David Lancaster

Back to Black at Montlhéry

Capturing the story of Philip Vincent’s life on film sees the SpeedisExpensive crew filming at the historic banked circuit in France last year – featuring one of Patrick Godet’s finest creations

 By Mike Nicks and David Lancaster

Photography by Bernard Testemale, Mike Nicks, David Lancaster, Steve Read, Philip Vincent-Day and others.

A static Polaroid shot of the Godet special on the Montlhéry track. [Bernard Testemale]
On previous shoots for the SpeedisExpensive documentary in Los Angeles, Australia and the former factory building at Stevenage in England, our film crew focused on a mix of history and modernity. We’ve flashbacked to the great moments that helped create the Vincent myth, and caught up with those who are carrying the Vincent legend forward, such as the Irving Vincent team in the southern hemisphere. One of our final shoots explored yet more scenes from the Vincent universe, this time at Montlhéry, France. The banked circuit south of Paris was built in 1924 and in 1952 was the scene of a Vincent landmark when the factory broke world eight records with 1000cc machines, including a highlight of six hours at an average speed of 100.6mph. The fourth Avon-sponsored short film preview, shown on The Vintagent [watch here], features just a sample of John Surtees’ recollections of taking part, plus Philip Vincent’s own archive of the event and the contemporary footage he filmed over the weekend. Our interview with Surtees in 2016 would be one of the great man’s last and he delivered a wealth of new material on the record runs themselves, his experience as an apprentice at the firm, and the personalities of both Vincent and Irving.

Dominique Malcor ready to take his 1948 Vincent Series B Black Shadow onto the track for filming of SpeedIsExpensive.

Today’s lock-down on travel and gatherings – this year’s TT was cancelled a couple of weeks back – has cast the calendar of 2019 in a new light. We look back and wonder when fans will be allowed to ride this historic banked circuit again. Or meet at the Rock Store west of LA? Or ride to Box Hill in Surrey… or connect the corners of the Isle of man’s mountain circuit? The sad answer is, we don’t know. So, last year’s Café Racer Festival’s tribute to Frenchman Patrick Godet, who died in 2018, has gained added poignancy. Not only was Godet the doyen of Vincent restorers and special builders, he relished the social side of motorcycling too – founding the French Section of the Vincent Owners Club, hosting its first rallies and during the late 1970s and '80s making the most of the free-wheeling, often unexpected rewards of touring on motorcycles with friends: taking the wrong turn, lunch on the road, repairs on the way. Event organiser Bertrand Bussilet handed the track over to some 70 Godet Vincents, Egli-Vincents and standard bikes which took part in a parade to mark Patrick’s life.

The late John Surtees as a Vincent apprentice during the record run at Montlhéry in 1952.

The Godet lineage is continued by workshop chief François Guerin and his team, who are carrying on with restoring Stevenage bikes and building their own Godet Vincents. Patrick was a fan of improving his machines – he was one of the first to fit the Grosset electric starters - but also resolute in his view that the late 1960s bikes which Egli himself produced were the epitome of a Vincent-powered special. He always refused requests to fit disc brakes, or upside down forks or other so-called updates, as other Egli-Vincents wear (and customers asked for). Yet now it is more likely bikes such as Jean Luc Charrier’s stunning Lightning special – which the owner writes about below - will emerge in the coming year or so. It is a bike that breaks rules, bringing together styling cues and components from different eras to a customer’s specification with a stunning result.

One of the Vincent Black Shadows used in the Montlhéry record attempt.

To pay tribute to the 1952 record-breaking runs, director of photography Steve Read and producer/cameraman Gerry Jenkinson filmed two notable bikes on the banking: Jean Luc’s Lightning special and Dominique Malcor’s Series B Black Shadow, the first to be imported to France in 1948 and a machine that was timed by Moto Revue magazine at 208kmh, or 128mph, on the autoroute between St Cloud and St Germain. This was at a time when the fastest bikes made by Triumph, Norton and BSA - 500cc parallel twins - would only reach around 85-90mph. There has probably never been another time in motorcycling history when a new model has so far out-paced the opposition. If the Black Shadow was the ‘world’s fastest standard motorcycle’ – as the company’s advertising claimed – then Malcor’s was the the fastest of the fastest.

The 1948 Moto Revue cover featuring the 128mph Black Shadow.

Architect Jean Luc’s ‘Back to Black 1955’ machine is so named because his daughter adores the work of the late Amy Winehouse, whose song Back to Black helped cement her reputation in 2006, and because 1955 was the last year of Vincent production. See below for Jean-Luc’s full description of this fascinating machine. The sequences filmed will form part of our film’s coverage of the records set at the circuit back in 1952 – in many ways a last hurrah for the factory – as it was the final time the firm fully backed racing and record-setting. In addition to these two bikes, filmed with a drone as well conventional panning and tracking, US Producer James Salter captured dramatic footage high on the banking from the sidecar of Australians Bob and Joy Allan’s 1953 Black Shadow/Steib 501 outfit with a Super 8 camera. Go Pros were mounted on several bikes, including fast solo laps by Peter Fox on his own Godet built Lightning Replica.

Harvey Bowden and his pre-war Vincent-HRD Series A Rapide at Montlhéry, captured on wet plate. [Bernard Testemale]
Vincent events always attract a vibrant cast of players. Jean-Luc is one – and attendee Marcus Bowden is another. From Cornwall in England, during a quiet hour away from the circuit the well-travelled former ship’s engineer reminisces on camera about how he used to visit Philip Vincent during the designer’s twilight years in the 1970s, when he was slipping into ill-health. Marcus added great detail to the gripping human story behind the film – how Vincent’s ideas were ahead of their time, how he never saw another of his designs go into production after 1955 and how, on his final visit to PCV’s west London home, the burly seaman carried PCV up the stairs to his apartment, such was the automotive-designer’s disability at this stage. Over dinner Harvey Bowden - brother of Marcus - recalls how their father bought him a Vincent twin when he was a 16-year-old in the 1960s. His dad must have been either naive or very trusting, but Harvey survived burn-ups on the 998cc twin along the famed A303 - southern England’s Route 66, sort of - and now rides a 1939 Series A Vincent, one of only 78 of the ‘A’ bikes that the factory made pre-war.

A little glamour added to the proceedings by moto-blogger Evangeline (@lapetitemotorouge)

Both brothers are long-term and high-mileage Series A Rapide riders, with great insights into the many highs – and the lows – of racking up thousands of miles on the bikes. A few years back, they shipped their Rapides to the USA and rode them the length of Route 66. Jay Leno got to hear of their journey and welcomed them into his car and motorcycle collection in LA, full of admiration of the brothers’ dedication to ride 80-year old cycles across America. Another friend of our film project was also at work at Montlhéry: Bernard Testemale, an innovative photographer who will be familiar to readers here, and who had set up shop with his wet-plate equipment inside the track. Over the two days of the Café Racer Festival, Bernard captured stunning images of Philip Vincent-Day, Fritz Egli, moto-blogger Evangeline (@lapetitemotorouge), Harvey Bowden with his pre-war Rapide, and others.

The Back to Black Vincent Godet special on the wooded interior of the Montlhéry track, on wet plate. [Bernard Testemale]
A key part of the SpeedisExpensive crew is film-maker and director-of-photography Steve Read - who has some insights into how the wealth of material the team have gathered can be shaped into 90 minutes of compelling story-telling. ‘The story of Philip Vincent and his machines will be told through a mix of interviews, audio and visual archive and the actualité.  "Film-making is a different language compared to taking photographs or doing pop videos, or writing a profile on someone. I’ve directed five documentaries now," Steve says, "and there are many more layers to it. You’re putting together scenes that develop the story, and engage and seduce the viewer to tell a story on several levels.’

SpeedIsExpensive director David Lancaster briefs riders Dominique Malcor and Jean-Luc Charrier.

SpeedisExpensive has now entered post-production. Transcripts of interviews – with record-setters, factory personnel, family and friends of Vincent and Irving – are being read to begin to map out a structure for the documentary. Philip Vincent’s life was not easy in its final chapters, and it was a life marked by amazing highs but also crushing lows and personal challenges. The aim is to edit the material into a film which anyone, not just petrol-heads, can engage with to bring those high and lows to the screen.

The ‘Back to Black’ Godet-Vincent special

French architect Jean-Luc Charrier describes what inspired his stunning custom Vincent:

The highly customized Godet Vincent 'Black Lightning', with magnesium Fontana racing brakes.

"The first time that I saw a Vincent engine was in a joinery near Gras, in the Ardèche region of France, where I was designing furniture. In the corner of the room the workshop chief had some Vincent parts - a frame, an engine, a set of Girdraulic forks and a fuel tank. At first I thought they must have come from a French motorcycle because of the name Vincent. I saw the engine as an aesthetic structure, and I was struck by the design. But they said that it was an English motorcycle that had been the fastest in the world in the 1950s, and I thought that was magnificent. I was about 30 at the time, and I didn’t have the money to buy a Vincent, but that bike stayed in my head. I started buying motorcycle magazines where I could read about Vincents, and I saw an article in the French magazine Cafe Racer on Patrick Godet, who was what we call in France la Pape (Pope) de la Vincent. I was reading the magazine at a motorway service station, and I called Patrick Godet, and said, ‘Monsieur Godet, bonjour, I’m passionate about Vincents, and I would really like to have one.’"

The 1952 record run, with John Surtees on the right of the machine, and Ted Davies behind.

"The parts that I had seen in the joinery were from a Black Shadow Series C. I asked Patrick if he had one for sale, and he said, yes, he had one with a Steib sidecar. With my joiner friend I flew to see him and bought my first Vincent. At first I took the sidecar off and rode the bike as a solo for two or three years. But one day I decided to take my little son to school in the sidecar. Patrick visited my house and showed me how to ride an outfit in a big car park one Sunday, with him sitting in the chair. Then I decided that I wanted a more minimal Vincent, but I didn’t have the skill to restore one. So I sold the sidecar outfit and Patrick built this bike for me, using some of my ideas. For example, I liked the way that Rollie Free streamlined his Girdraulic forks by taping round them for his 150mph speed record at Bonneville in 1948, and I wanted to get that look. So Patrick removed the long spring from the forks and fitted a modern compact one in front of the headstock. The forks now have the shape of those on Rollie’s bike, but where there was tape hiding the spring there is now metal in the same shape. I made the seat and the tank pad myself, in the style of 1950s’ racing motorcycles."

Jean-Luc Charrier with his stunning Godet Black Lightning replica "Back to Black 1955"

"We arrived at the name of the bike because my daughter, who is a singer herself, loved the music and the sensibility of Amy Winehouse, and she was very upset when Amy died (the song Back to Black was one of her hits). The new generation of technicians and craftsmen at Godet motorcycles are now taking the Vincent legend forward. I am an architect and a designer, so my work, it’s my eye. For me the Vincent engine is magnificent - the way it is suspended from the spine tube, the Girdaulic fork, the tank, the gold lettering on the tank. It’s unique. Monsieur Vincent wanted to create the best motorcycle using the best materials, regardless of the price. The Vincent is the Bugatti of motorcycles. I’m a curious person, and when you’re curious you wonder - why? Why is this motorcycle so mythic, why do people react to it in the way that they do when they see what is really just a mechanical object? The Vincent goes beyond the fact of just being a motorcycle. There are thousands of motorcycles, but there’s only one Vincent."

A poster celebrating the 1952 Vincent record runs.

 

 


'SpeedisExpensive': the Australian Shoot Road Trip

[by Philip Vincent-Day]

Web exclusive: To accompany another on-location report from the producers of the Vincent documentary SpeedisExpensive, we’re showcasing the first of a series of short films sponsored by AVON Tyres giving some clues to what will be in the final film.

The Jack Ehret Vincent Black Lightning, currently the #1 most expensive of our Top 100 list having sold at $929k by Bonhams in 2018. [SpeedisExpensive]
In this first installment, Philip Vincent-Day - Vincent’s grandson and Associate Producer of the film – gets up close and fast with a stunning Irving Vincent on a racetrack in Australia. Plus, as Philip writes below, on the same trip the production team also got to shoot the Jack Ehret Black Lightning (the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction) and research the inside line on Vincent’s co-designer, Australian genius Phil Irving.

………………………

Readers may recall the post from last year in which Mike Nicks detailed our filming in and around LA (https://thevintagent.com/2018/11/03/speedisexpensive-the-la-shoot-road-trip/). We hooked up with Jay Leno to talk Vincents and reunited Marty Dickerson with his record-setting Blue Bike. In April, we embarked on another major trip: this time crossing the world to capture some of the most exciting Vincents in Australia and meet key figures in the story of my grandfather and his machines down under.

Director David Lancaster and Phil Vincent-Day join an eyewitness to the original Jack Ehret record runs, Bruce Jaeger, to watch the Lightning fly past once again. [SpeedisExpensive]
Much the same crew were along: Director David Lancaster; US-based Producer James Salter; and Director of Photography Steve Read - this time with his assistant and drone-pilot, Robbie Douglas.

Director David Lancaster on the Jack Ehret Vincent Black Lightning in a typical Australian landscape. [SpeedisExpensive]
I’d never been to Australia before. But the country plays a key part in the story of the bikes which were produced in Stevenage all those years ago. It was a major export market, for starters, with around 600 machines being sold there, mostly between 1947 – 1953. Only the USA bought more bikes, some 1,070 models going Stateside.

The Jack Ehret Lightning at Broadford, with the Irving Vincent racers, plus several other road bikes and racers: a full set on display. [SpeedisExpensive]
One of the machines which took that long journey south was one of our target vehicles: the Jack Ehret Lightning. This factory-tuned special became the fastest vehicle in the southern hemisphere – two wheel or four wheeled – when racer Jack Ehret fired it up to an official 141.5mph on a back road north-east of Sydney in 1953. We were to film the bike in action on the same road, along with interviews with Ehret’s son John, his life-long friend, riding and drinking buddy Bill Molone – and its new owner, Peter Bender.

Vincent motorcycles co-designer Phil Irving. [SpeedisExpensive]
We would also be on the trail of the great Phil Irving. My grandfather, without doubt, would not have been able to produce the motorcycles he did without his friend and colleague, the Aus-born Irving. So, through the good offices of long-term supporter of our film Bill Hoddinott and Ken Horner of Irving Vincent fame, we’d arranged to meet and interview Phil’s widow, Edith, at the house where she and Phil lived for many years. David Lancaster had met Phil and Edith several times during the 80s, but I’d not – so I was greatly looking forward to the meeting.

Edith Irving and Philip Vincent-Day: compelling details emerged over lunch about how the 'two Phils' worked together. [SpeedisExpensive]
A Union Jack flag fluttered on a mast as we approached – ‘That’s in honour of you guys’ we were informed – and the house had a warm, inviting air with pictures of Phil and his designs stealing any petrol-head’s attention. Over lunch, Edith and I began to discuss the two Phils and within minutes of talking to this charming, intelligent, strongly-opinionated lady, we were exploring what we both knew of both men and how they worked together.

Jack Ehret after setting the Australian national speed record on his Vincent Black Lightning. [SpeedisExpensive]
Irving and Vincent met in the early 1930s and it’s clear it was a meeting of minds from the first – Irving’s employment by the Vincent HRD company was, in his own words, ‘the kind of job I had dreamt of before leaving Australia.’ In his autobiography, he also notes the pairs’ ‘similar scholastic backgrounds’ – plus a shared faith in rear springing. Remember, a common view in the early 1930s was that rear suspension was neither necessary nor safe. The combination of Vincent’s bold ideas and theoretical engineering knowledge, along with Irving’s by-then hands-on experience at Velocette and elsewhere, meant the pair could ‘approach a problem from both sides.’

Drone pilot and camera operator Robbie Douglas capturing the Lightning on the road again. [SpeedisExpensive]
My grandfather and Irving were true innovators of their time. They would work and talk late into the night, over glasses of whiskey, throwing ideas back and forth, both fascinated by new materials, ideas and designs. The relationship forged between the two men will form a key part of our film and it was amazing just how much new ground Edith and I were able to cover, compared to more traditional discussions of a motorcycle and the people behind its design and production. But this is what director David hoped to achieve when a man with Vincent in his name and a woman with Irving in hers, sat down to talk on camera over lunch.

Former Vincent factory hand David Bowen and Phil Vincent-Day compare notes [SpeedisExpensive]
It was on a high, then, that the next day we rocked up at the Broadford Bike Bonanza north of Melbourne for our appointment with brothers Ken and Barry Horner - plus their families, race team and eye-watering motorcycles. The race bikes - designed around later cylinder-head work by Phil Irving, and retaining the short-pushrod architecture of all Vincent HRDs - have proved to be a winning-formula right into the 21st century. The automotive sector is littered with the corpses of efforts to re-ignite high-end brands. The Irving Vincent is the exemption.

Phil and the winningest modern iteration of his grandfather's motorcycles, the Irving Vincent. [SpeedisExpensive]
By now we’d also hooked up with one of few remaining workers from the Stevenage factory, David Bowen. A young 80-something, David retains an amazing wealth of information about his time working alongside a young man who would become his lifelong friend, one John Surtees, as well as the manufacturing and life at the Works.

This is the modern world: the Irving Vincent has four valve cylinder heads that significantly improve airflow and raise horsepower mightily. The aluminum cylinder head is cast around a bronze 'skull' for stronger valve seats with less space required between the valves.  It's a solution Norton adopted in the early 1930s, when aluminum cylinder heads were relatively new, and still works! [SpeedisExpensive]
For the first hour or so at Broadford, David and I had a good look around before machines began to be made ready and I was called to attend the riders’ meeting. I was, as I hoped, to take to the track in the chair of an Irving Vincent. By 12:30 I was suited and booted in Irving Vincent leathers and began my training session with the brilliant Noel Beare, psyching myself up for some laps with the genial but super-fast, Beau Beaton.

Was I mad? Did I need to do this?

The tool of choice: Australian Pro Twins champion Beau Beaton at the helm as Philip Vincent Day prepares for some fast laps. [SpeedisExpensive]
No, of course, I didn’t need to - but I wanted to. From then on, it was a blur. A fast blur. Maybe we did six laps? Maybe we did seven? I’m still not sure. Either way, it was impossibly hard work and I managed to last most of the session without a major mistake. But Beau pulled in at the right time, sensing I was getting tired, and I confess it was getting harder to hold on, to move around, to get to the right place for each corner.

Phil Vincent-Day just after his laps on the Irving Vincent sidecar outfit. [SpeedisExpensive]
I got off the bike pumping with adrenaline and feeling like my arms were about to fall off. Wrestling the G-forces while perched on a small platform and going at speeds like nothing I’ve experienced so close to the ground before, was incredibly thrilling. And what an honour, too. TT-winner Cam Donald and his wife Kaz Anderson were also out on the track at the same time and we grabbed wonderful footage with our Go Pros on both outfits, cameras on the ground and drone in the air. The Avon sponsored short which debuts here on The Vintagent showcases just a fraction of what we filmed.

John Ehret, son of record-breaker Jack, is reunited with his father's racer for the film. [SpeedisExpensive]
In a calmer moment a little later, David and I mused on what my father – who’d passed away just a few weeks before – would have made of it all. A lifelong Vincent rider, an unstinting supporter of our film and the man who’d helped my grandfather draw up his ideas for his ultimately unsuccessful rotary engine project, we both agreed we could hear Robin’s gruff, but always positive west-London drawl: ‘Fucking brilliant, Phil – just brilliant…’

The awesome Irving Vincent back at the factory after its laps at Broadford. [SpeedisExpensive]
The second day at Broadford was more chilled – how could it not be? – and it was spent enjoying the bikes, meeting riders and soaking up the atmosphere. Peter Bender arrived with the Ehret Lightning, Edith pitched up with her friend and we got more interviews.

How the Aussie press reported Jack Ehret's Lightning record in January 1953. [SpeedisExpensive]
Rider Bill Irwin was one, telling us about the many miles he’s now racked up on one of the re-creation Series A Rapides built from scratch by Rodney Brown and Neal Videan. We talked to Rod and Neal about their endeavor - and it became evident how just how staggering the project was: a full, from scratch build of what is surely one of the most complex engines ever to drive two or four wheels… it was called the ‘Plumber’s Nightmare’ after all. Yet, with a mix of passion, doggedness, skill and intelligence, Brown and Videan are now building the last three bikes of the batch of 12.

Original patina! The Ehret Lightning is perhaps the only unrestored record-breaking Vincent in the world. Other unrestored Lightnings exist (one in San Francisco, one in Germany with an original supercharger!) but none was used in competition as far as we know. [SpeedisExpensive]
Once again, the Australians provide ground-breaking motorcycles in the Vincent HRD sphere, and they use them properly, too. My mind mused on just what my grandfather, and Irving, would have made of bikes such as this and the Irving Vincents being produced over 80 years after the first models rolled out of the factory. Is the Vincent V-twin the longest-lasting engine, if modified, still in production? Could be. The last part of the day we went to the event dinner where David and I said a few words on stage about our film and said our thankyous to Ken and Barry Horner, their families and team.

Bill Malone: friend and co-worker and drinking buddy of Mad Jack Ehret. [SpeedisExpensive]
On the Sunday David Bowen and I spoke on camera - I understand his third interview for the film. But as before with Mr Bowen, yet further nuggets emerged - on why the change came about from ‘Vincent HRD’ to just ‘The Vincent’ and yet more background on how the accident my grandfather suffered, testing a Rapide at speed without a helmet, contributed to the future trajectory of the company.

The production team story boarded key scenes prior to the shot. Artwork by Portland Lancaster. [SpeedisExpensive]
Then we were off on the long trip up towards Gunnedah in NSW - teaming up with Peter Bender on his A twin, 'Lightning Mike’ on a B Rapide and the van and trailer – with the Ehret bike tucked inside – driven by passionate Kiwi Vincent guy, AJ.

Ehret Lightning owner Peter Bender: he's doing all he can to make sure the bike is seen and heard across Australia. A national treasure. [SpeedisExpensive]
It was Gunnedah that Jack Ehret chose to make his attempt at the national speed record back in 1953. The full story of why, and how he did this, emerged over the next couple of days through our interviews. Suffice to say, the brave, difficult, driven Ehret wasn’t known as ‘Mad Jack’ for nothing – and the tale of how he swung the permits and leant on the officialdom required to set a national record through last-minute court hearings, overnight drives and major political juggling will be told in our film.

US Producer James Salter talks to one-time Ehret Lightning custodian, Franc Trento at Broadford. [SpeedisExpensive]
First stop was the local museum and an interview with an historian who’d watched the record attempt as a young lad – the first of two eyewitnesses to the event Peter and AJ tracked down - before heading to the local airstrip to get in some practice runs on the Lightning. The drone wouldn’t work at the airport due to signal jamming, but Robbie Douglas filmed some great footage hanging out of the boot/trunk. John Ehret, Jack’s son, took to being back on the bike he later raced with great success, without a pause. We also mounted Go Pro cameras front and rear and James Salter hung some very sophisticated audio recording equipment on the bike, capturing the full majesty of those Lightning straight pipes on song.

The road was closed for the day, allowing filming of the Ehret Lightning at speed. [SpeedisExpensive]
The following day we were out to the Old Tamworth Road to get set up for our homage to the record runs. John Ehret had persuaded the local authority to close the record-setting road for our visit – father like son, one could say – and the result was that over next few hours, in the hot sun with no traffic to worry about and the expanse of the Aus outback as our backdrop, we reveled in the sound and vision of a Vincent Black Lightning running fast and strong on an historic stretch of tarmac. And, boy, was it worth it. To see John, and Lightning Mike, expertly run the world’s most expensive motorcycle – and run it fast – was spine-tingling.

Jack Ehret breaking the Australian speed record on January 19, 1953. [SpeedisExpensive]
With the action footage in the can, John told us about his father’s exploits and his own racing of the bike; Jack’s friend Bill Moline filled in the gaps before John was born (from the races to the bar fights) and then Franc Trento, Vincent-riding owner of classic specialists EuroBrit, filled in more detail on the Lightning – he owned the bike for some 14 years. Finally, Peter Bender, a better custodian such a motorcycle could not wish for, talked through how he came to acquire what is now surely one of the most famous motorcycles in the world. Peter rides the bike and, since his purchase, has made sure as many Australian fans as possible see and hear it running.

Late afternoon 'golden hour' shooting with the Ehret Lightning. [SpeedisExpensive]
Our second eye-witness to the run was Bruce Jaeger. A lifelong and competitive motorcyclist himself, Bruce had an astonishing ability to recall the day the bike broke its record, in wonderful and vivid detail. David had been obsessing about getting a shot of an eye-witness to the original runs, watching our recreation of the event from the veranda of a typical rural Aussie porch. And we got it, after he and John Ehret sweet-talked a local family to let us shoot from their house.

Director of Photography Steve Read lines up shooting the amazing Irving Vincent sidecar. [SpeedisExpensive]
The next day, earlier than any of us would have wished, we were back on the road to return to Melbourne – a 1000km drive in one day – for our final filming at the Horners’ factory. The premises, and their lives, are dedicated to their bikes and you would hardly realise they are manufacturing air starters there – but this is the kit that bank-rolls the racing. We got extensive interviews with Ken and Barry, as well as Ken's son Nelson, and filmed an engine on a dyno running up to 7000rpm. The noise was deafening even with earmuffs. A limited edition of the Irving Vincent was discussed as Ken and Barry have had numerous requests for a version of their bike to be sold to the public.

Applying the finishing touches: Franc Trento owned the Ehret Lightning for years. [SpeedisExpensive]
In the office, we watched CAD-CAM software assisting in the building of further developments of Irving Vincent engines and talked about how the Horners had forged a strong relationship with Phil Irving in his later years. There is an unashamed element of hero-worship in the way they talk about the designer. But why not? He’s the only man to have designed a world-record setting motorcycle – the Vincent - and Formula One-winning engine… the Repco Brabham. That night, James and I stayed on for dinner with Ken, Nelson and Phil Canning and then joined David and Steve back at the hotel to fly back the next morning.

Jack's sone John Ehret back on the bike he raced after the record was set. [SpeedisExpensive]
Our Australian shoot was over. It was compelling and – for me – it was thrilling. Our ears were ringing for a few days after, from the filming fast and unsilenced V-twins. We’d also interviewed yet more people with insights into the untold story of those who raced, built and designed the bikes. Our next shoot? That would be at the banked circuit at Montlhéry, south of Paris, in early June. With the aid of my grandfather’s period footage of the factory’s visit there and our interview with the late John Surtees’ recalling his part in the runs, we would pay homage to the eight world records set on a hot day in May in 1952.

Jack Ehret and local policemen just after setting a new Australian land speed record at 141.5mph. [SpeedisExpensive]
Picture credits: Robbie Douglas, Philip Vincent-Day, James Salter and David Lancaster


Patrick Godet Remembered

He was a bear of a man, whose fanatical love for Vincent motorcycles lasted over 40 years, and developed to the point of manufacturing the amazing Godet-Egli-Vincent specials for which he became famous.  At his small factory in Malaunay, just outside Rouen in Normandy, Godet built over 250 of his beautiful Vincent specials, and repaired/restored countless original Vincents and engines for owners around the world, with incredibly high standards.  The Godet Vincent reproduction engine could be ordered up to 1330cc, with double the horsepower of the original, and was built to a higher standard to cure many of the known faults of the 1940s design.

Patrick Godet at the Isle of Man for the Manx GP with his 500cc Comet racer, with rider Bruno Leroy behind [Sandra Gillard]
Patrick Godet purchased his first Vincent, a Black Shadow, in 1974, and soon bought a Black Prince as well.  The lure of racing caught him in 1979, when the French vintage racing scene was founded, and he tuned a Black Shadow to Lightning spec, and was formidable in French historic racing.  He further developed the machine to take on the British vintage racing scene as well, with veteran racer Hubert Rigal at the helm: the pair won the 1985 Vintage Race of the Year with the Vincent Spéciale. 

Patrick Godet racing his Vincent Black Lightning replica [David Lancaster]
Godet turned to Fritz Egli's chassis to upgrade the potential of the Vincent engine, and approached the master for permission to reproduce the EV frame.  On seeing the quality of Godet's work, he became the only licensed manufacturer of the Egli frame, and the Godet-Egli-Vincent was born.  It was the ultimate café racer, especially with one of the new 1330cc engines, which brought performance into modern territory, and were simply exquisite aesthetically. The GEVs were built in a new factory by a team of six by 2006, and the waiting list for new machines was very long indeed.

One of Godet's later GEVs, with his own version of the Vincent engine - the ultimate café racer.  [Paul Coene]
After Patrick Godet's sudden death in November 2018 at age 67, David Lancaster was moved to collect reminiscences from long-time friends, to tell his story through their words.

Patrick Godet and Fritz Egli at Egli's office for a Christmas party.  The bike on the bench was sent to Australia. [Sandra Gillard]
Fritz Egli (friend and collaborator on Egli-Godet-Vincents)

Patrick was passionate about all Vincents. He first learned of our Egli special chassis from our successes with Fritz Peier and Florian Bürki, racing on British circuits. Soon, Patrick serviced Egli-Vincents in his Malaunay workshop; these were early machines delivered to French customers. He was very pleased with the handling, with the weight saving and soon a commercial cooperation started. Patrick became our French distributor for the Egli-Vincent chassis.

Godet with Fritz and Patty Egli at a French Vincent Rally dinner [Sandra Gillard]
There were numerous challenges, especially with exchange rates. The French import taxes made the chassis very expensive in France. Soon, we discussed production in Patrick's workshop, avoiding custom costs, transport costs and currency problems. Having seen his tidy, well-organized workshop and having received and checked a first sample chassis he built, I was convinced that he is a good partner, that this was the way to go together.

A spectacular lineup of GEVs at a rally; any color you liked! [Paul Coene]
I never regretted it. From then on, he was the only man I allowed to produce the EV chassis and to use the name ‘Egli-Vincent’. I become his distributor for these machines in Switzerland and Germany. We had a regular exchange of tuning and developments ideas, to the benefit of us both. We rode many miles together with our Vincent-Precision outfits: Patrick with his Series D model, me with my `Black Rapide’ - both driven by his brilliant and powerful 1330cc Godet engine... So many good memories.

I finish with some of the words I said at Patrick’s funeral service:

‘Your decision was strong and brave, as you were. I was shocked. All our friends were shocked. Then we learned the brutal facts and we understood and accepted it. Patrick, sometime, somewhere in the universe we will re-unite: there will be no pressing burdens, no speed limits. Farewell my dear friend. We will meet again, with our Vincents, and we will release the clutch, and open the throttle.’

Peter Fox with a Godet Vincent Black Lightning at the Godet factory in Malaunay. [Andrew Nahum]
Andrew Nahum (London Science Museum):

I was lucky enough to meet Patrick about twelve years ago when an old friend, Peter Fox, suggested we ride down together to Malaunay on Peter’s Godet Egli Vincent and the Ducati 750SS I owned back then. The Egli was going home to Patrick for its first service. We arrived quite damp after a good fast haul down the A16 from Calais. Patrick looked over the Ducati and said: ‘if you like café racer - you must try mine’.  It was the first of several trips in Springtime, sometimes by van, to bring back or collect a bike. Usually we spent day or so looking at the latest developments in the works, followed by an excellent dinner with Patrick in Rouen or nearby.

Road testing the Black Lightning. [Andrew Nahum]
Making something as special as Patrick’s bikes was, of course, an enormous personal struggle. He took on tough commercial realities, real engineering challenges, and also contributed pure emotional commitment. And so, his Egli-Vincents are - to me - the most beautiful Eglis ever made and the team at Malaunay spare nothing in attention and care in every aspect of the engineering, the aesthetics, and the final build. No one should underestimate the extraordinary task Patrick had set himself to build such exquisite machines by hand and in small numbers for the real connoisseur.

Patrick Godet on his Vincent Black Prince outfit, contemplating messages left at the Fairy Bridge on the Isle of Man. It's said that if you don't pay homage or acknowledge the fairies at this bridge, bad luck will befall you in the TT, so contestants and their supporters leave messages of supplication to ensure a safe ride for their loved ones. [Sandra Gillard]
Of course, Patrick’s knowledge of every element in the Vincent - both engine and frame - was awesome, as you would expect with his unmatched experience on the road and track with them and in design, development and manufacture. And we should not forget that his interest was not just in the Egli - he has also done many impeccable restorations of ‘classic’ Vincents - Rapides, Shadows and Lightnings. I recall discussing some familiar problems I’d encountered years before when I ran an ageing Rapide. Two examples, out of many; the crank wheels can shift out of alignment if the crank wheels move on the big end pin. Then the bike starts to vibrate horribly and becomes nasty to ride. Another one; the engines can seize if the interference fit between the finned alloy cylinder or ‘muff’ and the pressed-in steel liner is inadequate. Patrick’s answer was very thoughtful. Vincents were, in his view ‘a question of metrology’. If all these interference fits are properly measured, the V-twin engines are impressively strong, as he proved by pushing the capacity of his café racers up to 1330 ccs and doubling the power.

A classic Godet-Egli-Vincent café racer, ridden by David Lancaster [David Lancaster]
The 500cc Egli-framed racer was another example of his adept engineering. I think it was in 2013 that Patrick showed us an incomplete prototype motor and talked about his hopes for it in classic racing. Barely a year later, it had all come together, with the bike putting up impressive performances against Manx Nortons and the like.

We are all so sad to lose him. Patrick was one of those rare people with the enthusiasm to enhance other peoples’ lives - ‘a true keeper of the flame’, a passionate and skillful designer and engineer, and a lovely guy.

A crossing of the Alps with Vincent enthusiasts Fritz Egli, David and Tom Lancaster, and Stéphane Membre. [David Lancaster]
Tom Lancaster:

'Small Library Burns Down In Normandy'

Patrick Godet became friends with my parents in the early '70s, although in terms of age he was closer to my brother and me. He stayed with us often in London usually to attend Vincent Owners' Club (VOC) events. I remember teaching him to play cricket as a youngster. He would always remind me of this. Patrick's mind was a 'sponge' for anything Vincent-related even then, picking the brains of survivors such as Phil Irving, Eddie Stevens, PCV himself, even Rollie Free at the North American Rally in '77. He returned home to set up the Section de France and unearthed the original French importer of the marque. Patrick grilled M.Garron about any remaining bikes or parts that he knew of.

A road-going Vincent Black Lightning replica with 'Montlhéry' long-distance fuel tank, all built by Godet, at the Montlhéry Autodrome [Bernard Testamale]

Dad and I rode to Patrick's first French Section Rally. His family in Normandy seemed rather grand with a chateau and a haulage firm to pay for it. His brother was a fine artist in oils I recall. By the mid '80s, I was working for Mark Williams of Bike magazine fame. Patrick was racing then and converting old Comets to Grey Flash spec (somewhat controversially). Editor Rick Kemp and I covered all this happily as Godet and his projects were always good copy. Patrick's step-son was staying with me in London and Patrick came to visit us in a client's Aston Martin DB6. So things were going smoothly.

Patrick Godet entertaining the troops at a French Vincent rally (his business partner Florent Pagny is behind, hoisting his wine glass). [Sandra Gillard]

There was some sadness in Patrick's personal life, although he lived what always seemed the most enviable and worldly bachelor lifestyle. He was a product of les trente glorieuses and it may be that a sense of entitlement was part of the configuration, but his charm and seeming innocence remained effortless and natural. He could light up a pub, bikers' beer tent or any haute brasserie. That changed after Sylvie died three years ago. Patrick was devastated. But he remained unfailingly kind and hospitable to me and my family. It felt like he would always be there for advice and a chat. A ride through Rouen will not be the same without stopping for lunch with Patrick. I can't tell you how much I will miss him.

An original Vincent crate from the 1950s decorated Godet's workshop office [Andrew Nahum]

In 1991 Argentina lifted restrictions on the export of its 'national treasures'. These included some 800 Vincent HRDs imported from 1946 to 1950 when the going was good there (not so good in England). The first production Lightning, first Series C Shadow and other glories were said to be among them. Most, in fact, were destined for the Federal Police and Peron's Presidential Guard, plus a few ''playboys'' who would ''tit up and down the Avenida 9 de Julio'' (my translation, from memory).

Godet was a skilled mechanic and craftsman, and hundreds of Vincents passed under his hands, and were better for it.  Here he inspects a Black Shadow in Florida. [Sandra Gillard]

Patrick and I had spoken of these bikes when I lived in Paris. We would sometimes retourner le monde into the small hours. But we were not alone. The Argentine Vins had been legendary - like a lost tribe - so there was a bit of a gold rush on. I had picked up some colloquial Spanish in a muralist brigade in Chile in earlier years, so I mugged up on my Series B parts list and eargerly took up Patrick's invitation to go big Vin-hunting with him in the Argentine. I read all I could find in the house journal of the VOC going back decades, and consulted a couple of old hands: WW2 veteran Jack Barker and USAF pilot Alex Nofsger had both been down and come away empty handed pre-embargo days.

Patric Godet racing one of his early Vincents at the 1983 Bol d'Or. [David Lancaster]

Loaded with 19'' B spec. sports mudguards - which Patrick rightly guessed would be suitable bargaining chips - I arrived at Buenos Aires airport where Patrick failed to turn up. First visit was to the offices of the original Vincent importers, Cemic, with colonial blinds and ceiling fans as I recall. Everything and everyone seemed to be from 'central casting'. Then it was mostly gum shoe/barn find stuff: asking around at old garages, flea-pits, bars etc. As always, Patrick seemed to fit in wherever we went, even without any Spanish. We set ourselves a limit of one thousand pounds sterling per twin. This meant turning down some real lovelies when, out in the pampas grass, a gaucho-type would dust off a copy of the Classic Bike buyer's guide, much to our dismay. The state of the bikes, however, was usually dire. They'd not been run for decades and there were hardly any matching numbers, or often even numbers at all.

An ultra-rare road-going Vincent Grey Flash racer, as found and restored by Patrick Godet. [Sandra Gillard - who rode both bikes in the photo!]

In 1950 el Presidente had imposed severe restrictions on imports. Phillip Vincent himself was Anglo-Argentine - we met his sister in Buenos Aires - and close to a quarter of his twins had been exported there. But not even the most basic spares could subsequently get through without bribery or major hassle. Patrick and I were continually amazed - and genuinely impressed - by the subsequent historic adaptations employed to keep these things on the road. Everything, from chain links to servo-clutch parts, had been hand-machined, often evidently to increase horsepower. We were initially puzzled by the widespread gaffer-taping of girder forks to look like the more up-to-date Series C Girdraulics, but accepted this as a 'streamlining' vogue. Hmm. We bagged about a dozen 'complete' bikes and enough spares to help fill up a shipping container. Without the Godet garage and expertise, however, I am not sure that it would have been worth it. Patrick's passion was for the marque, and with him is lost a lifetime of expertise and magic. And a rare old friend.

Back in the 1960s on family holidays we visited Fritz's workshops when he was building his Egli prototypes, mostly with Series B engines. Looking back now, I wonder what Patrick had had in mind for all those Argentine B Rapide lumps with near-useless cycle parts.

Patric Godet atop the Col de L'Iseran on his touring Black Prince. [David Lancster]
Chris Lipscombe (riding partner and friend since the 1970s):

During the 1970s and '80s, I regularly spent summers in Europe riding my Vincent. I met Patrick in 1976, at the first French section VOC rally in Normandy which he organised, riding there with Alan Lancaster and Bryan Philips. In many ways, this set the pattern for many miles and adventures with him: we got lost in the fog off the boat in Dieppe, and came across the rally site by chance.

Patrick Godet with Chris Lipscombe in the 1990s. [Chris Lipscombe]
That night, introductions were made, dinner was served and calvados consumed. We stayed up all night – I damn nearly died the next day. It was the beginning of a long, long friendship. After the rally, I was invited back to his place in the hills of Rouen, Patrick leading the way on his beloved Black Prince, me on my B Rapide.

We took in the sights of his home town, met some girls, and it dawned on me this man was the King of Rouen. His family ran a transport business and soon I was working on Renault diesel engines there. In the evenings I would return to his home – on Rue de Vincent – where sumptuous meals would appear from one of his female friends. The foreman at the family firm, a wonderful man called Henry, saved Patrick’s ass too many times to count. It was a magical time. His cellar was full of Vincent spares and due to his ability there was a never a broken Vincent there for long.

Patrick Godet relaxing at his friend Chris Lipscombe's home in the USA. [Chris Lipscombe]
For the next 20 years, I visited every summer. Alan Lancaster, Dick Perry, Patrick and I rode to rallies all over Europe. We imported two Eglis from Italy one year, borrowing a woefully under-powered Peugeot pickup for the drive, with a bag full of cash under the seat. Somehow we crossed the borders with two bikes in the back and absolutely no paperwork. A lot of English and French was spoken, however.

He visited me often in Maryland, helping me build up a Comet from a basket case, which is still racing around in Class C. He was generous beyond belief.

Many years ago: Phil Irving, legendary co-designer of the Vincent V-twin, with Patrick Godet and VOC president Bryan Philips. [David Lancaster]
Dee Vincent-Day (daughter of Philip Vincent):

I was saddened to hear of the death of Patrick Godet.  Patrick contributed greatly towards keeping the Vincent name alive.  His work in restoring Vincents was exemplary, creating demand from many Vincent owners including my son. His Godet racing team competed on Vincents at many veteran events including the Isle of Man Classic TT and Spa-Francorchamps.  His contribution to motorcycling was boundless.  He will be missed by many.

Patrick Godet and his beloved dog Elvis on the Normandy coast. [Sandra Gillard]
Philip Vincent-Day (grandson of Philip Vincent):

I can remember the first time I met Patrick. Or at least the first time that I could remember meeting Patrick. I was at a VOC international rally, about 15 or 16 years old, having received notice the rally was taking place in Essex close to where I was living at the time. I was sat chatting with Bryan Phillips when two Frenchmen approached. Before Bryan could introduce us, Patrick already knew who I was - I wasn't quite sure how. I must admit that at that moment I had no idea who he was, and found it odd that I hadn't had to be introduced.

Patrck Godet with the family business: a trucking company. [Tom Lancaster]
From that day, his reputation just seemed to grow and grow, and I kept hearing more and more about his Eglis. It didn’t seem all that long before I was regularly attending the Isle of Man classic TT races. Here I was fortunate enough to spend more time with Patrick, along with visits to the Egli-Vincent Rally in the Rhone valley and the Café Racer Festival at Montlhéry. Each and every time, the love and passion that Patrick felt for Vincent motorcycles, the engine, the design, even the way the wheels turned, shone through.

Godet with a classic NorVin café racer in the 1970s [David Lancaster]
He was tremendously (and rightly) proud of his bikes, yet he always referred to my grandfather as ‘The Boss’ - or at least while I was around. I can remember showing Patrick a video I had recorded of Bruno Leroy racing his Grey Flash through Glenn Helen. Patrick must have watched at close proximity 10 times before I had to ask, what was he watching out for? ‘Nothing particularly, I just love it.’

Sandra Gillard (friend and photographer):

In 2012, I wrote an e-mail to Patrick asking about photographing a Vincent. With this simple question, I went in August 2013 to his workshop to shoot the jewels he created and restored. Within a day, I had ridden an Egli-Vincent-Godet 1330 for the first time in my life. From there, I dreamed, travelled and rode with Patrick and his Vincent. Together, for the next five years, we began to write a page of a story that belongs to us. Patrick often told me I was his bench he could rest on.

Sandra Gillard ready to test ride a 1330cc GEV, as Patrick Godet makes final adjustments. [Shannon Saad]
With me in the side-car on his Black Prince we rode to three Egli-Vincent-Godet rallies, to Vincent Owners Club meetings and to the Manx Classic TT in the Isle of Man in 2015 and 2016. We travelled to Switzerland and Florida. I rode a Vincent Black Shadow in Florida and France and an original Vincent Grey Flash on the roads of Normandy. Last September, Patrick came to Switzerland to see my first photo exhibition in Lausanne.

Sandra Gillard aboard a Grey Flash racer at a French Vincent rally in 2017. [David Lancaster]
Being in the side-car of Patrick’s Prince was fabulous – travelling in the ‘basket’, on the right-hand side, is like being in a cart. Patrick was the perfect rider. I loved the sensation of speed – with my Canon always in my lap. To the Isle of man, we crossed England at speed. We broke down. Patrick repaired the bike. Once on the Isle of Man, we rode the circuit twice – the first time in the outfit, the second time I hired a Triumph and followed. Riding on the TT circuit is like being the ball in a pinball machine.

The Godet team (minus Bruno, Julien, and Alain) with a Vincent Black Lightning replica at the Café Racer Festival at Montlhéry in 2018.[Sandra Gillard]
Patrick was a wizard in his workshop. Eternally dissatisfied, he demanded perfection. His “guys” were part of his family. He was a bear, and he could growl. But he had a tender heart. If his anger could be memorable, his loyalty was unwavering. In turn, he was a jeweller and a magician, but first of all he was a man with a big heart.

 

A wonderful shot of Patrick Godet by photographer Jean-Pierre Praderes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


2018 London Bike Shed Show

Special to The Vintagent by David Lancaster

 

Great cities are marked by great contrasts. I can’t have been the only one riding between two major events last weekend, picking through hot London traffic, who was struck by how far apart they were. The more famous, and much older, is the Chelsea Flower Show – which every May sees the A-list, B-list and green-fingered descend in blazers and other finery to marvel at the innovation, skill, devotion and colour on show.  And just a few miles to the east, a very different crowd descends to the Bike Shed London event to marvel – yes, you’ve guessed - at the innovation, skill, devotion and colour on show. But far as I know, the Chelsea Flower Show is yet to host tattoo parlours, panel bashing or beard trimming on site. Maybe next year. [There's hope! - pd'o]

David Lancaster and Andrew Nahum, author and London Science Musuem curator look over 'Lamb Chops Revenge' [Dave Norvinbike]
The Bike Shed Show is now in its sixth year, and began small, at what is now the HQ of the club, bar and restaurant known as ‘The Bike Shed Motorcycle Club’, in the heart of London's East End. To some, the place, and its vaguely hipster ambiance – at least on the surface – can seem a little arriviste. It’s a "long way from being a shed," they say: "It’s a business." Well, of course it is. But it might just be a welcome business. And as one of many who has been turned away from pubs after arriving on a bike over the years, what’s wrong with a place where bikes are not just welcomed, but are the aim of the place? Its founders, Dutch and Vikki, have also been unstinting in helping organising protests against what appears to be a London Mayor who treats motorcycles with disdain, to put it mildly.

Pre-war styling cues much in evidence in this BMW based (and sponsored) special 'the Spitfire' [Dave Norvinbike]
Their Bike Shed Show, with around 12,000 visitors, is now the biggest motorcycle event central London has seen for some time. This year, 240 builds were on display, alongside major brands such as Triumph, Belstaff, Davida and Ohlins. A lot to take in. One man who was there to do just that, and has seen the custom scene re-invent itself several times over, was Mark Williams, founder of BIKE magazine back in 1971. Now publisher of the very fine Classic Motoring Review, Mark is also still chronicling the two-wheeled world in his day job as custom editor of BIKE.

The amazing Watkins M001 deisgned and built by Polish engineer Jack Watkins [Dave Norvinbike]
How does Mark think today's custom builds compare with the first flush of yard-built bikes back in the early and mid-70s? "There were only a few serious and capable chopper builders in the UK back then," he tells me. "But a lot of opportunists were cashing in. The point, of course, was to pose and pull chicks, which I gather they sometimes did." This was an age, don’t forget, when BIKE’s first issue – in a kind of manifesto, breaking with the old school – announced that the UK could build customs as cool as those from the West Coast of America. It proclaimed 'Any country that turns out Lotus 7’s & Diana Dors can turn out class choppers'. The biggest difference is that nearly all motorcycling now is a leisure or sporting pursuit. "Back then, there was still a reasonably healthy market of those buying bikes simply to get to work on. Today, as a recreation, the choice is wide open and contemporary customs add yet further layers. Plus a major factor is the performance and design dead-ends the major factories found themselves in during the 1980s, and 1990s," he says.

Pioneering journalist Mark Williams - his launch of BIKE magazine back in 1971 shook up the bike press in the UK and was one of the first to take custom bikes seriously [Dave Norvinbike]
Mark’s not sure they have completely found their way out. Or whether they can. "It’s not easy for manufacturers to build interesting bikes now. They build very capable ones – but noise and emission regulations dictate bulky silencers – and nearly 200bhp on tap requires traction control." Hence, the thirst for more skeletal-looking, lighter machines which wear their build-ethos and technology for all to see at this show. "The other big difference to the 70s," Mark says, "is back then, with the exception of Harley-Davidson, the major factories stayed well away from the custom scene other than to find their work used as the setting-off points."

Death Machines' stunning Guzzi-based creation. It's cool no doubt - but is there enough clearance for those front forks to work [Dave Norvinbike]
This was the case just until a few years ago, with the current crop of independent builders ploughing their own creative courses. But Yamaha’s Yard Built projects, BMW’s R Nine T initiatives and Triumph’s retro twins and bobbed-heavyweights have changed all that. Now, the custom scene is drawing in the big factories. At the Bike Shed Show, major sponsors abounded, who are keen to incorporate the vibe coming up from below, rather than down from above. The writer Thomas Frank spotted this trend a generation ago, in his book 'The Conquest of Cool'. Frank forensically examines how the Maddison Avenue agencies honed in on the emerging counter-culture of the 1960s, spotting that to appear different – rather than uniform – was the best way to reach some buyers of mid-century hard goods. Cars such as the VW Beetle and Volvo Amazon were sold to those who embraced the quirky over the conservative. ‘Hip consumerism,’ Frank dubbed it. It was a case of the corporate world looking on in envy at the ‘authenticity, individuality, difference and rebellion’ of street culture. [For the original essay on the subject, read Tom Wolfe's (RIP) 1963 'Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby' - pd'o]

From the UK's Midlands: Sinrojas
Royal Enfield-based special the R10 [Dave Norvinbike]
But, a motorbike built by a team of two, in a yard, is still a motorbike – just like the one built by a team of hundreds in Japan or Germany. And the heritage of BMW, Ducati or Yamaha is theirs to exploit and re-package as much as it is ours to rip-apart, customise and ride. Both sides of the same coin still battle with challenges as old as the motorcycle itself, between ground clearance, a low centre of gravity and some kind of silencing. Or between looking fresh enough to turn heads, yet familiar enough to still swim in a tradition, whether that means café racers, choppers, or scramblers. This mad mix of old and new found its apotheosis at the Bike Shed Show – to my eyes at least - in a fully contemporary Triumph twin, lightly customised, atop which sat a distressed late 60s Triumph tank replete with parcel grid. I still can’t decide if it was blunt, clumsy, or even just lazy… or a rather brilliant arranged-marriage of old and new, set up with little or no formal introduction, but forced to live together. It said something.

Adam Kay (left) of Untitled Motorcycles based in London and California talks explains their latest creation - shades of the Scott motorcycle but with Suzuki two-stroke power. [Dave Norvinbike]
Trends? There’s still a clear thirst for inspiration from the classic bobbed and café racer back-catalogues of the postwar years. But singles are calling some builders, with elegant results, and others are looking further back in time for inspiration. So, coming to a custom builder near you, could well be ultra-wide 1920/30s Stateside handlebar bends and solo saddles – likely appended with a small, flat-tank style gas storage. Gunmetal hues fit this pattern perfectly – carrying the resonance of early, bashed-aluminium streamlining fairings - as it's the palette of many pre-war machines. Mudguards, for so long either missing or minimal, are getting fuller.

Giacomo Agostini's title-winning MV Agusta [Dave Norvinbike]
If one bike stood out, it was the Polish built, BMW-based Watkins. With massive ambition, evident in every detail, this machine stunned onlookers: all the chassis and the suspension components were designed and built by 20-something engineer Jack Watkins. He vanned the bike from Poland, paid for the space himself, and stood there all day talking tech with all-comers. His bike boasted hub centre steering – an elegant self-built steel chassis and a fuel tank under the seat. It looked back to front. It looked kind of wrong, unfinished even, until you peered closely and talked to its creator. Then a satisfying flood of ideas poured forth. There was no merch; no big corporate backer, no business cards even. Just a bike, and a guy brimming with ideas.

David Lancaster and Andrew Nahum [Dave Norvinbike]
How do you flummox such an evidently brilliant mind? Ask him whether he knows anything about an obscure, south London guitar maker also called Watkins, who banged out cheap but useable Fender copies in the late 1960s, and which gave the likes of Paul Weller his first electric six-string. "Really?" he said when I told him. "Do they still make them?" It’s not every day obscure British music culture can win rock-paper-scissors with a PhD in engineering, who was suddenly gasping for more information about his own bike’s name. ‘They folded late 1970s I think," I told him: "I’ve still got mine."

From the Czech Republic: the Honda-based ROD, another bike majoring on grey hues and brushed metal [Dave Norvinbike]
Contemporary customs are beguiling. How long will we think we’re in the middle a bubble, before we begin to wonder if this stuff is here to stay?  We could be witnessing a shift in motorcycle design and production, where the outsiders lead the insiders, the big factories have to hire the guys with long hair to inject some fresh DNA to their products. The same occurred to Mark Williams: "Yes, I thought it was a bubble, but in the last two or three years I’ve changed my mind," he says. "Classic bike restoration houses, the more forward looking, are getting into building new wave customs."

Open to interpretation: a vintage Triumph fuel tank atop a new Triumph Bonneville [Dave Norvinbike]
Adam Kay, founder of Untitled Motorcycles, feels the same. Indeed, his company’s roots go back (through his chief mechanical guru, Rex Martin) to the late 1980s, when pattern parts for British bikes were rubbish, and Rex was one of the few in central London trusted to work on Nortons, Triumphs and Vincents. "What could kill it," says Adam, "is the Mayor’s Ultra Low Emission Zone plans, which will charge many older bikes £12.50 just to enter London." That would be a grim irony, when motorcycling has rarely been in such a creative flow, small shops are opening up, and motorcycles have so much to offer a congested city, that much of this could be wiped at the whim of one elected official. If Mayor Sadiq Khan wants a city of colour and contrasts, which can house artisans working with metal as well as those working with flowers, he should embrace the current high tide of endeavour occurring on the streets of the city he seeks to lead. Not kill it.

Another twist on a new Triumph: girder forks [Dave Norvinbike]
In with the new: a tattoo parlor set up on site [Dave Norvinbike]
The record (LP that is) racks at London's docklands [Dave Norvinbike]
"Add lightness." Colin Chapman's dictum served up on a BMW custom [Dave Norvinbike]
Where the old school meets the new: members of London's Mean Fuckers MC (Jake, Sarah, and Kez) chat with Vintagent contributor JP Defaut [Dave Norvinbike]
Mixed messages abound: BSA-Yamaha mashup [Dave Norvinbike]
Another factory-sponsored dragster, this time a new Royal Enfield twin, designed and built by the Royal Enfield team for the show circuit.   The new 650cc twin-cylinder motor has 47hp, and this engine is in stock form, although the chassis is totally bespoke, and aggressively styled with a forward cant to the motor and frame.  A successful custom! [Dave Norvinbike]
Experiments in styling: how will we know the limits unless we exceed them? [Dave Norvinbike]
From the saddle, you'd never know this was a Royal Enfield single chopper [Dave Norvinbike]
BMWs are among the most popular fodder for modification, being plentiful, cheap, reliable, and in need of un-borification [Dave Norvinbike]
From the Old School, sort of. A Harley-Davidson ironhead Sportster-based chopper, with solid girder reminiscent of the Confederate Wraith [Dave Norvinbike]
What would the current custom scene be without its specific fashions? Every scene has them, and ours has beards, denim, and tattoos... [Dave Norvinbike]
The venue: enormous. Enough for 12,000 visitors anyway [Dave Norvinbike]