Classic Vincent Motorcycles on the Auction Block

| November/December 2008

Not surprisingly, Bonhams’ record-breaking price for the Verrall Vincent is sparking more interest in the classic bike market than ever and in the market for classic Vincent motorcycles in particular. Two more important Vincents will hit the block before the end of October, including the one and only supercharged Vincent Black Lightning and Marty Dickerson’s 1948 Vincent Series B Rapide, better known as the “Blue Bike.”

Both bikes have interesting history. The supercharged bike was specially fitted by Vincent for Reg Dearden, a well-known motorcycle dealer in Manchester, England, who hoped to break the 173.54mph world speed record held by BMW since 1937. Dearden bought the bike in 1949, and in 1950 had the Vincent factory fit a specially made supercharger in preparation for a record run. Besides adding a supercharger, the factory (under founder Phil Vincent’s direct supervision) also stretched the frame 6 inches, presumably for better straight-line stability.

Unfortunately, and somewhat remarkably, the bike never made a run. A planned 1953 attempt was abandoned when world champion and intended rider Les Graham was killed racing at the Isle of Man. It took Dearden three more years to schedule his next attempt, planned for Bonneville, but that run was cancelled when aviation authorities refused to allow Dearden to transport the bike from England to the U.S. in his personal Cessna airplane.

Following that, the supercharged Vincent was largely forgotten. Dearden eventually sold it, and it then ended up in the U.S. in the mid-1970s, before changing hands again in the mid-1980s. Bonham’s doesn’t identify the current owner, saying only that it belongs to a “renowned Texan collector,” presumably Herb Harris of Harris Vincent Gallery in Texas. Amazingly, this bike has seen only limited use since it was built; in 1999, U.K. motorcycle journalist Mick Duckworth got to sample the bike on a lonely stretch of Texas two-lane, but to the best of anyone’s knowledge it hasn’t really been ridden since.

Marty Dickerson’s “Blue Bike” is the machine Dickerson regularly campaigned for almost 40 years. A presence in the Southern California speed scene, Dickerson traded a Triumph for the Vincent in 1948. Soon, he was working for the West Coast Vincent dealer, Mickey Martin, who paid Dickerson to visit potential dealerships on his Rapide to help bolster sales. Although the hoped-for sales never materialized for Martin, Dickerson’s reputation as a rip-snorting racer was sealed, as Dickerson ran the Blue Bike in speed trials across Southern California and then through the traps at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats.

Dickerson continually improved his Rapide. With a claimed weight of only 400 pounds, he posted a top speed of 129mph at Bonneville in 1951 before finally taking the Class C record in 1953 with a posted speed of 147.85mph. Dickerson’s record stood for an incredible 20 years, until 1973 — and he’s still going strong. In 2007, at the age of 81, he set an AMA record in the Vintage Gasoline class of 151.685mph. The bike? A Vincent, of course. Dickerson sold the Blue Bike to Herb Harris, who also owns the famous Rollie Free Vincent, in 2000.

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