Time takes its toll. And unfortunately, some pieces of history are simply forgotten with age. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look back fondly at some of the wonders we have left to the past. In terms of the motorcycle world, that means some outstanding bikes that have made their own mark on history.
One of the best places to take a ride through history is the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum in Cleveland, OH. Towards the end of last year they opened “A Century of the American Motorcycle” exhibit, which gave a comprehensive look into the technical and esthetic development of American motorcycles, all the way from the 1905 Indian Single, on through the 20th Century.
The Crawford houses a ton of extraordinary American motorcycles that we got to check out close-up, but they also have a few foreign marvels. At Fuel Cleveland 2021, our gaze fell upon another beautiful Crawford Museum motorcycle, one that we’d bet most people have never heard of before. In all honestly, we were just as ignorant towards the history behind the bike. Luckily, Western Reserve Historical Society program and marketing manager John Lutsch was there to fill us in.
“It’s weird, and that’s why we love it,” Lutsch says.
The motorcycle we were standing in front of is the uber-rare 1955 Vincent Black Prince. The British motorcycle company Vincent was a giant in the early to mid-20th century, with a legacy of famous single and twin-cylinder motorcycles. As such, the name Vincent is known for many different things.
In 1948, the Vincent Black Shadow became the world’s fastest production motorcycle. The legendary picture of Rollie Free laying flat atop his Black Shadow was immediately set in history, as he established a new land-speed record of 150.313 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. But, despite Vincent’s new notoriety as the manufacturer of one of the world’s first super bikes, founder Philip Vincent saw potential for a motorcycle that attracted a different sort of person.
Vincent wanted to target a more sophisticated demographic – the British gentlemen. He wanted to build a motorcycle that could comfortably get a man in a suit to work and back home while looking dapper on his commute. So, he stuffed a 998cc air-cooled V-Twin engine into a classy looking frame and fairings, thus, the Black Prince was born.
The motorcycle is rather ornate in design. Philip Vincent referred to the machine as a “two-wheeled Bentley.” This was attractive at the time as many Brits were commuting to work on their motorcycles, since cars were still beyond the reach of many families.
The 462-lb. bike boasted 55-horsepower and could reach speeds around 125 mph – if pushed to the limits. A girder-style sprung fork and a sprung rear sub-frame with two dampers give the motorcycle a comfortable and agile suspension that could carry riders over the dirt roads that still encompassed most of Europe, even 10 years after WWII.
The bike had a lot going for it, but the most interesting draw was the fiberglass bodywork that enclosed the bike’s frame. At the time, this was virtually unheard of.
“Contrary to what most people think, the fairings were not designed for any aerodynamic purposes at all,” Lutsch says. “This bike was essentially designed to allow British working gentlemen to ride their motorcycles to work and not get their clothing dirty.”
“The interesting thing is that this is an evolution of the Vincent Black Shadow. But with the fairings on the bike, this is actually a few miles an hour slower than the black shadow. It was purely for cosmetic purposes. It had nothing to do with speed or aerodynamics.”
Philip Vincent envisioned the Black Prince as being a turning point in the company’s success, but unfortunately innovation does not always save you. The Black Prince began production in 1954, just a year before the company would inevitably go out of business. All in all, only around 200 enclosed Black Prince motorcycles were ever produced.
Obviously, the Black Prince is incredibly rare due to the short supply. Restored Black Prince motorcycles can be worth around $100,000 – $125,000. Although in 2014, the Bonhams auction house in England sold one for a record price of $153,000.
Interestingly enough, that particular Black Prince was essentially a pile of rusted parts. According to the auction house, the Vincent had been disassembled around 1967 for a restoration that never happened. This goes to show the uncommon, yet passionate interest in a motorcycle that was almost lost to time.
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