The Vincent Black Shadow Engine of Saigon

Enter the dangerous world of 1950s Ho Chi Minh City, and trace the history of a rare Vincent Black Shadow engine.

| June 2012

  • 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 Shadow Engine
    The Montlhéry engine was exported to Vietnam and later brought to America. While the history of how the engine came to the United States is well documented, how it made its way from France to Saigon is a mystery.
    Photo courtesy Herb Harris Collection
  • Vincent Spark Plugs
    Note that the spark plugs are both on the right side of the engine. This indicates that two front cylinders were used, a trick done on race engines, as the fronts flowed a bit better than the rear cylinders. Vincent adopted this setup for all production twins in 1955.
    Photo by Lee Klancher
  • Vincent Black Shadow
    This Black Shadow’s engine was prepared by the Vincent factory to set a speed record at Montlhéry, France, in 1952. The engine was a spare and never ran, and restorer/collector Herb Harris bought and built this re-creation of the race bike.
    Photo by Lee Klancher
  • French Marchal Headlamp
    The headlamp is a French Marchal unit similar to the “flamethrower” that was put on the original Montlhéry speed record bike. The fuel tank sits just over an inch lower than stock on this bike.
    Photo by Lee Klancher
  • Vincent Speedometer
    The speedometer and headlight are dropped an inch or so lower in the front to give the bike a racier appearance.
    Photo by Lee Klancher
  • Vincent Graphic On Tank
    This graphic, which mimics a race poster used to advertise the Vincent speed run, is painted on the tank.
    Photo by Lee Klancher

  • The Vincent In The Barn
  • Vincent Black Shadow Engine
  • Vincent Spark Plugs
  • Vincent Black Shadow
  • French Marchal Headlamp
  • Vincent Speedometer
  • Vincent Graphic On Tank

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. In this excerpt from Chapter 2, “Intriguing Circumstances,” enter an abandoned warehouse in Ho Chi Minh City, and discover the story behind a rare Vincent Black Shadow engine. 

The city of Saigon houses many secrets. In the early 1950s, the covert dramas playing out in the majestic city’s narrow streets included Corsican drug traffickers stalking American generals, CIA agents covertly supporting the French military who occupied the city, and Viet Minh revolutionaries plotting the downfall of the French.

In a back alley of this giant metropolis now known as Ho Chi Minh City, a crate was abandoned in a warehouse. The crate contained three Vincent motorcycle engines and a pile of other HRD parts that sat forgotten and periodically flooded by murky waters flowing up from the city’s underbelly.

While the engines filled with rotting vegetation, Saigon became a sweltering cauldron of unrest as the largely Buddhist population took increasing offense to the Catholic government.



By 1963, the fighting took to the streets as a coup d’état showered bullets on the walls of the city’s elegant cathedrals, hotels, and theaters. The president was unceremoniously dragged from the palace to be shot, stabbed, and buried in disgrace. Not long after people danced in the streets to celebrate the nation’s new government, those Vincent engines surfaced in a Saigon paper classified ad.

A sharp-eyed Vietnamese man by the name of Nguyen Van Nhon purchased the crate full of Vincent engines and did his best to sell them. He advertised them for sale in the Vincent Owner’s Club magazine, MPH. He claimed to be courting suitors for the engines from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Laura Rybnygmaypel
3/29/2013 2:40:28 AM

We are sad to report to the Classic Cycle community Rudoph Nygrin passed away today.




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