Prosper Keating

The Most Radical Vincent on the Planet?

Every once in a while, a motorbike scares me. I’m not talking about some of the badly-maintained death traps I've tested for motorcycle magazines. I’m talking about radical motorbikes with the attitude of an unbroken mustang, that dare you to ride them. The Egli-Vincent Mark Fogg wheeled out of his London garage had that effect on me. Triumph supremo Edward Turner prided himself on his products, saying that they looked fast even when standing still. Fogg’s Egli-Vincent doesn’t just look fast: it looks mean. However, the bike has been dry-stored for a while and is neither road-registered nor insured so firing it up and taking it for a run to Brighton and back will have to wait. In fact, it's not even run in. That said, it is a very special machine, which is why I am going to tell you about it.

Looking like an arched-back black cat, the Hamilton-Egli-Vincent is ready to pounce. [Prosper Keating]
How much power can a Vincent V-twin engine produce? Back in the early 1950s, a well-prepared 1000cc Black Lightning was good for a genuine 70 crankshaft horsepower at 5600 rpm. The 1570cc 4-valve Irving-Vincent motors made by the Horner brothers in Australia are claimed to put out nearly 180bhp at 7278 rpm. For most riders, these figures are rather academic as few ride at 130+mph. And a perfectly standard but well-sorted Black Shadow or Rapide is quite fast enough to lose you your driving license in most jurisdictions.

What other riders would likely see: the twin under-seat exhausts passing by, singing a 112hp song. [Prosper Keating]
The tuned 1951 Rapide engine fitted to Fogg’s Egli-Vincent is recorded as producing just under 112 bhp at 6100 rpm on the Heenan & Froud chassis dynamometer in Colin Taylor’s workshop. That was in 1998, when Taylor was working with the late Dr Ian Hamilton, a Scottish racer in the grand independent Clubman tradition, who raced highly tuned Egli-Vincents against modern machinery with surprising success before his death in an accident on the Cadwell Park circuit in 1999.

The best possible Egli-Vincent license plate...but it's on Mark Fogg's NorVin! [Prosper Keating]
I remember, as a motorcycle magazine staffer in the late 1980s, reading of Dr Hamilton’s Battle of The Twins performances against modern Ducatis and their contemporaries and thinking: Really? On a Vincent? I was familiar with Vincent H.R.D. twins and knew they could be made to go very fast, as record-breakers like George Brown proved time and again, but it is fair to say that even in its heyday, the firm never enjoyed quite the same success on race tracks as other British firms. Vincent's prewar and postwar 500cc TT Comet and Grey Flash racers were better suited to track and road events like the Manx and Dutch Tourist Trophy races than their 1000cc V-twins.

Colin Taylor putting finishing touches on the Hamilton-Egli-Vincent before its first test ride [Egli-Vincent.net]
The ex-Hamilton engine is of course heavily modified but it is nonetheless a genuine Stevenage motor from 1951, rather than a highly-evolved modern unit like the Irving-Vincent or Godet-Vincent. It is best-described as Dr Hamilton’s testbed engine as it was still under development and had never been raced when he died. Dr Hamilton’s 90 bhp Egli-Vincent racer used a set of replica crankcases stamped with the serial number 11141, Dr Hamilton wishing to evoke Stevenage’s numbering system whilst making it clear that the engine was not a Stevenage product.

The chopped (ie, the gearbox has been cut off) 1951 Rapide engine that forms the basis of the 112hp monster. Not extra-strong or modified cases here! It's all Vincent stuff. [Mark Fogg]
Mark Fogg found the chopped Rapide engine in the Ian Hamilton Estate through a classified advertisement in the Vincent H.R.D. Owners Club journal MPH in 2001. How long had Fogg been into Vincents? “I bought my Norvin in 2000. That was my first. I’d wanted a Norvin for twenty years. Then I got into the Egli. But I’ve had five Vincents since then. I had a very nice Grey Flash Replica, a road-going one. I had a prewar Comet Special with the alloy bronze head. That was very nice. They’re nice things! [Laughs].

Colin Taylor's snaps of the machine coming together under his care. [Colin Taylor]
Fogg’s Norvin is indeed a very nice thing, with its Series B Rapide engine and the registration plate EGL1, which should really be on the Egli-Vincent. Mark laughs: “Yeah, I suppose I could transfer the number. The Egli isn’t actually registered. I’ve never ridden it! The engine was advertised as being from Ian Hamilton’s collection but I didn’t have any idea of who he was. Afterwards, I started reading his articles about ‘Wearing Out a Vincent Faster’ in MPH and the notebook that came with the engine and realised I had something quite special. I thought Colin Taylor would be the most appropriate person to build me the Egli because he was connected to Ian Hamilton and knew him well. Colin was building Eglis in batches of three at the time and, in the beginning, we both thought it would be quite a quick project.”.

The bobweight (ie, not full-circle) crankshaft, with titanium rods and lightened timing gear. [Mark Fogg]
Fogg and Taylor figured it might take a year to turn out an Egli-Vincent for Fogg using one of Taylor’s own Egli replica frames and proprietary parts like Honda forks, but the project ended up taking nearly ten years. Fogg continues: “As Colin got into it, he suddenly realised which engine it was and he got even more enthusiastic!’. Colin Taylor takes up the story: “Ian brought the engine, fitted to his bike, for testing on my Heenan & Froud chassis dyno in 1998. The engine failed and Ian went back to his Great Barford workshop to change it for the ‘old reliable one’, which was less powerful.”.

How you find them: the classifieds! Or at least, how you used to find them... How such simple ads sent us into spirals of conjecture and desire. [Mark Fogg]
Dr Hamilton had acquired the chopped Rapide crankcases for £250 in 1995. He fitted the bobweight crankshaft from his racing engine #11141, which he’d campaigned in the 1994 Battle of The Twins series. This crank uses original Vincent flywheels sculpted into bobweight form. Dr Hamilton replaced the standard 1” mainshafts with oversize 1 1/8” shafts. The main bearing housings were remachined with a line borer and sleeved. The Titanium connecting rods run on twin silver-plated INA caged roller big ends on an oversized crankpin. The 90mm Vincent stroke is unrevised but the 90mm bores––standard Vincent bores being 84mm––give a capacity of 1150cc.

Dr Ian Hamilton's extensive development notes on this engine. [Prosper Keating]
Initially, the modified crank assembly had a negative balance factor so the flywheels were painstakingly shaved by hand to achieve the ideal target factor of 55%. Hamilton fitted 8.5:1 pistons, proving that one doesn’t have to fit excessively high compression slugs to an engine in the quest for speed. However, the cam lobes were Hamilton Racing Development one-offs giving an overlap figure of 109°. Timing pinions are lightened and machined to a width of just ¼”. All internals are polished. Hamilton paid attention to detail everywhere: he had the crankcase edges blended before stove-enamelling them black as per Stevenage works practice with Black Shadow and Lightning engines. The covers were highly polished and blended. All caps, nuts and bolts were drilled for lockwiring.

Dyno figures from various tests. The final figure, a note slipped in, states 112hp. [Prosper Keating]
Hamilton eschewed the usual practice of using twin front heads, Black Lightning-style, fitting ported, polished and gas-flowed front and rear heads with squish bands, twin plugs and oversize valves, held in place by Titanium spring caps and collets. The fuel flows through Mikuni 36mm smoothbore carburetors and is ignited by Pazon electronic ignition fed by one of the Hamon brothers’ Alton generators. The exhaust pipes curve up behind the gearbox and exit below the racing seat, which is a particularly neat touch typical of Colin Taylor’s attention to detail. While Taylor would never claim to have been an ace on racing circuits, he was a highly respected scrambler and off-road racer in his day and is particularly good at tucking things away when he builds bikes.

The Egli frame as found, brazed rather than TIG-welded, with soft curved fillets for strength. [Mark Fogg]
Mark Fogg points to the primary transmisson: “It’s got a forty millimetre Bob Newby belt drive and clutch. They drive the five-speed Nourish gearbox. Colin had to copy an SRM pressure plate with the radial bearing mushroom lifter. Then, on the other side, it’s got a Les Willams hydraulic clutch activator in the Triumph gearbox outer cover. The clutch and brake levers are from ISR in Sweden. It’s all hydraulics. The twin front brakes are six-piston set-ups made for me by ISR. I figured that with all that power on tap, it needed some spectacular brakes. ISR were making the brakes for the World Superbike Series at the time.

Six-pot brakes will stop the machine from 150+mph. [Prosper Keating]
Colin Taylor recalls his friend Ian Hamilton: “What I would say about Ian, which has maybe not been printed before, is that he was a very good listener and a meticulous note-taker. He was actually quite a shy person who would never boast. He is a sadly-missed enthusiast who would––and did––share what he learned about ‘wearing out a Vincent faster’ [Laughs]. Before his tragic death at Cadwell Park, I had worked with Ian on various projects, especially on frame changes, exhausts and dyno tests. Our involvement actually came about following another tragic accident when engine maestro Leon Moss was killed.

 

Rapide front and rear heads, Mikuni smoothbores, and a 40mm belt drive primary. [Prosper Keating]
“Leon had been the main man working with Ian on engine development. Up to that point, I was an assistant in the dyno testing part of Ian’s projects but I also worked on his frames. Ian used to enjoy what he called ‘experiments’. Mark’s bike is certainly different from the usual Egli-Vincents. Not too many feature two-inch exhausts under the seat, or a centrestand. Ian’s bikes had revised steering head angles, like his Battle of The Twins racer. I made the frame of Mark’s bike with this revised head angle.”.

A massive breather from the timing chest is a typical racer mod on Vincents. [Prosper Keating]
Taylor has been making Egli frames since 1974, when he was working for John Tickle, and the frame of Fogg’s street racer is one of his. “My Egli frames are all braze-welded, unlike others I know of. TIG-welded thin-wall tube frames have stress riser issues at their joints. The smooth concave radius present in properly applied braze-welding techniques has a much better performance when transmitting stress at a joint surface. I made my first motorcycle frame when I was fifteen years old in the mid-sixties. It housed a 500cc Manx Norton engine and as soon as I was sixteen, I raced it.”.

Under construction: sorting out the exhaust system under the engine and seat. [Mark Fogg]
Sitting on his Series B Rapide-engined Norvin, Mark Fogg looks at his Egli-Vincent and says: “I’d like Colin Taylor to get the kudos for what I think is the most radical Egli on the planet. I think he’d agree, if you asked him, that this is the Colin Taylor tribute to Ian Hamilton, which he built for me. I can’t ever thank him enough. I’m very lucky to have been involved in creating it. I bought an engine in a box and I’ve done that one thing that all the old Vincent guys should do. I’ve put a Vincent back on its wheels. Okay, so it isn’t a standard Vincent but what I’ve put together with Colin, it’s something very different. I’m also very grateful to Ian Hamilton. He was going to go further. He would have probably got more power out of it.”.  

Prosper Keating considers returning to a life of high-speed hooliganism. [Prosper Keating]
Mark Fogg hands me Dr Hamilton’s hardback notebook containing the meticulously detailed development history of the engine in his hands, its cover bearing a simple label ‘6590’, which is the engine’s serial number. The notes end suddenly, a few pages after Dr Hamilton tested engine number F10AB/1/6590 on the Snetterton circuit following its 111.28 bhp dyno test. Reading Dr Hamilton’s notes, it seems that #6590’s inlet tappets tightened up during the dyno test, which would have caused the engine to misfire and to lose power. He also had a problem with the bike jumping out of gear. So he refitted his Vincent replica engine #11141 and shelved #6590.

Mark Fogg with his very tasty NorVin, with all the right 1960s touches. [Prosper Keating]
According to the notebook, #6590 achieved 103.04 bhp at 6100 rpm on 21.8.1998. At 4571 rpm, the engine was producing 93 bhp. A week later, as a handwritten note slipped between the pages attests, the engine managed 111 bhp at 6100 rpm. The actual figure, after calculations and corrections, was recorded in the book as 111.28 bhp. There is room to increase the bores to 94mm, which would give a capacity of 1270cc and a probable increase of output. Dr Hamilton wasn’t a rich man. At times, he couldn’t afford new racing tyres. One rather telling, poignant entry in his notebook records his decision not to buy the £55 drill bit he needed to rework the head stud holes after opening out the crankcase mouths. He made do with another drill bit and got the job done.

It will be easy for a new owner to tell how fast s/he's going, with a big 5" Shadow speedo and tacho. [Prosper Keating]
How fast is Fogg’s Egli-Vincent? Taylor replies: “I’m not really into speculation. I ran the bike on a quiet mountain road near Britoli, which is in the Abruzzo region of Italy. With a hundred-plus bhp at its rear wheel, this Hamilton Egli will be swift. Don’t forget that it’s 1150 cc. Many other big bore Vins have been made which give more power, I’m sure. Certainly the blown ones do. But how this bike would perform against others is the stuff of talk. Not my way.”. Fogg looks thoughtful: “It’s got a hundred-and-fifty mile-an-hour clock. I’m pretty certain it’ll do more that after it’s run in. But it hasn’t been fired up since Colin tried her out on the mountain backroads near his workshop in Italy. The local coppers threatened to confiscate it.”

D'ya want it?  The beast is for sale: serious inquiries can be forwarded here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Montlhéry Ghosts

I first wrote about Montlhéry as a motorcycle magazine journalist in 1992. It was the 40th anniversary of the Vincent H.R.D. works’ 24-Hour record attempt in May 1952 with a couple of Black Shadows at the banked autodrome some eighteen miles south of Paris. Twenty-seven years later, on a Friday afternoon in June 2019, I was blatting down the old Route Nationale 20 from Paris with Philip Vincent-Day behind me, on our way to the Café Racer Festival at the old autodrome where his grandfather had taken the works record team on that hot weekend in 1952.

Philip Vincent-Day, grandson of  HRD-Vincent founder Philip Vincent, with a Vincent Black Prince on sale at the Cafe Racer Festival.  Don't criticize the handling! [Prosper Keating]
Phil needed to be there in his capacity as Associate Producer of the documentary film-in-progress Speed Is Expensive, produced and directed by David Lancaster. The film crew intended to record the Café Racer Festival’s tribute to the late Vincent and Egli-Vincent specialist Patrick Godet. Dozens of Egli-Vincent and Vincent riders would gather and do a Lap of Honour in Godet’s memory, with Fritz Egli himself leading the pack on his sidecar outfit. I wish I could tell you that Phil and I were on a Vincent but neither of us has a Vincent on the road at the moment. We were on an ex-French Gendarmerie BMW R80 G/S from 1981, which is almost as old today as the two original Montlhéry Black Shadows were when I wrote about the 1952 record attempt. Phil has an Egli-Comet project in hand and plans to get his father’s old Series C Rapide back from its current owner in the United States. I am bringing a 1936 TT Comet back to life. I suppose we ought to have taken my Norton-Triumph Special, consisting of a 1937 Norton fitted with a 1939 Triumph twin motor, but she hasn’t a pillion seat. As for the 1936 Velocette KSS in my Paris garage, one look from Phil at the tiny bum pad on the rear mudguard was enough. We were going there in German style.

Prosper Keating on a very special pre-war racing Triumph with a McCandless rear suspension conversion. [Prosper Keating]
We were pushing the speed a bit that Friday because Lancaster wanted to profit from the general public’s absence to film a couple of Vincent 1000s on the Montlhéry banking as a visual reference to the May 1952 record attempt. These mood shots would complement original footage shot by Philip Vincent himself, which the Vincent-Day family have lent for the Speed Is Expensive documentary. Anyway, I haven’t received any speeding tickets yet. The two Vincent Black Shadows used at Montlhéry in 1952 still exist but the Speed Is Expensive team would be employing stand-ins: Patrick Godet’s very fast Black Lightning replica and a rare 1948 Series B Black Shadow from the first production batch, which was the first of the new model to be imported into France by the firm’s Paris agent Clément Garreau. Today, the B Shadow is owned by the ineffably elegant Dominique Malcor. Her nickname is Le Reine Mathilde and she looks as if she just rolled out of Garreau’s Paris emporium on the rue Robert-Lindet in the city’s 15th arrondissement: sensitively and accurately restored, lovingly maintained and ridden not hidden. The lines of the Godet Lightning replica, which is street-legal, vaguely evoke those of the two Shadows prepared as production racer by the works for the 1952 record attempt.

The Godet Black Lightning done in the spec of the Montlhéry record-breakers - quite a cafe racer! [Prosper Keating]
Phil’s grandfather was inspired to bring his Black Shadows to Montlhéry by the performance there the previous year of Clément Garreau’s son-in-law Gustave Lefèvre on a Black Lightning. Lefèvre was one of the riders chosen for the May 1952 record bid. Almost forty years later, fellow works team rider Vic Willoughby, a prewar Brooklands Gold Star winner and thus familiar with banked circuits, told me: “I tucked my elbows in and got my chin down. Took a look at the speedo on the straight: showed a hundred and thirty. Around the banking. Everything was nice so I just resigned myself to a monotonous ride. The thing that worried me about Montlhéry was the lack of crash barriers, especially on the banking. Nothing to stop you flying off the top and landing in the treetops! Anyway, I’m going round and round, everything going nicely, getting the thumbs up––that was about the only signal from the pits––when, all of a sudden, on the banking at just over a hundred and twenty, the bike locked as solid as could be and I just got the clutch out, weaving all over the place! Jesus, my heart was in my mouth as I pulled in!”

Fritz Egli and Phil Vincent-Day share a laugh at the Vincent tent. [Prosper Keating]
As predicted by works racers like George Brown and others, the standard uncaged roller big end had failed around six hours. It was one of the hottest weekends on record and the temperatures in the concrete bowl were brutal, which was no good for the engine oil. Being a man of honour, Philip Vincent had rejected all advice to fit caged roller big ends, insisting that the Shadows remain as close to production specification as possible. The team carried on with the second Shadow, which lasted just over ten hours. The firm failed to capture the 24-Hour record but took a number of other records. However, it was a disappointment. As Willoughby said: “Vincents would have had a wonderful bit of publicity if Vincent hadn’t insisted on his standard engine! After the first engine seized up, they decided to just break the records comfortably, keeping the speed down to just over a hundred mph. They beat all the records until the second big end seized up at ten and a quarter hours, as predicted.” 

One of Dick Shepherd's beautiful Triumph, in this case a unique first-year Bonneville (1959), painted in blue as a design study. [Prosper Keating]
While the Speed Is Expensive team were filming, I wandered off to chat with Triumph collector Dick Shepherd, who had brought several of his Triumph Bonnevilles to Montlhéry as part of Triumph’s celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Bonneville at the 2019 Café Racer Festival. Montlhéry seemed an appropriate venue because Triumph chose the French venue for the 1949 launch of the 650cc Thunderbird. And, of course, the Bonneville was named for the records set on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1956 by Johnny Allen in his Thunderbird-powered Streamliner. Shepherd, who could be said to have made the Triumph museum in Hinckley possible by lending so many of his Coventry and Meriden models to the firm, has also supported the development of the Brooklands circuit into a going concern, which has protected it from property speculators and redevelopers like those who wanted to get their hands on the Montlhéry site before a wider public realised what an important part of the nation’s heritage it is. “I think what they are doing here is very good!” said Shepherd.” It’s a very historic race track, especially for Triumph because they came over here in 1949 with the Thunderbirds. We came back here past year with one of those Thunderbirds and we rode her around the circuit. It’s like Brooklands. It must be kept. The French are putting a lot into this. We’ve been coming here now for three years and we’ve noticed more and more people coming from all around Europe and even further: Australia, New Zealand, the United States. It’s a great show.”

 

Dave Degens of Dresda fame with one of his Honda specials. [Prosper Keating]
For this year’s Café Racer Festival and the Triumph Bonneville anniversary, Shepherd brought several of his early, pre-unit Bonnevilles, including the first production machine, the royal blue and pearl-grey T120 displayed for several years in Triumph MD Edward Turner’s office at Meriden. Get Shepherd talking motorbikes and the inveterate petrolhead comes out to play: “It’s the first one built and it’s the only one this colour! The Americans didn’t like the colour scheme so they went for the tangerine and pearl grey for the production batch and then, mid-season, they went back to this royal blue and pearl grey scheme. Perhaps they should have stuck with the original colour because it’s very nice!” We then drifted off the subject, chatting about what the balance factor of my Vincent H.R.D. TT Comet crank should be, given its shaved flywheels.

Checking over the Series B Black Shadow. [Prosper Keating]
Looking at Shepherd’s Bonnies reminded me of 1994 when I crashed my 1961 Bonnie during a fast demonstration lap at a Coupe Moto Légende rally. My T120R had started life as one of the Redhill Motors racers although I did not know this at the time. It was just a very fast bike with various polished and lightened internals, needle roller layshaft bearings and so on. I was accelerating out of the chicane when a wine-soaked native on a Kawasaki two-stroke triple cut me up, forcing me off the concrete onto the grass, where I lost traction and came off because of the torrential rain that morning. It was a simple matter to beat the bent footrest straight with a rock but the handlebar was a goner. The Parisian parts dealer Corbeau donated a handlebar so I could ride home to London. I have lived in Paris for some years so Montlhéry is not as far away. Just as I used to ride from London to the old Brooklands circuit on cool nights and sit on the banking, communing with the ghosts, I often visit the French autodrome where I imagine the sounds and smells of the past. If I have laced my fuel with Castrol R, an old poseur’s trick, I don’t have to imagine so hard.

[David Lancaster's iPhone video of a Godet Black Lightning about to hit the track at the Montlhéry Cafe Racer Festival 2019]

There were too many people about that weekend so the ghosts stayed away but when Phil had finished filming, we walked about looking at all sorts of fabulous motorbikes, old and new, including the second-last Vincent Black Prince made by his grandfather’s firm. A rather intense-looking man was photographing the For Sale notice on the Prince and asking aloud if the low mileage was genuine. Knowing the machine, I assured him it was and opined that given the handling characteristics of the Series D models, previous owners were probably scared of it. Replying that he had a Black Prince and that we clearly knew nothing about Vincents, the potential new owner flounced away. Someone once described the Series D Vincents as conforming to the definition of a camel as a horse designed by committee. We felt reasonably qualified to comment: the Series D Vincents had heralded the end of Phil’s grandfather’s dreams and a Black Prince had nearly been the end of me when I test-rode it from London to Western Brittany in 1990.

Dave Degens, cafe racer hero. [Prosper Keating]
I remembered the story Ted Davis told me about road-testing the Series D prototype. Ted had ridden the machine up the Great North Road from Stevenage to Scotch Corner and back one quiet Sunday, a round distance of just over 400 miles. Along the way, he had removed the side panels and the windscreen because of the scary handling characteristics in cross winds. He said he had hidden them under hedges along the way, intending to retrieve them later. Back at the works, Ted had spent the night fitting the prototype with an aluminum dustbin racing fairing of unknown provenance. Not only did it enhance the Black Knight’s appearance but a quick blast up the main road confirmed Ted’s expectations of wildly improved aerodynamics and handling. When Mister Vincent came out of his house adjoining the works on Monday morning, Ted proudly showed off his handiwork. “Mister Vincent looked at me and then, without a word, went into one of the workshops, leaving me standing there. He came out a moment later with a lump hammer and calmly and methodically reduced the aluminium fairing to misshapen scrap. He handed the hammer to one of the lads watching and went about his morning rounds. Of course, what you have to remember about Mister Vincent was that, as brilliant as he certainly was, he couldn’t ride a motorbike after his accident.”  Ted’s story was confirmed in 2016 by Isle of Man TT champion Ernest Allen, who worked at the factory and was Ted’s racing partner, clocking up over forty victories on their Black Lightning-Watsonian outfit, a machine very familiar to Young Phil and myself. Phil and I went off and sat in the sun with Fritz Egli. I asked Fritz what he thought of Phil’s Egli-Comet project, given his grandfather’s withering disapproval of the installation of his engines in any rolling chassis other than his own spring-frame design. Fritz smiled. Then he started laughing. Turning to Phil, he asked: “You got a frame from Godet?”. “Yes.”, replied Phil, “I bought a Comet engine and gearbox and sent it to Patrick. His lads are going to finish it for me.” Egli smiled. “Wonderful! That’s wonderful!”

With the gorgeous 1948 Series B Black Shadow. [Prosper Keating]
Not many people know that Fritz Egli built a few Comet-powered specials in the 1960s. An Egli-Comet built by his English partner Roger Slater did very well in the 1970 Barcelona 24-Hour race. “But that bike doesn’t exist now,” said Fritz. “Yes it does!” I assured him, “It’s in London. And it’s a runner.” Fritz grinned even wider. There was also a Barcelona 24-Hour winner at the Café Racer Festival in the shape of Dave Degens, who won the 1965 race at Montjuic on his Manx Norton-framed 650cc Dresda Triton, making a Dresda Triton the machine of choice for many a Ton-Up Boy and Rocker in ‘Sixties Britain. Like Egli, whose specials were not exclusively Vincent-powered, Degens fitted various motors to his Norton Featherbed-framed specials, as the Dresda Honda displayed near Dick Shepherd’s Bonnevilles reminded us. However, Dave Degens’ name will always be associated with Tritons, just as Fritz Egli will forever be associated with Vincents, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Frenchman Patrick Godet, himself a highly talented Clubman racer in his youth, like Egli and Degens. Over the years, the French have been very closely involved with British motorcycling and racing. The French police and armed forces used British machines as well as BMWs. The speed freaks of the Moto Club de Paris before and after World War Two and other groups were keen buyers of cammy Nortons, Triumph Tiger 100s and Vincent 1000s. Some of the fastest British Clubman specials ever raced were assembled in France in the 1940s and 1950s by tuners like Bernard Feuiltaine, who even cast and machined his own Triumph GP-style cylinder heads. One of the only men alive to duel with and win against ex-works rider and World Champion racer John Surtees on Black Lightnings was another Frenchman, the Yamaha racer Hubert Rigal, riding Godet’s Black Lighting replica.

Prosper Keating with his Velocette KSS at Montlhéry in 2018. [Yan Morvan]
Some visitors and exhibitors to the 2019 Café Racer Festival moaned about the high visibility of large scale exhibitors like Harley Davidson, Indian and BMW whose histories, albeit illustrious, don’t have much to do with the traditional café racer scene as many bikers see it. But Triumph was there too, rendering homage to the Bonneville, which was one of the production bikes coveted by Rockers in Britain, France, the United States and lots of other countries. It is too easy for purists to say that the Café Racer Festival should be called the Factory Custom Show or that Café Racer magazine is too full of Hipster types on butchered BMWs. However, anything that promotes motorcycling in today’s increasingly repressive environment and helps to save treasures like Montlhéry from the developers and speculators who would level it all flat to build commuter housing, is a good thing. It ill-behoves us to sneer just because our leathers are more weathered and our bikes more ‘authentic’. Yes, it is irritating when event officials bar anyone whose crash helmet is over two years old from the track because of arbitrary insurance diktats but on the positive side, there is far less risk today of being run off the track by drunks. In any case, nit-picking rules were just as strictly applied back in the day when these old circuits were still approved for professional racing. Today, no insurer would cover serious racing on a circuit like Montlhéry, so public events like the Café Racer Festival are a vital part of preserving this heritage by making it commercially viable. We should support the efforts of the people who work so hard so make these events happen in the face of seriously obstructive bureaucracy and dodgy vested interests.


Death, Taxes, and Old Bike Fever

[Prosper Keating was expelled from the Vincent-HRD Owners Club for exposing their connection to a missing £1 million-plus motorcycle collection. Here, he graciously offers his advice to motorcycle collectors on how your family can avoid such a disaster in your estate. This text has been approved by the industry professionals quoted.]

To paraphrase William Defoe and Benjamin Franklin, the only certainties life offers are death and taxes. One is absolute, but you can minimize the other by fair means or foul. However, like Death, the Tax Man wants his due and will have it one way or the other. Even if tax avoidance is your motive, it is a fool’s enterprise not to keep records of your assets (in this case, a vintage motorcycle collection) because your heirs or beneficiaries could end up losing these assets before the final reckoning, as our cases histories here show. It's surely better to pay some tax on all of your Estate than no tax on a missing Estate.

The 'Broughs of Bodmin Moor', an incredible collection of Brough Superiors rumored for years, that turned out to be real. Bonhams' detective work finding the collection, and subsequent record-setting sale, meant Frank Vague's heirs received their due on his estate [Bonhams]
Then again, if you hate your family, leaving an administrative tangle behind is the perfect revenge from beyond the grave. My grandfather ensured years of familial warfare by putting his largest property in his mistress’s name and then losing the title deeds, which are nearly impossible to reconstitute in Ireland. Nevertheless, the authorities had a record of ownership and Grandfather was later obliged to live in his own home as a squatter after his childless mistress’ death. Her two brothers, both confirmed bachelors, had no children either. Result? Years of conflict between his children. Our other grandfather had the decency to run away to England with his mistress, a high class Madame who had her own means. He left a few debts.

Hopefully you hold your relatives in higher esteem, so taking inventory of your possessions - including any Vincents or Brough Superiors parked in the guest bedroom - as part of your Last Will and Testament will spare them all kinds of hassle. You should also ensure that several reputable parties have copies of your Will (and any Letters of Intent) for reasons that will become clear as you read on. These are worst-case scenarios, but sadly, are all too common.

Author Prosper Keating in his workshop with his Vincent-HRD Series A single-cylinder motor [Philip Tooth]
In the world of vintage motorcycles, the 'Broughs of Bodmin Moor' was a story worthy of its own book, like 'The Vincent in the Barn'.  The tale as told was: A nonagenarian recluse dies, leaving a treasure trove of unrestored Brough Superior motorcycles (and one of the firm’s extremely rare motorcars) on his tumble-down farm in the wilds of Cornwall, haunted by smugglers, pirates and highwaymen of old. Bonhams intervenes, saving the collection from being stolen by the graverobbers who always materialize at such times. One of the machines even sets a new price record of £330,000 when auctioned in April 2016, on behalf of the old gentleman’s beneficiaries. And Frank Vague’s Brough Superiors end up with new owners with the sufficient skills and enthusiasm to restore them. It is a story to warm the cockles of the heart, a story with a happy ending.

The 1930 Brough Superior BS4 three-wheeler from the Frank Vague collection, that sold for £330,000 in its dilapidated state [Bonhams]
However, the true story of the late Frank Vague’s motorcycle collection, and his final years, is not quite so simple. While it had a happier ending than other affairs involving deceased estates and high-end motorcycles, there tale had dark shadings. As Frank Vague’s nephew and co-Executor Alan Vague explained: “Uncle Frank lived alone and although paid to look after him, a certain person abused the trust. We were excluded for a long time until we found him in a hospital and brought him to live with my sister until he passed away at 94. Before his passing, we helped Uncle Frank to deal with Bonhams, who were brilliant in dealing with the transportation, valuation and later the auctioning. We were not aware of what of any parts of motorcycles were stolen from our late uncle. We were made aware later that there had been a police file. Uncle Frank had mentioned about people ‘looking around’.”

The Devon and Cornwall Police neither confirmed nor denied the existence of this file; they made no comment at all. Nor did Frank Vague’s solicitors, Merrick’s of Wadebridge, who published the death- and probate-related notices. However, it is unlikely that Merrick’s ever held a list of Frank Vague’s Brough Superior motorbikes and any related spare parts. As former Sotheby’s US and UK motorcycle consultant and valuer Mike Jackson remarks, people rarely catalogue their collections for eventual probate, or even security and insurance purposes. “I’ve been in this game for over twenty years - since I went to Sotheby’s in 1995 - and it’s a rare occasion that people do,” said Jackson. “Folk are busy. There are various reasons: sloth, nervousness about being too official. Some people don’t want to let the wife know how much they’re worth. They also think ‘Oh, if I do that and the accountant finds out, I might have to pay tax on it’. Or they think ‘Oh Christ! It’ll cost hundreds to get it done. I’ve got to buy a new lawnmower’. You know how people are.”

The late John Lumley, whose estate was not dispersed according to his will; an unhappy coda to a remarkable life, from the Vincent-HRD Owners Club journal MPH.

H and H Classics’ Mark Bryan commented: “In an ideal world, it would be great, but people don’t expect to die. Dealing with deceased estates can be a traumatic event for widows and families. Others handle it fairly well, joking about the mess their husbands have left them to clear up. It’s not unknown for ‘friends’ of the deceased to knock on doors claiming that they were promised a bike. We recently handled a collection of Hondas. The widow had been offered £35,000 for a pre-production CB750 by one of her late husband’s so-called friends. £35,000 is a lot of money but happily for the widow, she refused and we sold it for £140,000.”

Mike Jackson agrees: “When I go to see widows - it’s usually the wives of deceased parties - they are sometimes quite agitated as they tell me how ‘his friend says he was promised the bike’. Or the bikes. That is one of the most common things I hear. All these neighbors and friends behaving rather like those Vincent people, you know? People can be so ruthlessly acquisitive. And it always involves modest prices. Never market prices.”

John Lumley's 'Last Will' - no VOC executives or club members were named as heirs or 'giftees' [Prosper Keating]
By 'those Vincent people', Mike Jackson is referring to the case of the John Lumley Collection, an affair that rocked the vintage motorcycle world a few years ago. Jackson was called in as a consultant for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), after the management of the Vincent-HRD Owners Cub attempted to convince them (and John Lumley’s Executors) that Lumley's motorcycles, worth an estimated £1 million, were only worth £75,000.

In the weeks following John Lumley’s funeral (April 21st 2009), HMRC received at least two tip-offs from concerned VOC members.  They knew John Lumley and were amongst the few people admitted to Mr Lumley’s home in his lifetime.  John Lumley was an intensely private man who lived alone; he was also a noted scientist in his field and a highly respected amateur astronomer. The few of us privileged to be invited through his front door can never forget the abundance of exotic motorcycles lined up in the rooms; the rare spare parts arranged on shelves with the care of an army quartermaster, the early scientific instruments everywhere, his watch collection, his telescopes and his library of scientific books dating back to the 16th century.

Brian Hill, one of the VOC members named by Tom and Betty Lumley, brags about the ex-John Lumley Series A Rapide he acquired in a story in the London newspaper The Standard in 2013, to the fury of other VOC members implicated in the scandal [Prosper Keating]
And then there was the garage with the rare car that was sold to an enthusiast who turned up during the clearance. Joe and Joanna Tupperware might have found the Lumley house a weird place but for educated petrolheads like us––John Lumley was a bit of an intellectual snob––it was Nirvana. Broughs, almost every imaginable kind of prewar and postwar Vincent HRD and all sorts of other mythical machines, including a Coventry Eagle Flying 8, collected over the decades because they had something special about them, such as a race history.

Ill-gotten gains? Boasting in the national press [Metro]
John Lumley was certainly eccentric in his way. To make life harder for thieves, he had carefully broken down his rarer machines into large lumps: frames and engines in one room, front ends in another, tinware elsewhere. I asked him why he did not simply install alarms. “Do you really believe the police would bother to turn out?”, he replied. With hindsight, there was a grim prescience to his words: the local police would take no action over the disappearance of his motorcycles––and pretty much everything else––from his home between his death in a local hospice on April 7th 2009 and his funeral a couple of weeks later.

The late John Lumley [Prosper Keating]
The Revenue took the unusual step of ordering the legal firm acting as John Lumley’s Executors to reopen their late client’s Estate, and the search began for the forty or more missing motorcycles. Some suggested that as many as sixty motorcycles were involved although that is probably an exaggeration. “That was the first time, the only time, that I have seen this happen.”, said Mike Jackson, who was engaged by John Lumley’s solicitors and Executors Thackray Williams to assess and value any motorcycles that could be traced. “I probably do twenty valuations in a year, certainly more than one a month. Over twenty years, that’s a lot of valuations but this is the first one in which HMRC were involved.”

John Lumley's sister-in-law, Betty Lumley, names names [Prosper Keating]
By March 2010, over twenty ex-John Lumley motorcycles had been found in the possession of senior VOC officers and prominent members, including a leading marque dealer. The identities of these individuals and others involved in the clearance were confirmed by John Lumley’s heir and brother Tom and his wife Betty before they were told to say no more about the case. The traced machines included two Brough Superior SS100s, three Vincent HRD Series A Rapides and other prewar and postwar Vincents, including a Rudge Ulster-engined Model PS. More ex-Lumley machines would surface in the coming years, including a Series C Black Shadow with a Manx TT race history and a Scott found in Australia with one of John Lumley’s laundry bills in the toolbox.

VOC Secretary Andrew Everett and other VOC officials with the ex-John Lumley Vincent HRD Model PS appropriated by the club [Prosper Keating]
The new owners claimed variously that the dying John Lumley had gifted them his motorcycles on his deathbed - a claim that infuriated the hospice management and staff - or gifted them to the Vincent HRD Owners Club for posterity. The beneficiaries of John Lumley’s alleged deathbed largesse also claimed that these motorcycles were all dilapidated, incomplete basket cases. One individual claimed to have no more than 20% of a Series A Vincent HRD Rapide, but has recently been touting this machine as one of the most complete and original examples of the model. However, Driver & Vehicle Licencing Agency records confirmed that several of these machines were taxed and insured for road use at this time, indicating that it had taken just a few weeks to make them roadworthy and that the individuals in possession of them were being economical with the truth.

John Lumley Estate Executors respond to VOC whistleblower Charlie Cannon [Prosper Keating]
Meanwhile, the Executive Committee members of the VOC were trying to convince the Revenue that the traced motorcycles were worth just £75,000. The John Lumley affair dragged on through 2010 and into 2011. Writing to VOC member - and John Lumley whistleblower - Charlie Cannon on August 30th 2011, VOC Honorary Secretary Andrew Everett stated: “as I published in MPH, the investigating Revenue officer […] has concluded that all the machines were indeed gifted to the recipients in John Lumley’s lifetime.”


Vincent HRD Owners Club Secretary Andrew Everett with Club President Bryan Phillips [Prosper Keating]
Mr Everett - running interference for the VOC executives - seems to have chosen his words carefully. The day after John Lumley’s death, his sister-in-law had given the keys of Lumley's Sevenoaks home to the organizers of the grand clearance that would take place before the funeral - and before John Lumley’s lawyers and future Executors could visit and assess the property and its contents. Keep this fact in mind as you read on. Mr Everett’s next words to Charlie Cannon were not as careful as he wrote that: “the Revenue have found no improper actions were carried out in the dispersal of the estate.”  The minutes of the VOC General Committee Meeting (GCM) held a week later on September 5th 2011 state: “…it was clear from documentation copied to [Andrew Everett] that HMRC had decided that the disposal of the assets was irregular and they were therefore investigating if it was a deliberate evasion of tax.”

VOC 'Lumley Affair' whistleblowers expelled from club [Prosper Keating]
Some VOC members attending the GCM questioned the absurdly low-ball valuation of £75,000 proposed by the VOC management. The GCM minutes state: “The Hon. Chairman replied that it was irrelevant and the meeting agreed with this. In order to move on, the Hon. Secretary stated that HMRC had taken £75,000 as an interim valuation figure on which to issue pro rata tax bills to each recipient of motorcycle-related items.” Meanwhile, Mike Jackson had come up with a more realistic figure based on the photographs of incomplete, dilapidated basketcase bikes supplied by the individuals found in possession of more than twenty of John Lumley’s motorcycles: £430,000. This figure would later be modified, but on September 13th 2011, the Revenue Inspector in charge of the case, Ray K––––––, stated: “We place more weight on the independent valuation although the recipients are free to challenge this figure.”

Mike Jackson, a legend in the British motorcycle industry as owner of Andover Norton Ltd and co-owner of the BSA Group. Pictured during a visit to Ian Barry's Falcon Motorcycles workshop in Los Angeles in 2013 [Paul d'Orléans]
When it became clear that the true value of what had been traced was at least £1 million and that the entire collection was probably worth more than £2 million (including the missing motorcycles and the numerous rare spare parts), some observers felt that Mike Jackson’s valuation was on the low side. Jackson explained: “It was a controversial situation. I didn’t want to plunge myself or the Revenue into any long-drawn-out litigation. In any case, I was doing the valuations in absentia and, as you know, the bikes had been altered by the time I was able to value them. It was the most difficult job I’ve ever undertaken, I must say, and I could but value them on the conservative side. I’m sure I’m a bête noire as far as those Vincent HRD Owners Club members are concerned.”

John Lumley’s Executors - who had engaged Mike Jackson - made no attempt to recover any of the motorcycles that had been traced. Nor did the Executors respond to alerts regarding unexplained motorcycles and rare spare parts sold through eBay, and at autojumbles in south-eastern England, by individuals involved in the clearance of their late client’s home in April 2009.  The police said they were powerless to act unless “the primary victim” made a formal complaint. Unfortunately, Tom Lumley was very ill and housebound. In any case, as Tom Lumley would later say, he and his wife Betty had been warned by the solicitors - acting as the Executors - and by “John’s friends in the Vincent club” that Betty Lumley might end up in trouble, as it was she who had given access to the property, and approval for the clearance in preparation for its sale. Betty Lumley seemed very shocked to learn of the true value of her late brother-in-law’s old motorcycles.

John Lumley Estate Executors respond to VOC whistleblower Prosper Keating [Prosper Keating]
In the end, the Executors and the Revenue concluded that the John Lumley Collection had indeed been gifted to the individuals who cleared the place out “in John Lumley’s lifetime”, as VOC Honorary Secretary Andrew Everett had written to Charlie Cannon. That John Lumley (heavily sedated on morphine) had not in fact given away his collection (but his sister-in-law did), was treated as an irrelevance under the Law. Justice of a kind was served, however, when Revenue man Ray K–––––– made sure that the beneficiaries of John Lumley’s alleged deathbed philanthropy were penalized to the fullest extent possible, for failing to declare their ‘gifts’ in line with tax laws. The Revenue got its due and the miscreants got hit in their pocketbooks.

In the end, though, the rightful heir lost half or more of the value of his inheritance. Mr K––––––– would later remark that the Driver & Vehicle Licencing Agency was not obliged to assist him and his team with their enquiries by making vehicle records relating to John Lumley available, which is quite a revelation to anyone who believes the Revenue to be the most powerful force in England.

Those of us who knew John Lumley (as well as anyone could know such a private, reclusive man) have wondered if he left files documenting his collection of motorcycles and the other collections. If so, neither those who emptied John Lumley’s home nor his lawyers and executors - who failed to recover any of the motorcycles ‘irregularly’ removed from the Estate - have ever referred to such documentation. However, several of the ex-Lumley motorcycles touted for sale in the intervening years have been offered with abundant documentation, including original registration papers from the 1930s to the 1980s.

An ex-John Lumley Rudge Ulster, restored by Phil Rudge, and acquired by him with no knowledge of the bike's provenance, from a person connected to the Lumley Affair [Phil Rudge]
Ex-John Lumley motorcycles emerge from time to time; sometimes it's hard to prove they were his, but other times the provenance is flagrant. One individual, who ended up with a Series A Rapide, bragged about his good fortune on television and in the national press. A VOC officer who swore on record that he had not received anything has a Vincent HRD Model P whose provenance remains unexplained, and was observed selling all sort of rare Vincent-HRD spares. Another VOC executive posted John Lumley’s ex-Peter Peters Manx TT Black Shadow on the club forum, but deleted the posts when asked how he had acquired the machine.

The smart ones have kept lower profiles. As for Charlie Cannon, he was expelled from the Vincent-HRD Owners Club for bringing the venerable institution into disrepute, by blowing the whistle on the disreputable behavior of the majority of its Executive Committee, most of whom are still in place.  I was expelled too; it saved Charlie and myself the bother of resigning in disgust. The VOC was once a great motorcycle club and it's a shame to see it fallen so low.

Old Frank Vague, after being rescued from the hospital where his nurse had placed him, warned of “people looking around” his property to his nephews and nieces. There were stories of notes left on Mr Vague’s door, some of which reportedly upbraided the old gent for not doing more to preserve his Brough Superiors from the elements, and suggesting they should be taken away from him. Frank Vague is said to have carefully kept these notes in a cardboard box; they were probably distressing, although we shall never know now. One individual who reportedly ‘befriended’ the elderly Frank Vague is believed to have substituted a replica frame for a genuine item in Vague's collection.

A remarkable shot of a remarkable, and amazingly decrepit, Brough Superior from the Frank Vague collection [Bonhams]
Ben Walker of Bonhams explained: “That predated our involvement. There was a replica frame on the premises as well as an original frame. The original frame had been returned to the property, and was sold as part of the collection. But what it didn’t have was its engine or cycle parts. This is a matter of public record. You can see the frame - it's in the online catalogue.” Like other fields, the vintage motorcycle world has its peanut gallery where opinions are long and facts are short. Mindful perhaps of the John Lumley scandal, some suggested that Brough Superior Club members might be involved in the harassment of Frank Vague and perhaps even the theft of motorcycles or parts from Frank Vague’s farm during his final years. Club Chairman Terry Hobden was open and clear on this subject, responding that “if any individual approached Mr Frank Vague in an intimidating manner it would certainly not have been under the auspices of this Club. “To […] the Committee’s knowledge, only three of the current Officers of the Club ever visited Mr Vague. One was in 1969 and the two others several years ago when Mr Vague welcomed their visit and offered to keep the two Broughs they had ridden there! That meeting was cordial but the machines he kept in “store” were not shown to them.”

Did Bonhams’ intervention save the 'Broughs of Bodmin Moor' from a fate similar to that of the John Lumley Collection? Ben Walker replies: “It wasn’t so much of an intervention. We had been advised that there was this collection of motorcycles, a mythical collection of Brough Superiors. No-one had seen them for years and years and years. It was like an urban myth which turned out to be true. They were exceptional machines and they were probably the last hoard of their kind in existence. So that’s what prompted us to take the initiative. It was extraordinary, it isn’t something we would normally do but we just felt there was no option. We’d had a tip-off that Mr Vague had left the property to live with his relatives and that the property had been effectively abandoned. But we didn’t have an address. We knew the village where it was located. We don’t ordinarily cold-call. I find it very distasteful. In this case, there was no option but to go and find the location, put something through the door and try and make contact that way. We did so by looking at Google Streetview. We went up and down the roads of this little village and found the most likely-looking property. You could see bits of car and motorcycle in the driveway."

“My colleague in the West Country went the next day to see if there was anybody there. The neighbour was looking after the property and asked him if they could help. He gave her his card, said who he was, what we do and asked if his details could be passed on to the family. She did and [the Vague family] contacted us a few days later and invited us to see the collection.”

Vincent HRD Owners Club Whistleblower Prosper Keating with Vincent-HRD founder Philip Vincent’s grandson on the ex-Ted Davis/Ernie Allen Black Lightning sidecar outfit in October 2017 [Prosper Keating]
Would Bonhams agree that enthusiasts and collectors should catalogue their collections, big or small, to avoid confusion in the eventuality of death and the disposal of their estates? “It should be standard practice”, replies Walker. “I do not understand why more people don’t do it. Having said that [laughs], I should do it myself. My wife would probably know what my bikes are but even so, I need to write a Letter of Wishes as to what I would like to happen with my own collection of motorcycles. It’s something I encourage all of my clients and friends to do. We should all do it because, on too many occasions, you go into a collection after somebody has passed away and there is no information. The owner may still be alive; I had a situation recently where a chap had lost his memory and couldn’t tell us anything about the bikes. There would have been great stories behind them but he couldn’t tell us anything. Even in his moments of lucidity, his memory was much-reduced.”

Ben Walker is keen to pay tribute to the clubs and individuals who do go to great efforts and lengths to document historic motorcycles: “The Vintage Motor Cycle Club have an awful lot of information. Likewise with the Brough Superior Club - coming back to the Frank Vague motorcycles - who are extremely helpful and generous with their time.  The Vincent HRD Owners Club have an excellent archivist although not all records are complete. The Matchless and AJS Owners Club, the Velocette club and so many others. It’s in their interest to make sure that machines are described correctly and that they are not sold purporting to be anything else.”

Ben Walker, head of the Motorcycle Department at Bonhams, at the Grand Palais in Paris [Francois-Marie Dumas]
In the wake of rising values for certain vintage motorcycles (between 5% and 20% per year over the past decade), there's a temptation to con bereaved families out of an old motorcycle or collection.  The family might find the true values surprising, especially when dealing with machines worth six-figure sums like Frank Vague’s Broughs, John Lumley’s Series A Vincents and even pre-production Honda CB750s. Any lessons to be learned from these tales underline our duty to maintain records of the old machines in our keeping - along with anything else valuable and collectible we own - and to ensure that reliable people have copies of our records. Your lawyers and accountants should have up-to-date lists as appendices to your Last Will and Testament. They might not be as reliable as you presume so make copies and give them to people you can trust.

Above all, write it down for the sake of your passion for these machines, and the importance of recording their histories, whether they were gunned around Brooklands in 1938 or around London’s North Circular Road in 1958; or along Daytona Beach; or parked for an hour in Big Sur on the way to someplace else; or outran an angry buffalo in Kenya or some far-flung corner of an old empire; or took your parents on their honeymoon. It is all important. And if you can’t write it down for any reason, dictate it to someone.

Prosper Keating, Paris March 2018