In 1970 I was just a lad of eighteen summers, three years into a five year apprenticeship and watching my boss David Cottrell speedway outfit sidecar champion ride a Vincent to victory time after time it had me hankering to buy one for a road bike. As I had never ever seen a Vincent in anything but speedway guise I thought it would be a brilliant idea to make a road bike out of one, how disillusioned could one be, well a few months after this, one day pumping fuel from a bowser a chap pulled up on a Comet (thinking back it might have been Maurice Austin) and I commented that my boss rode similar bikes as this on the speedway and I had a brilliant idea of putting one on the road, I was also expressing that such a engine may fit into one of these Comet frames! To say this chap thought I was some kind of a raving fool was probably a understatement, he then casually remarked they were all road bikes originally and all those speedway bike were modified standard road bikes, hmm this sent me off in pre-internet days of finding a picture of a original version and eventually it was in a Cycle World magazine of a naked Series D which put me right off as it was ugly. One day Phil Irving (PEI) came to Cottrell's Garage and I asked him about it and Phil filled me in about earlier versions that looked similar to that Comet I had seen, still seeing a picture and buying the machine were a long way off as a $27.85 third year apprentice mechanic wasn't really well paid even with tons of overtime.
My Dunstall Triumph had to do for a few more years, then came 1948 Speed Twin Triumph and eventually a stint at Vic Wreckers in 1973 where my new boss Brian Cripps told me of a Vincent in Geelong owned by a bloke called Bill Branagah who may be willing to sell it, man that got me "fired up" and it took some time to contact Bill and yes he told me it was on the market, I could come and see it and put in a offer, great, I was down in Geelong the next evening and he had a 1951 Series C Rapide unrestored with a Shadow speedo and a spare set of wheels with Shadow drums, the bike hadn't gone for over 10 years and had a hessian bag soused with oil under it and a tartan seat cover (more on that later) and he was uncertain if it would even run! Well I was overcome with a fervour to own this bike still registered with its original Vic rego BE-666 in 1951 the rego number was the Mark of the Beast which all Vincent's are known I offered $1,500 and he said he would think about it and to ring back in a week, to say I was disappointed is a understatement and this saga went on for six months, one time I was told to bring the money which eventually crept up to $2,000 and upon arriving he was still thinking about it, I vowed to myself that if I ever bought it I would never sell it, that day eventually arrived and Bill rang me and said pick it up, I was surprised when it was on my trusty Valiant ute and I paid him, "good riddance " but now it was mine.
My father George was a practical man and as he was a child of the Depression Era was cautious with money, and thought I was a bit stupid to buy a old motorcycle not even running for such a high price, he thought that a new motorcycle would be better value at at the time a new 750 Triumph could be had for $1,850 ride-away, looking back he was right to think that way, when the Vincent was brought home and parked in his workshop my mother the next morning said to me "Your father is very disappointed in your purchase a old wreck of a machine not going and leaking oil, he thinks you are stupid" well so be it I thought for parental support. Meanwhile I ordered the Richardson book on Vincent's and a riders handbook, with a parts list from Conway Motors in Shepherds Bush London and every night sat on the workshop bench pinching myself to make sure the sad old beast wasn't a dream. About 3 weeks later a large Jiffy bag was on my bed and I then could see what was inside my machine and start dismantling it for a full restoration I also joined the VOC (Vincent Owners Club) and started dismantling and would take over a year and £1,500 which I never totalled up till after ten years as only after that period of time it seemed cheap!
I remember joining the local Vincent owners section in 1974 and a guy asked me if I had a Vincent, I replied yes and he asked how much I paid $2,000 I chirped happily to which he said "Man you got ripped" anyway old Vic Bognor the stove enameler painted the machine and Carrol"s Platers did the chroming I did some of the engine work and John Hartnett did the flywheels, various bits were polished and eventually it was ready for the road much to my mothers relief as the sub assemblies after I finished them were in my bedroom and it was a great day when it was started to be assembled for her.
At this time 1974 I started working at the state Triumph importers Frank Mussett and Co and I rode the Vincent to Mildura to a Classic Club of SA event that following year and it won 1st prize much to my new friend John Powell from Adelaide's to his dismay as he had a equally nice twin that could have taken the honours but I think the fact mine was ridden there did the tipping of odds to my favour a thing that eventually happened some four years in a row.
Meanwhile at Mussett's one day a chap rang up to enquire about a rigid frame Triumph circa 1951 like Marlon Brando rode in the infamous film "The Wild One" as he wanted to do a photo shoot of a model superimposed on it holding a Chiko Roll for Frozen Food Industries, I told him that we never had a Triumph of the era in stock only late versions but would a Vincent do as a alternative? His reply was it wasn't about headache powders (Vincent headache powders famous at the time) but about Chiko Rolls I then went onto extolling the virtues of the mighty Vincent and how the campaign would be so much better with it and yes I could arrange to bring it on Saturday to his studio in North Melbourne, my mate Colin Will was into Guzzi's and his then girlfriend, eventually his wife Sandra Mathieson came with me the photographer told us a drawing would be done from the pictures and the model in Sydney would be superimposed on the bike by Alan Puckett so is there anything I didn't want on the picture? Well the number plate BE-666 and the rear stand as the bike looked odd these were taken off on the final drawing and you can see the stand in the down position but rubbed out and the number plate was CH-100, Sandra was placed on the bike for the shots to get it into prospective, which never happened as the final poster that girl has very, very long legs! So what did your author get for this "zilch" not even a Chiko Roll, upon ringing Frozen Foods and complaining they sent me a couple of posters! They did have a Elizabeth st Centenary in 2000 and a line up of Harley-Fergusons which they used in later advertising trying to recapture the Vincent poster fame and I refused to put my bike in the line-up, revenge is sweet.
Fame followed this machine and the ABC TV network ran a Sunday Magazine show for 15 minutes on the demise of the British Industry at the time with Triumph off strike and BSA bankrupt, Norton the same, my Vincent featured heavily with me and PEI, eventually 2 days of interviews and riding my Vincent with a cameraman then a soundman polished it off it was fairly well known. I was riding it about 12,000 mile a year and loving it more and more, it eventually got me introduced to my wife Carolyn and our first date was a picnic to Point Schank, Carolyn had never ridden on a motorcycle any distance till she met me and I remember that summers day well as it was very hot, she had brought frozen pineapple juice and unbeknown to to it melted all over my muffler! As I was riding a wofting of pineapple was noticeable but eventually on stopping I could see why! It took over two days to get the black cooked on stain off and a lot of swearing and cursing to say Carolyn made a impression on me is a understatement. On the same day bringing her back home I was booked by a over zealous policeman for not giving way to a car at least 1/2 mile away at a "T" intersection
Over the years numerous articles in Australian Motorcycle News, Motorcycle Trader magazine and MPH 378 the Vincent Owners magazine, a mate Trevor Thomas from Sydney wrote about the Chiko Roll Vincent in that magazine in July 1980 it has also featured various roadtests one four years ago was a Suzuki Hyabusa vs Vincent Rapide considering both have held the "Worlds Fastest" title the difference was remarkable. The Vincent still in its era and up till the Laverda Jota in 1976 was to hold that title longer than any bike manufactured since!
Earlier on I had contacted the VOC and John Marshall of the machine register area about the build sheets on my Rapide and he wrote to me that this machine had been extensively road tested by a Mr Thomas some 650 miles with breather issue testing EN32 half time and breather pinions, imagine buying a new bike these days ridden that mileage from new! It had been ordered by Sven Kallin the importers in Adelaide 11/09/1951 and despatched 07/11/1951 and it went to Pratts Motorcycles (agent) in Geelong to be sold, Frank Pratt rode HRD No 4 to many victories in Australia in the early years of Vincent's in Australia and also BMW"'s, other details on my machine were R&M bearings, + 4 half time pinion,"U" barrels and pistons .005" clearance, magneto timing 2 deg ATC. Weirdly now the new VOC machine examiner refuses to authenticate it even know the pictures of all numbers have been sent! I have coined a appropriate name for him starting with W and ending in r.
This Vincent stayed with me along time since 1973 in fact and at various time I have owned others but now I think I have had it longer than most of my other possessions, 16 years ago a chap rang me to ask if I still owned it and cautiously I asked him why, he then to me his father in law had bought it and rode it up to the time Bill Branagh purchased it and could he see it now as the old chap, Ron W Mackenzie from Raymond Island was now around 85, wow this was the guy that put the tartan seat cover on and was "miffed" to see it missing, also pannier racks, it had had 13,000 mile on it when he purchased it, he told me he worked for SECV ( electricity commission) and rode it weekly from Geelong to Redcliffs power station where he was on maintenance, he had to buy the Vincent to do the long mileage, it was less tiring than a MG TC sports car he also had at the time and as the highway was unpaved he took a shotgun to shoot rabbits on the way to eat and pictures were produced with evidence, also one of a parrot stacked to the front tommy bar axle that he had hit at speed! This bloke wanted a couple of photos of him on the bike for the memories so that was something else I knew about it and and the rare Amal air filters that he ordered for the desert roads he had told me that took three months to arrive were still on so although the seat cover was gone he seemed happy they were still fitted photos of him broken down on the then car-less dusty highway with a flat tyre seemed daunting but obviously still got him to his destination, a great bloke to meet and another bit of history cleared up.
So this humble old Rapide has changed over the years like its owner, we have both matured, it used to have lots of chrome, a Shadow speedo, a Cibi headlight glass, 6V Miller electrics, 19" and 18" wheels, stainless mudguards, a Series D breather system ( about the only thing I liked off those models) leather saddlebags, type 6 Amal carbs and a Lucas magneto, now it has a 12V system, "Chinamo" generator, Pazon regulator, electric start, BT-H magneto, Li-ion battery, type 29 Shadow carbs, a Hallmark bike pack, a standard Miller headlight, no chrome on non standard bits, Ikon shockers, balance beam "boomerang" ,plain brake drums, 20"and 19" rims, a McLennon sidestand, a standard 3" 180 KPH speedo and a 3" matching clock, a elephant trunk breather, alloy guards, 520 "o" ring chain conversion, at various times its had a Dusting sidecar, and even a Steib 501 fitted although it's currently solo now. I have had Phil Irving ride my Rapide with me in the sidecar testing my clutch and have the pictures to prove it, at the time Phil hadn't ridden a motorcycle for some years so it was a achievement.
You know I think its still just as nice as when I started restoring it some 47 years ago as a 21 year old and as the original Frozen Food Industries advert said " Dollar for Dollar the 1955 Chiko Roll still reigns Supreme" the later advert with "You can't knock the Roll" just doesn't quite sound right.
Phil Pilgrim 2016