Historic Vincent: Gunga Din

Legendary motorcycle finally restored

| May/June 2010

Few motorcycles achieve such acclaim — or notoriety — that they’re individually named: Cook Neilson’s Ducati racer earned the tag “Old Blue,” and the oil-spreading, TT-winning Triumph Trident will forever be known as “Slippery Sam.” And a 1947 Vincent factory hack became the legendary test-bed race bike “Gunga Din.”

The story goes that it was Motor Cycling magazine road tester Charlie Markham who gave the experimental Vincent its name. The Rudyard Kipling poem “Gunga Din” tells the story of an Indian water-bearer who saves the life of his military superior, at which the latter declares, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!” The implication? Markham’s realization that the motorcycle’s capabilities were beyond his own.

George Brown

One man who did have the measure of Gunga Din was Vincent factory tester, development man and racer George Brown. A chance meeting with company owner Philip Conrad Vincent in 1934 led to an offer of work in the fledgling company’s experimental department. Brown had been racing Velocettes until then, but his new position allowed him to spend time breathing extra fire into the Series A Vincent singles and twins to improve their competitiveness.

With his racing background, Brown soon became his own test rider, competing in short-circuit road racing on a Series A Comet, a 499cc single-cylinder machine, and running a 998cc Series A Rapide twin at over 100mph on the famous Brooklands banked circuit in southern England. At the time (the late 1930s), a flying lap of more than 100mph at Brooklands earned the rider a gold star pin (the award for which the BSA Gold Star was named), but you had to be a member of the British Motor Cycle Racing Club. Brown was not.

Gunga Din

Gunga Din’s story, and Brown’s association with the bike, began in 1947. Vincent’s first post-war motorcycle was the 998cc Series B Rapide, a machine that, by chief designer Philip Irving’s modest account, more or less designed itself. Irving wanted a light bike, and with steel tube in short supply he decided to dispense with a frame, using a simple box welded up from steel plates to serve as backbone, steering head, oil tank and rear suspension mount.

Everything else was pretty much hung on the engine — a completely redesigned and much improved unit-construction version of the Series A twin-cylinder engine. At the front end went proprietary Brampton forks, and at the rear, Vincent’s own triangulated suspension system. The new machine bristled with innovation, including a servo clutch, reversible rear wheel for easy final-drive ratio changes, interchangeable drum brakes and much more. It was relatively light and compact for its engine size, and with 45hp it was good for close to 120mph: “Maximum speed not attained,” said one magazine’s road test report from 1947.

5/2/2018 2:10:48 AM

I have the articles written about this bike my grandad was charles markham got photos of it and the original write ups

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

Classic Motorcycle Touring and Events.

The latest classic motorcycle events and tours.


The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $4.95 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $24.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $29.95 for a one year subscription!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265