The Vincent Comet: The Black Shadow’s Half Brother

I attended the 2012 British Iron Association of Massachusetts’ Spring Bike Show in Oxford, MA.  I was pleased to see a Vincent Comet on display.  Unfortunately the 500cc Vincent Comet has spent its life in the shadow of the more well-known and legendary Vincent Black Shadow.

A Vincent Comet

The Vincent motorcycle story begins in 1927 when Phillip Vincent bought the remnants of the HRD motorcycle business.  HRD had been a company owned by Howard R. Davies (hence the initials HRD) that produced high quality motorcycles using JAP engines, but whose business was run poorly.  Phillip Vincent had a some great ideas for a motorcycle rear suspension, so the initial Vincent-HRD motorcycles were first built with JAP engines, but using the new Vincent-designed pivoting triangular rear frame.

Like All Older British Bikes, The Vincent Comet Transmission Shifter is on the Right Side

In the early part of the 20th century, the biggest motorcycle racing was the Tourist Trophy (TT) races on the Isle of Man.  The Vincent-HRD motorcycles were raced in the TT races with some success.  But the turning point came in the 1934 TT when Vincent-HRD entered three motorcycles in the TT races, but all three had engine problems.  As a result, Vincent-HRD decided to produce their own engine.

The Vincent Comet Has a 499cc Single Cylinder Engine

The result 499cc engine was an air-cooled, four-stroke single cylinder engine that produced 28 horsepower at 5,800 rpm.  The same engine in the Vincent Meteor, a more touring style motorcycle, produced 24 horsepower.  The Vincent Comet had a four-speed transmission with the shifter on the right side.  The Vincent Comet was capable of cruising easily at 80 to 90 mph and had a top speed approaching 100 mph.  The engine had an “oversquare” design with the piston stroke being 90mm, while the cylinder bore was only 84mm.  This made the engine more responsive to the throttle.  Driven normally, the Vincent Comet could provide about 55 miles per US gallon.

In addition to the innovative rear suspension on the Vincent Comet, note the front suspension as well.  Vincent referred to the front forks as the “Gridaulic” fork system.

Note the Position of the Shock in the Pivoting Triangular Rear Suspension

Because of the high quality of these bikes, the Vincent Comet was the most expensive single cylinder motorcycle in the world.  Despite the price of the Vincent Comet, Vincent always had trouble making money on its motorcycles.

In the late 1930s, Vincent-HRD got the idea of making a V-Twin engine.  To do this they took two 499cc Vincent Comet engines and put them together to make the V-Twin design.  This became the engine that powered the legendary Vincent Black Shadow.  As a result, the Vincent Comet is sometimes referred to as the “half-brother” to the Vincent Black Shadow.

The Vincent Comet was first available in 1935 and it remained as part of the Vincent line-up until 1955, when Vincent ceased production of all of its motorcycles.

The Speedometer is a Little Optimistic, But the Vincent Comet Could Do About 100 mph

Failure to achieve a balance between production costs, selling price, and sales led to the downfall of Vincent.  The Vincent motorcycles cost just too much to build.  So despite full slate of orders for their motorcycles, Vincent ceased production of motorcycles in 1955.  They were losing money on every motorcycle sold.  This was truly a sad condition.

This Newer Version of the Vincent Comet Features More Stylish Chrome Fenders

Over the years, the “HRD” got dropped from the name on the motorcycles and the Vincent-HRD motorcycles simply became the Vincent motorcycles.  Today all of the Vincent motorcycles are still quite expensive and not all that common in North America.

Seventeen-Year Old John Surtees on his “Grey Flash” the Racing Version of the Vincent Comet

It is interesting to note that John Surtees, the only person the win world championships on both two wheels and four wheels, first came to prominence racing a Vincent Grey Flash, which was the racing version of the Vincent Comet.  John Surtees’ father was a dealer in London for Vincent, therefore this opened the door for Surtees to get a Vincent racing bike.  In 1951, 17-year old John Surtees’ Grey Flash had some great finishes against the powerhouse Norton and MV-Agusta teams with his Vincent Grey Flash. His racing success with the Grey Flash continued into 1952, which led Norton to sign him up to their factory team in 1953.  After that Surtees’ racing career continued to rise, eventually leading to the Formula 1 World Drivers Championship.

Fo all of these reasons, it was great to see the Vincent Comet at the British Iron Association of Massachusetts 2012 Spring Show.  Like all comets, they are not frequently seen.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Vincent Comet: The Black Shadow’s Half Brother

  1. Ross Thomas says:

    Hi Steve,
    I am contacting you for a special reason.
    I am researching Howard R. Davies (HRD Motorcycles) and, in particular his incarceration as a POW during the Great War.
    Could you advise whom I could contact to further these enquiries.
    Perhaps a family member??

    Kindest regards,

    Ross Thomas
    Unit 4/419 Flinders Street
    Townsville Queensland 4810
    Australia
    Ph +61 405 504 332

    • Hi Ross,
      You are undertaking a very interesting study. I would like to be able to help you directly, but unfortunately I do not have any information about someone who could help you.

      Hopefully someone will see your request and will be able to help you.

      Best wishes,
      Steve McKelvie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s