America’s Oldest Vincent: 1932 Vincent HRD Python Sports 500

A brief history of Vincent motorcycles and the 1932 HRD Python Sports 500.

| March/April 2015

1932 Vincent HRD Python Sports
Claimed power: 30hp
Top speed: 85-90mph (claimed)
Engine: 499cc air-cooled 4-valve OHV single, 85mm x 88mm bore and stroke, 6.8:1 compression ratio
Weight (dry): 310lb (141kg)
Fuel capacity: 2.75gal (10.4ltr)
Price then/now: £60 ($210)/$100,000-$125,000

In the early days of the British motorcycle industry, it was common for small manufacturers to use “bought in” engines. Norton’s first TT winner of 1907 was powered by a Peugeot engine, and Royal Enfield started out with engines from Swiss manufacturer Motosacoche. The most popular proprietary 4-stroke engine of the 1920s by far was made by the Tottenham, London, firm of John Prestwich & Co, sold under the brand name “JAP.”

Hoping to capitalize on this market, in September 1930 the Rudge-Whitworth Company announced that it would make its 4-valve engines — including the race-derived bronze head models — available to bike makers under the brand name Python. One of their first customers was the fledgling Vincent HRD Company.


During the 1870s, the licensee of the Tiger’s Head pub in Wolverhampton, near Birmingham in Britain’s industrial West Midlands, was one Daniel Rudge. A keen cyclist and innovator, Rudge’s key invention (British Patent no. 520) was the adjustable ball-bearing wheel hub, which rendered obsolete the plain bushings used to that date. It improved performance so much that racers using Rudge wheels had to start 10 yards back! After Rudge died in 1880, his company eventually merged with Charles Pugh’s Whitworth Cycle Company. Rudge-Whitworth was soon the most successful bike builder in Britain, building 75,000 bicycles in 1906 alone.

Rudge-Whitworth introduced its first motorcycle in 1911, using an engine of its own design. The single-cylinder 500cc used roller bearings for the connecting rod and had an intake-over-exhaust (F-head) valve arrangement. The variable-speed “Multi” of 1912 established Rudge as a leading motorcycle manufacturer, but by the early 1920s its design was obsolete. In response, John Vernon Pugh, then chief designer, decided to leapfrog the competition.

Many overhead valve engines of the day experienced valve issues. To achieve higher performance, valves were made larger. Unfortunately, these were more prone to breakage and the larger ports often led to cylinder head distortion. Four smaller valves meant lighter weight and less risk of a valve head separating, and smaller ports meant less cylinder head distortion. Engineer Harry Ricardo was working on a 4-valve engine for Triumph, and Pugh arrived at a similar solution. The 4-speed, 4-valve pent-roof cylinder head 350cc “Rudge Four” was introduced in 1924 — the same year then 16-year-old Philip Conrad Vincent bought his first motorcycle.

2/11/2016 4:53:16 PM

The engine is the famous 500 cc Rudge Ulster motor, single cylinder with four valves in a bronze top. 32 hp, max speed around 160 kms with a four speed Albion gearbox. Best Regards - hrd46

2/11/2016 4:48:53 PM

The bike pictured is not a Vincent - it is a HRD. Harold Robin Davies built motorcycles with engines bought in from various manufacturers (Rudge, JAP). In 1934 Philip Vincent took over the HRD Works and called his bikes The Vincent HRD according to his father's wish as he wanted a well-known name for the son's manufacturing adventure. Kind Regards - hrd46

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