The Super Supercharged Vincent Black Lightning

Each collector of the Vincent Black Lightning was unwilling to part with the rare motorcycle.

| June 2012

  • Vincent Motorcycle Rally
    Vincent owner Michael Manning from Philadelphia saw the supercharged bike advertised in Cycle World and bought it from Dearden. He brought the rare machine to the North American Vincent Rally at Canada’s Shadow Lake in August 1977. At the show he fired the bike up after decades of hibernation, ran it around a road course, and took high-speed runs on a seldom-used highway.
    Photo by Tony Cording
  • The Vincent In The Barn
    It’s every motorcyclist’s dream: The classic bike parked and forgotten, waiting to be discovered and turned loose on the road again. In “The Vincent in the Barn,” Tom Cotter has chased down 40 great stories of old bikes and the collectors who unearthed them.
    Photo courtesy Motorbooks
  • Vincent Black Lightning
    If the Black Shadow was fast, then the Vincent Black Lightning was a rocket ship on wheels. And this factory supercharged model was faster yet. Stretched 6 inches from stock, with a 20 psi boost from a Shorrocks blower, it was built with the intention of breaking the 173.625-mile-per-hour speed record at Bonneville.
    Photo courtesy Somer Hooker Collection
  • Reg Dearden
    Owner Reg Dearden (pictured) convinced company head Phil Vincent to personally oversee the construction of the supercharged Lightning. But when the bike’s intended rider, Les Graham, was killed at the Isle of Man TT, the record attempt plan was abandoned and Dearden parked the bike.
    Photo courtesy Somer Hooker Collection
  • S U Carburetor
    The virtually new 50-plus-year-old Vincent was in surprisingly good condition. Fuel was fed through one large S.U. carburetor that had been sourced from a British bus.
    Photo by Tony Cording
  • Vincent Black Lightning Side
    The special supercharged Vincent Black Lightning as it looks today after having been restored by new owner Herb Harris.
    Photo courtesy Herb Harris Collection

  • Vincent Motorcycle Rally
  • The Vincent In The Barn
  • Vincent Black Lightning
  • Reg Dearden
  • S U Carburetor
  • Vincent Black Lightning Side

Every motorcyclist dreams of hearing the magic phrase: “You know, I know where there’s this old bike that’s been sitting at the back of this garage for years …” With those momentous words, the hunt begins. Too often the machine revealed is a worthless Hondazukimaha pile of hopeless oxidation, but sometimes, it’s a collector’s dream: a genuine classic motorcycle. The Vincent in the Barn (Motorbooks, 2009) by Tom Cotter offers 40 stories of motorcycle-hunting dreams come true. This excerpt is from Chapter 2, “Intriguing Circumstances,” and tells the story of how the Vincent Black Lightning went from collector to collector, even though every one of them was unwilling to part with it. 

Reg Dearden was all set to run for the speed record at Bonneville in 1950. His Vincent Black Lightning was one of the fastest production motorcycles ever constructed and his was even faster. One of only 32 (some historians put the number at 31) Lightnings built, this rare version was retrofitted by the factory with the installation of a supercharger.

Dearden hoped to break the 173.625-mile-per-hour world speed record that had been set in 1937 by a BMW.

Additionally, this particular Black Lightning’s frame was stretched by 6 inches—under the direct supervision of company founder Phil Vincent—in order to improve the bike’s straight-line stability.



The bike was beautiful, glossy black and purpose-built for speed. Dearden hired famed racer Les Graham to ride the bike. But Graham was killed while racing on a Norton at the Isle of Man and the Vincent never made a single run.

British aviation authorities refused to let Dearden transport the motorcycle from England to the United States in his personal Cessna, so Dearden put the Vincent into storage for 20 years. Around 1970, Dearden decided to part with the bike, and it appeared for sale in a Cycle World magazine advertisement.



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