Dale Keesecker's Custom Vincent Specials
The Fab Five
You wouldn’t doodle on a Picasso, would you? Conventional thinking says you don’t mess with a classic Vincent motorcycle, either. But the builders of these wild custom Vincent motorcycles weren’t listening — and what they made is anything but conventional.
In the early 1950s, Dale Keesecker discovered Vincents for the first time, courtesy of a Popular Science article on the Daytona 500. Featuring profiles of bikes from Norton, BSA and Harley-Davidson, the article also had a page devoted to the Vincent Black Shadow, the 125mph superbike of its day. It left an indelible mark on Keesecker: “Every time I saw a picture of one, it was like magic,” he recalls, “and I said, ‘someday, I’m gonna own one.’” The seeds were sown.
In 1957, two years after Vincent quit making motorcycles, Keesecker finally laid eyes on his first example, a Series C Black Shadow. “I was a junior in high school, and a local fellow had this Black Shadow. I knew him really well, and I rode it, and I was just fascinated by it, just so awestruck by it,” he says.
But even though his interest in motorcycles was building, like many of us he applied himself to the realities of life, staking out a career in farming, getting married and raising a family.
Thirteen years passed before Keesecker bought his first new motorcycle, a Honda CB750 Four, and that bike re-kindled his love affair with motorcycles. By this time his business was doing well and he started buying old bikes, quietly building his own collection of mostly European machinery.
The Vincent brand was at the top of Keesecker’s A list, but another 12 years passed before he realized his dream of a owning one of the fabled bikes from Stevenage, England. His first, a Black Shadow, came along in 1982, and then he started pursuing the brand with a passion, buying orphaned engines, frames and basket-case bikes at swap meets at every opportunity. Along the way, he developed an eye for Vincent specials.
The why of specials
No stranger to judged events, Keesecker knows that with stock restorations, the devil is in the details, especially with a brand as well-documented as Vincent. Get it wrong and your 100-point restoration suddenly slips to a 95. And yet, he thinks the specials are harder to craft than a stock restoration. “It takes more time to do a special, because you have to make parts, do a lot of R&D,” he notes. “You do something, test it, and then do it again to make it work right.”
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