Speed is Expensive: Philip Vincent and the Million Dollar Motorcycle is an ambitious film project about Philip Vincent and his namesake motorcycles.  The film has been a labor of love for writer/director David Lancaster, and its production has been methodically idling along for a number of years.  Finally, it’s revving up and rolling out to selected screens in a bid for wider distribution. Narrated by Ewan McGregor, Speed is Expensive debuted June 17 this year during the Barnes Film Festival in the 200-seat Riverside Studios theatre in Hammersmith, London. It played to a sold-out cinema, netted a standing ovation and won the festival’s Audience Award – fitting tribute to the years of hard work David and many other backers and contributors put into making the documentary. Now, the film will be shown at select festivals, with some private screenings too, and discussions with agents should see it widely distributed.

David Lancaster hanging out with a couple of friends: the Barn Job dragster, and Marty Dickerson’s ‘Blue Bike’. [David Lancaster]
David Lancaster was uniquely suited for the project, as he’s been steeped in Vincent lore and the culture of speed since childhood. “My father, Alan, rode Vincents from the mid 1950s onwards,” David explains. “He and my mother toured a good deal in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s — to Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany. My father never lost the lust for long-distance travel, normally on his Vincent Black Prince, and went to Europe every year on two wheels, up until his passing in 1990. My first trips were with him: to the Belgium Lion Rally on the back aged seven, in 1973 – which was rich, early ‘70s chaos to a young mind – and to Austria aged nine, at the FIM rally.”

All in the family, part 1: With their father Alan at the controls, David Lancaster and his brother Tom sit in the capacious Steib S500 sidecar of a Vincent Black Shadow. [David Lancaster]
David continues, “My father went far – but my mother Audrey’s family went fast. Her father, Charlie Hornby, was a speedway rider in the 1920s – competing in the UK, South Africa and the USA. And my mother’s brother Colin Hornby was also a racer, gaining second in the 1964 Barcelona 24-hour race on a home-built 650 Norton just ahead of later-world champion Angel Nieto. Colin switched to sidecars and was a regular on the Continental Circus and TT of the late ‘60s, competing on a BMW Rennsport outfit. Colin’s still riding briskly at 80 years old.”

All in the family, part 2: David’s uncle Colin Hornby and Mike Griffiths on their BMW RS54 Rennsport outfit in 1971 at the Isle of Man Sidecar TT. [David Lancaster]
When David was in secondary school, he and his brother started a band and performed local gigs. Although a teacher told him he wouldn’t likely excel in either of his chosen professions – musician or journalist – his time at school fostered “a sense of do-it-yourself enterprise, which the explosion of punk at the time really chimed with – and, in the words of The Small Faces: ‘Why go to learn the words of fools?’” David enjoys recounting a poignant example of this generation’s ethos. “I got the train down to Paul Weller’s family house in Woking once, to try and get a ticket for a coach trip to see The Jam in Paris – none were available. But John, Paul’s father, was so gracious on the doorstep about the news that there were no tickets left – I was struck that they were running it all from a council house 30 miles south of London. Real ground-up enterprise.” It was a heady time for David. Passionate about music and skateboarding, he’d attend punk music gigs where bands such as The Ruts would stir up the crowd. “I missed out on seeing the Sex Pistols – the line to the Students Union bar at Brunel University looked just too long, so we went home. But seeing The Clash a couple of times at this period more than made up for it,” David says.

All in the family, part 3: David’s parents Alan and Audrey Lancaster aboard a Francis-Barnett trails bike. [David Lancaster]
At college, David gained a genuine appreciation for writing and then attended Warwick University, studying Philosophy and Literature. After graduating, he worked with the renowned Mark Williams on Motorcycle International magazine. He was there for three years as deputy editor, and says, “Mark was a good first boss – he’d cut his teeth on the late ‘60s underground press such as the International Times, and launched the ground-breaking BIKE in 1971. Great writer, too, who refused to publish second-rate words or pictures. Early lesson in quality control. I loved the bikes, and the new-model launches at tracks like Misano – even the speed testing at windy aerodromes – but I didn’t want to write about motorcycles for the rest of my life. After a while there isn’t much to say about the new GSX-R Suzuki which was, of course, faster, better-braked and more garish than the model it replaced. So, motorcycles went back to being my hobby and I worked through the ‘90s and 2000s mostly in the print media, spending two years on The Times (London) and freelancing for Fleet Street and magazines such as Arena.” While working mostly in the world of print media, David also branched out into television. He was a researcher for legendary Scottish journalist and media personality Muriel Gray and her Glasgow-based production company on some of her motoring shows. More time in that field included researching and directing Top Gear episodes and also as a script editor for a food-oriented series broadcasting on BBC2. All the while, an idea was percolating that would eventually become Speed is Expensive and I’ll let David tell this story in his words.

Film poster for Speed Is Expensive: Philip Vincent and the Million Dollar Motorcycle – based on original commissioned artwork by Conrad Leach

Greg Willams: What’s the back story to Speed is Expensive?

David Lancaster: It started, way back, with me looking through some 35mm slides my parents had taken of their Vincent trips in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, after both had passed away. My folks’ slides were from just 10 or so years after the Second World War ended in 1945 – and they were pioneering taking a bike that far into Europe at the time. No phones back then – no Euro, no credit cards and major currency restrictions (you were only allowed a certain amount in or out of each country). I’ve always read history, and there was a drift emerging that history could – or even should — be told from the shop floor as much as the directors’ office; that as much wisdom, probably more, would emerge from sitting in the workers’ canteen as in the directors’ restaurant for an hour.

A young John Surtees hangs off his father Jack’s Vincent sidecar racer: John made important contributions to the film. [David Lancaster]
So, I began thinking: what must this group of cool, young British men and women, on their 1000cc Vincents, have seemed like to someone working the land in Italy or Yugoslavia just 10 years after the war had ended? It was a vanished age, but the bikes remain. So, the idea of recording some of the stories from this period really appealed. I guess my mother and father passing kicked me into action – if I couldn’t record their stories, there would be others. Around this time, I hooked up with co-producer Gerry Jenkinson at a Vincent Owners Club meeting near Manchester. Gerry was already making videos – and as one of the top lighting directors in the UK theatre (go-to lighting guy for people like playwright Harold Pinter and director Peter Hall) and very tech proficient, he could work a camera really well and was into history as I was.

So, over a beer or two, we hatched a plan to track down the remaining men and women who’d built Vincents, to record their recollections. In the end, through social media, contacts and research on sites such as Ancestry, we filmed 14 men and women who worked at Stevenage, the most famous being John Surtees, who was an apprentice there. It was John’s only ever normal job in fact – payslip at the end of the week, day release for college with the other apprentices. From then on, he freelanced for factories becoming, of course, the only man to win world titles on two or four wheels. An amazing man with crystal clear recollection of events 70 years ago.

Vincent history is rich with characters and tales of derring-do. This is Clem Johnson’s ‘Barn Job’ dragster being warmed up. [David Lancaster]
GW: A large part of Speed is Expensive is based on footage and photos from Philip Vincent’s personal archive. How did that evolve?

DL: I’d known the Vincent family for many years through my parents: Dee, PCV’s daughter, her husband Robin and then young (grandson) Phil as he grew up. I’d met Phil Irving a good few times at Vincent events, but sadly I’m not sure I met Vincent before his death in 1979. But I may have done. So, Gerry and I asked – badgered, might be more accurate, but that’s documentary-making — to look over and perhaps restore the films shot by Vincent in their care. It was a revelation: home life, race meetings, travel in the USA meeting dealers, some of it on 16mm, filmed with his Bolex camera.

The Million Dollar Vincent: Jack Ehret’s record-breaker that sold for nearly $1M, and remains the #1 most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. [David Lancaster]
GW: This project has been in progress for many years. Can you tell us why it’s taken so long?

DL: The film was so long in the making because for the most part Gerry and I did everything: research, production, much of the early filming of interviews, then to travel to the USA, Montlhéry in France, and Australia, where we filmed the amazing Irving Vincents on the track, and the record setting Jack Ehret Lightning, back on the very road it set the southern hemisphere land speed record – for bikes and cars – at 141.5 mph in 1953. We were both busy working, too – Gerry lighting shows and me lecturing in journalism at the University of Westminster in London. The quality and extent of Vincent’s films was a milestone – and there were others, each of which elevated the project’s scope and quality: the Australian shoot above, the last full interview with John Surtees, then with our US producer James Salter helping us set up a day with Jay Leno and on to filming Marty Dickerson being re-united with his famous Blue Bike at the Mojave Desert.

Interviewing Marty Dickerson, builder of the Blue Bike, in the Mojave desert. [David Lancaster]
Marty was another wonderful character who my parents knew well and I’d ridden alongside at a VOC international rally in the early 1980s. Marty would stop with us all for a beer or lunch, unfurl his telescopic walking stick from the rack on his Vincent, and walk into a bar. Very cool. I always wondered if it had a sharpened tip, there if needed, like something out of a Sherlock Holmes story. One of the industry’s great writers and editors, Mike Nicks, stepped in to make this trip happen and came along with us. The best thing, or one of them, was all the people gelled – Philip Vincent’s grandson, director of photography Steve Read (director of Gary Numan: Android In Lala Land, 2016), James Salter, Mike (Nicks). At that time Gerry and I knew we had the making of something. It was wonderful to interview Marty, to see him again, and I guess say goodbye to him. My mother visited him in LA a few times after my father died. Marty passed away just a few months after our interview. I didn’t quite get to record the full stories of my parents or their trips in Europe on their bike– but their legacy, of travel and world-wide and enduring friendships in the Vincent world, have really made Speed is Expensive possible.

More legendary Vincent owners in the USA: Sonny Angel, who also raced and set records with his Vincent, and worked at the factory in Stevenage. [Sonny Angel Archives]
Our financial supporters, many at a medium level, one or two large, have been wonderful at watching the project grow and unfold rather than hassle and hustle for a release date. All have made it happen – but especially early supporters such as Tim Woodward, Mike Nicks and Colin and Wendy Manning, and executive producers Harvey Bowden and Kris Waumans. This private backing has given Gerry and myself freedom to craft the story. We’ve taken some wrong turns, of course, but I think it was this, and the bikes and the story, which Ewan McGregor responded to when he heard about the project. He phoned rather out of the blue, from an introduction through James Salter and Greg McBride, and once he’d read the voice-over script said – yes, he’d be our narrator. We recorded his voice over in the depths of COVID lockdown: Ewan at his home, James in a studio in Santa Monica, me talking to both on Facetime video!

It was great to see Ewan McGregor and Mary Elizabeth Winstead at our Electric Revolutionaries reception: Ewan is a big supporter of all things motorcycle, including eBikes, having ridden a LiveWire up the length of South America. [MAF]
The final piece of the jigsaw (and a feature documentary is a massive jigsaw of elements, most of them in flux all the time…) came just over a year ago. Again, it was at another VOC meeting. Gerry had ridden to a pub meet in Kent on his Comet and Colin Manning introduced him to Russell Icke, who’d not long ago bought a Shadow and Comet. In a very British way, Gerry asked: ‘And what do you do?’ to which Russell replied, ‘I’m a film editor…’ Cut to 12 months later and Russell, and his lead editor Liz Deegan, have really got us over the line – long days in there cutting, finessing, plus of course all the major post production work which people really do not know much about, but are key: sound balance, picture grading, captioning. I’ve learnt a great deal at every stage, but working with Russell and Liz was brilliant – their skills have really embedded the jeopardy of the story: Would the company suffer another humiliation in the 1935 TT, the first one with their own entries, as they did the year before? Would the post-war Rapide, planned during the last year of the war, work? Would it sell? What were the effects of Vincent’s crash, riding an early Rapide on a race circuit in 1947? Vincent fans may know the answers to a good deal of these questions – but the key thing in making a documentary for a more general audience is that most will not know…and of course Vincent, Irving and the workforce, didn’t know either. Vincent was a gambler in many ways. For years, it paid off, but later, less so.”

David Lancaster with his 1939 Vincent-HRD Comet, an apex vintage motorcycle. [Nick Clements-Men’s File magazine]

What’s in the Garage?

And with that, of course, the film has launched. No word about DVD releases, but David assures me, as noted earlier, that work is underway to get the film out to all markets keen to view it. In the meantime, David will enjoy running his early Rapide, a bike that was owned by his father in the 1950s and the very machine his parents used for many of their adventures. It had been sold out of the family, David found it in Germany, “and then swooped when it came up for sale at Bonhams.” He’s not letting that one go, but he did sell a 1939 Comet which he’d kept for 10 years. Of the Comet, he says, “It was a wonderful bike: reasonably fast, and on a smooth road great handling, with excellent brakes. Had a wonderful ride at Wheels and Waves, 2015 I think, when Johnny Boneyard and I vanned Paul Simonon’s ‘Wot No Bike?’ paintings [read David’s story on Paul’s book here] and our bikes down. I still remember cruising along with Paul d’Orleans and Susan McLaughlin on the northern Spanish backroads, they on a Commando, ducking and diving into bends. Great trip”.

Paul Simonon at the 2015 edition of Wheels and Waves, with his paintings displayed at the ArtRide exhibit. [Paul d’Orléans]
But it’s the V-twins that truly captivate David’s interest. “I still sit, after working on the Rapide, and marvel at the achievement of the post-war twins: they are utterly unique, the work of two geniuses – Vincent and Irving – designed and built when both were at the top of their game, by a dedicated workforce.” The Rapide is not the only machine of interest in David’s garage. He adds, “I’ve also got a 1958 AJS 31 CS, with a Von Dutch tank, which is an easy bike to live with. Still on original wiring, mag, etc. Plus, there’s a 1971 MV Agusta 350, an ’88 Saab 900 Turbo and ’75 Jaguar XJ Coupe. I sold the Comet to buy the Jag. Never easy parting with these things, but I wanted a classic with four seats, not two, which my wife, daughter and our adopted daughter could take a holiday in and enjoy. Which we have done.”

David’s 1958 AJS 31CS with a SoCal custom paint job…which just might have been painted by Von Dutch. [Bonhams]
David professes his mechanical skills are limited, “probably by my laziness – but I seem to get home on bikes, even after some roadside fiddling. I choose my riding buddies for many reasons – good company, a sense of humour – but possibly mechanical skills, too. Or so it seems.” He is a member of the Vincent Owners Club and London’s Mean Fuckers Motorcycle Club [a 1980s post-punk/rocker classic bike club, written about in my book ‘Ton Up!’ – ed.]. While busy with his day job lecturing in Journalism at the University of Westminster, David has been working toward a book that will augment Speed is Expensive. “It’ll be more detailed, more specialist than the film,” he says, “but still built around the same access we’ve enjoyed to those who worked with both Vincent and Irving and knew them well.” Other projects are potentially in the works, as David is working on ideas with his friend and Speed is Expensive executive producer Robert Carr (co-founder in the late 1980s of the Mean Fuckers MC) and Andrew Nahum [read our story on Andrew here]. “We’re working on a film treatment which will combine France, vintage motoring, literature and food,” and David sagely concludes, “Bikes are great – but you’ve got to eat.”




Greg Williams is Profiles Editor for The Vintagent. He’s a motorcycle writer and publisher based in Calgary who contributes the Pulp Non-Fiction column to The Antique Motorcycle and regular feature stories to Motorcycle Classics. He is proud to reprint the Second and Seventh Editions of J.B. Nicholson’s Modern Motorcycle Mechanics series. Follow him on IG: @modernmotorcyclemechanics


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