantland, a vintage motorcycle collector who, together with his father, Bob, came to befriend Jim in his later years. Jim, it turns out, was quite the motorcycle fan.
The Vincent pursuit
In 1947, as he was preparing to leave Boeing for his return home to Mountain Lake, Jim bought a brand new BSA C11 — a 250cc OHV single-cylinder machine — and proceeded to ride it from Seattle to Mountain Lake.
During the nearly 1,600-mile journey, Jim shunned motels. Instead, he’d stop in a town and talk to the local police, and ask if the constabulary could put him up in one of their jail cells. According to Bob Chantland, Jim felt more secure using this unorthodox method of accommodation. Jim returned to his family home in Mountain Lake and continued to ride the BSA C11, but some nine years later he decided he wanted something bigger.
In 1956 he made a trip to England, touring the country and visiting various motorcycle retailers, specifically looking to purchase a fully enclosed Series D Vincent. On November 19, 1956, the manager of Conway Motors in Shepherds Bush (London) wrote Jim:
Dear Mr. Tenhoff, We note you have returned home after your extensive tour and assume, without a motorcycle.
We are sorry to say all the Vincent Black Prince and Black Knight models have been sold. We can, however, offer at the time of writing a new Rapide at £234.16.0. The crating freight and insurance would cost approximately £50 to £60.
Assuring you of our closest attention to your requirements. Yours faithfully, p.p. CONWAY MOTORS [signed S. Broomfield] Manager.
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