Back when I was a lad of 16 summers (1968) I had started a apprenticeship with FJ & DF Cottrell they were a well established garage in Station st Fairfield since 1946 , the father and son Fred and Dave were well known in that area as Fred was a WW11 veteran. Anyway the son Dave was my boss and only 2 years out as a tradesman he ran the workshop and his weakness was motorcycles and racing them as well in most forms and with Sidecar attached, initially roadracing, then Scrambles then his forte Speedway, which he eventually became Victorian Speedway Champion on Vincent’s.
This didn’t happen quickly as he started on junior class with a supercharged Triumph but he eventually graduated to unlimited class or all powers class on a “Herda” (HRD), meanwhile I as a lowly apprentice my job was to clean the mud piles off these outfits every Monday morning in preparation for the next weekends competition at Brooklyn Speedway, if they weren’t spick and span I got a foot up the neither regions and not in the Catholic way that is common these days (I can say that as I’m a Mike) I would attend these weekend events on Saturday night by riding down the the meeting on my 1966 Triumph Saint after I got my licence. Of course the bikes to beat were John Heaviside’’s HRD, or Vern Alcorn’s HRD, but the Walker family were the dominant force Ernie Osterlund was usually behind the guys all on Herda”s with Bob McKimmie on a blown 880 JAP mixing it with the front runners, the noises of these giants on alcohol with Castrol caster oil permeating the atmosphere was addictive so much that I lusted with a fervour for one.
Having never seen a Vincent in standard trim I thought seriously about getting a Speedway bike and putting it in road trim, this really got me going enthusiastically and shortly after a chap ( I believe it was Maurice Austin) road into the forecourt for petrol on a Comet, having a light bulb moment I told the owner that my boss rode these on the Speedway and now after seeing his Comet I think I would adapt a twin motor in one of these frames. He looked at me in bemusement and said that’s how they were made from the factory and rode off thinking it must be a full moon!
Time passed and Dave had a really bad accident on the Herda in Port Pierie and was on crutches for twelve months, the Vincent’s were left while he healed, then one day a South Australian Speedway rider came in with Series C and triple ( yes triple it was a prototype )adult Busmar sidecar outfit he swapped this for the two Speedway Vincent’s and a tandem trailer full of spares, the road bike was a fully imported bike from UK but they had removed the crankcases and fitted a set of “clapped out” cases to it and it was leaking from every crevice looking back Davy was ripped off! Anyway after a small refurbishment it was ready for rego which I was told would be my job to ride it down to the RTA in Carlton to be presented to the inspectors at the pits, now this would be quite a challenge as I had never ridden a outfit up to that point in time, but as Dave’s leg was not healed and I was the only other sucker that had a bike licence then I was the only choice.
With trepidation I set off with Dave following in the works orange FX Holden Ute,the outfit was a beast it took all of my strength to keep it from pulling left, and if you touched the front brake it swerved violently to the right, which it did in Royal pde Clifton Hill at the intersection of Smith st, as I pulled up it sideswiped a EJ Holden with little effect on either vehicle except my leg which got a fair wack. Anyway eventually we got there and I was shaking and didn’t want to ride it back to Fairfield and with my throbbing knee found it nearly impossible to start, eventually I got back alive and it was a number of years till I rode a Vincent with a chair but when I did it was with a vengeance in road racing form, the Combination of Dave’s was offered to me for $2500 and I knocked it back, Jack Walker ( famous Speedway outfit rider) bought it and rode it around Tassie and still owns it till this day.
I eventually quit Cottrells after my 5 year apprenticeship and started working a Victorian motorcycle wreckers and Brian Cripps was the proprietor a BMW lover he had the fortune one day to have Ray McGrath a speedway sidecar rider offer him all his Vincent spares and for someone like me it was heaven, my task was sell the parts after sorting them at a profit. After some months the “eyes were picked out” and the rest was sold to the local VOC section meanwhile I had been given a lead about a Rapide in Geelong owned by Bill Branagh for $1500, I promptly contacted him and after about 3 months of to and fro with him changing his mind I eventually got it for $2000 he chucked in a spare set of wheels and a Shadow clock but a that time it was overpriced for a non running unrestored machine. I remember bringing it home and I overheard my father saying to my mother “ I thought Phil had more sense than to buy a old wreck of a motorcycle for that price” my father would eventually see that machine rise in price tenfold, and I think he must have thought I wasn’t that stupid after all. Some time after I bought the bike I used to sit just looking at it and pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I had ordered all the spares books and KTB from Conways before even attempting to start dismantling it, I had managed to save the original rego number BE-666 by just paying the rego in time as in those days you could even after 3 months of not being paid. The first time I went to a Victoria Section meet had most members amazed as I was only 22 yo and for a Vincent Owner very young, I was queried by one member wheather I had a Vincent and if so was it given to me by a relative, I told this guy gleefully about my Vincent and me asked me what it cost $2,000 I chirped, his answer to me was “Man you got ripped “ I was crestfallen!
Anyway some months passed and I was all fully restored and I rode it to Chris and June Weir”s place for another meeting and everyone seemed reasonably impressed, those days the Mildura Rally was the main event and I remember riding it up there with a Dusting sidecar and a mate on 6V Miller electrics in the night during a flood to get to Charlton, nerve wracking to say the least, I left at 6 o’clock on Friday straight after work so that would mean I could after spending an evening at the halfway point Charlton I could arrive at Mildura early Saturday morning only trouble was on the way there it was flooding and the water was half way up the magneto cover I struggled ever onward arriving at the pub to ask for a room as I was exhausted. The next morning the flood hadn’t subsided and that slowed me up from making good time, so I arrived at Mildura in the mid afternoon, and it was very hot. Still to this day I am amazed the Lucas magneto never missed a beat even know it must have had water lapping over it.
The story of this bike on being the model for The Chiko Roll bike is well known so no point repeating it now, my affair with Vincent competition machines both road racing and Trials were interesting, Speedway never appealed to much dirt, fences and no brakes but road racing was almost glamorous so that’s what I wanted to do.
Getting a Vincent from Vern Alcorn a ex Speedway rider that had “hit the fence” and severely damaged him physically and mentally was easy as he had offered me Frank Pratt”s HRD number 3 engine number, I couldn’t afford all of it but Trevor Evans came with me and I bought all the other bits he had and Trev got the crankcases which I believe he still has to this day and built a bike around them. After a few months a bike was all built up with a old sidecar that I bought from George Russell in The Patch, George bought the remnants of a sidecar chassis made from a old school desk and it had a good fibreglass nose cone and guard on it, with a new ply floor and a tyre on the wheelbarrow wheel it was ready. My poor chair passenger didn’t like the fact 8mph was embossed on the sidecar tyre but resolved to give It a go anyway nervously is a understatement to say the least. The first race the HRD was hopeless as with standard girdraulics and 18” tyres that slid into corners were uncontrollable, the forks required more strength than I had to manhandle it through corners and after six laps I was physically buggered! I had to modify it, and a trip to UK I bought 16” sidecar racing tyres and went a visited sidecar champion Ted Davis ex-Vincent works racer, Ted sold me Gunga Dins short top fork link and told me to set the spring boxes to solo position, this combination made it a breeze to steer around but using other competitors as banking through corners to stop sliding out didn’t win me to many friends. Next step was 16” chopper Avon tyres, slightly better and riding it amongst modern outfits (which you did in those early days) was ridiculous it would out accelerate Yosi Honda’s at Winton but they would overtake on the torturous corners, one guy on a modern outfit was staggered how quick the alcohol burning Vincent could go and said “Why don’t you put that engine in a decent frame”. The thing was when you fired it up in the pits was with Twin straight pipes it drowned out all other bikes and pulled a big crowd around it which was good for the ego, anyway more changes had to come.
PEI offered me the plans of 7 times Bathurst champion Vincent outfit rider Alec Corners bike which I did use, extend the frame,stand the headstem up, and drop the front wheel down by redrilling and milling the fork blades also rolling the handlebar mounts around upside down to effectively lower it down to a “kneeler” height, after this it was virtually unbeatable, and was a very quick handling combination, and for my long suffering passenger, the chair had a rear exit conversion and a mini wheel with a radial tyre. I rode it like this till 1981 and eventually restored it to a Lightning replica, then back to a road bike to sell it to Tom Myers.
I had in the meantime built a Comet 600 outfit with a Commando gearbox for Junior Sidecar racing, at Philip Island it could keep up with the Triumphs and theframe mods were good in the corners but it bogged down corners and on “full song” vibrated very harshly.
After marrying in 1981 I decided I would have a go at the newly formed Classic Trials in the Heavyweight class on a Vincent Comet engined solo the frame was home made with Triumph forks, wheels, and swing arm, the weight was on par with competition Matchless 500 but it was a handful to drag around especially when most of the field were on Triumph Cubs, I did this for a couple of years and then sold this bike, a bit of a shame really and concentrated on road Vincent’s
Vincati, Vindian and the Indian-Vincent and a Trials Comet
Ok I will start with a often heard comments “So you have ruined two bikes” (Vincati) or “You wrecked a good Vincent” (Indian-Vincent) or “Why would waste that engine in a frame that can’t handle it”(Vindian) easy to answer the Vincati and Vindian have reproduction engines and the Indian-Vincent is the factory works prototype!
The Vincati annoys the shitter out of Duke owners and until recently I owned a stock 750 GT which it was derived from I just tell these people that with a hacksaw and $30,000 they to can have a perfect Ducati as it’s now reliable.
The Vindian is accepted more readily by Indian owners because it was what might have happened, Vincent Owners are lots more negative but are happier when they know that it isn’t a factory bike that was wrecked from its frame, still I like it better than Ugly (Egli) Vincent or a Whore-Vin (Nor-Vin) after 10,000 miles in the tractor seat it’s comfortable and rides to Sydney and back are luxurious at my age (67) I like comfortable bikes and as a Vincent owner of over 45 years I know what I need and want, a standard factory model is nice but can be harsh, enough said.
The Trials Comet was another one of those fit of madness things you do, after adapting a 650 Triumph s/arm and rear wheel that fitted straight in and fabricating a rear subframe the back end was finished, a trials Cub heavyweight set of telescopic forks and front wheel with a Series D UFM and a alloy fuel tank made it perfect. But going very slow is harder than going very fast so although it was fun I was never a serious competitor still it was a interesting project and it got a spare engine back going again, this Comet is now in UK so still puttering around.
Phil Pilgrim 2019