More than six decades ago, the Vincent Black Shadow delivered the most performance from a street-legal vehicle that money could buy — on two wheels or four. The ultimate Vincent was the Series C Black Lightning, a production version of the bike Rollie Free rode to break the AMA's land speed record in 1948 on the Bonneville Salt Flats; the swimming trunks were an optional extra. Available only by special order, the standard Black Lightning was supplied in racing trim with at least 70bhp at 5,600 rpm (versus the Black Shadow's claimed 55bhp) and a claimed top speed of 150mph.
First shown at London's 1948 Earls Court show, the production Black Lightning caused a sensation despite its then-enormous £400 price tag plus a hefty £108 purchase tax. It is generally accepted that only 33 complete customer versions - all Series C except for one Series D model - plus Rollie Free's first 1948 Series B prototype were ever built (together with anything up to 13 engines for installation in racing cars), before production ended in 1952.
Today, the Black Lightning is perhaps the most coveted production motorcycle ever built. It is believed that 19 matching-numbers Lightnings still exist, making this cosmetically un-restored ex-Jack Ehret five-owner example, with its glorious racing history, a rare and immensely desirable slice of motorcycling history.
Bonhams sold this fabulous machine for US$929,000 (£689,207) in 2018, making it the most expensive motorcycle ever sold (assuming there have been no private sales for more). Why so much? Partly the history, but also because Vincents – like Brough Superiors – are very traceable, with full factory records and a wide knowledge base. In other words, you’re highly unlikely to be stung and fobbed off with a fake. While some have issues with people spending a million dollars on a motorcycle, with interest rates so low what else is a rich man going to do with his cash, beyond preserve our sports’ magnificent history?
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