Big Sur on a 1950 Series C Vincent Rapide

A classic highway on a classic bike

| March/April 2007

1950 Series C Vincent Rapide
Years produced:
Total production: 2,758
Claimed power: 45hp @ 5,300rpm
Top speed: 120mph (est.)
Engine type: 998cc overhead valve, air-cooled 50-degree V-twin
Weight (wet): 206kg (455lb)
Price then: $1,250 
Price now: $15,000-$35,000
MPG: 50-60

A 1950 Series C Vincent Rapide and the Big Sur Highway offer the best of two worlds: a classic bike and a classic road.

Both the motorcycle and the road are reminiscent of a calmer, quieter, almost magical time before the advent of hyper-performance engines and broad, featureless freeways. The magic of a Vincent is undeniable, and the Big Sur has more than a bit of magic about it, especially when ridden in the cool light of early morning. The fact that this semi-wild place, El Sur Grande, The Big South, as the Spanish in Monterey called it 200 years ago, even exists in the 21st century is attributable in equal parts to Mother Nature for the original concept and to the far-sightedness of a few people for its preservation.

Not all that much has changed in the Big Sur in the past 50 or so years, and the reality of those 100 thin miles of asphalt, from the Carmel River in the north to Cambria in the south, is that this is one of the most dramatic rides in the U.S. of A., as close to two-wheeled heaven as one can find here on earth. Riding it on the Vincent makes it doubly so.

The Series C Vincent Rapide
The Series C Vincent Rapide is one of the most famous motorcycles ever built, and riding a properly restored one can be heavenly. By the standards of 1950, the Vincent was an exceptional machine. The 998cc, 50-degree V-twin put out between 45 and 55 horsepower, depending on the state of tune (Rapide or Black Shadow). It was easily capable of exceeding “the ton,” as the Brits referred to the then-magical 100mph mark.

The owner of the Vincent for our ride is John Laughney. John, who considers himself merely the current caretaker of this Vincent, firmly believes that motorcycles of all ages are to be ridden, not put up on a mantelpiece. He had lusted after a Vincent for 20 years, but always found the cost prohibitive. Finally he came to the sensible awareness that the price would never go down, and better to buy sooner rather than later. Bought in 1993, John’s 1950 Series C Rapide model had led a strenuous life, including racing in Vintage classes. But John’s relaxation comes from restoring elderly, abused bikes, and spare parts for such a well-known marque are readily available. All the job requires is a good set of Whitworth tools, mechanical competency, and many, many hours to devote to the task.

11/13/2010 11:57:04 PM

While it may be true that a Vincent Rapide could've eaten Jim Bronson's Sportster for a mid-morning snack, doing so would have given the Vincent a terminal case of indigestion and flatulence; there is, after all, a lot of good old American iron in that Harley. A proper British mid-morning snack would simply be biscuits and tea.

Ride 'Em, Don't Hide 'Em Getaway

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