The name 'Vincent' is often uttered in tones both hushed and reverent by fans of motorcycle history. Once you know even a little bit about founder Philip Vincent and his relentless pursuit of speed, it's not difficult to understand why. If the phrase "they don't make 'em like they used to" ever applied to anything, it's probably Vincent's entire engineering and design ethos.

Perhaps you've seen one of the most famous photos in all of motorcycling history: Rollie Free setting a land speed record of 150.313 miles per hour in 1948 on a Vincent HRD Black Lightning. That monumental achievement took place at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the photo shows Free hanging onto the handlebars, Superman-style, wearing naught but his bathing suit in order to offer as little aerodynamic interference as possible.

The Vincent Black Shadow, Black Prince and Black Knight

Historians go back and forth on whether 30 or 33 Vincent Black Lightnings were ever made, but either way, it's safe to say that very few ever existed. Free's may have been a prototype, but the production version that appeared at the 1948 Earls Court motorcycle show impressed the public for a different reason: Its hefty price tag.

At the time, the Vincent Black Lightning came in at an RRP of £400, plus a £108 added tax at purchase. Adjusted for inflation, given its comparative level of performance, fit, and finish at the time, it seems quite reasonable. That RRP would amount to about £12,000 in 2023 money, with an added tax of about £3,237 for a total of around £15,200. 

With historical context, of course, that price now seems like a steal. In the modern era, few Black Lightnings ever find their way to public sale, and when they do, they set records.

A particularly storied Black Lightning last found its way to auction in 2018 at Bonhams Las Vegas, where it went for a cool $929,000 (approx. £733,000) including the buyer's premium. That bike had an incredible racing history, matching numbers, and only five owners since new; all factors in its extremely high level of desirability.

About This 2023 UK Shed-Find Vincent Black Lightning

Vincent HRD Black Lightning Found in Shed

As the story goes, a person whose dad had seriously been into motorcycles for most of his life reached out to Bonhams earlier in 2023. He had a particular Excelsior in mind when he reached out, but he also had a list of other bikes that his dad had been keeping in a shed. This Vincent HRD Black Lightning was on that list.

It was retrieved from Poland several decades ago. Prior to that, it was one of the Black Lightnings that had made its way to Australia, primarily for use as a sidecar racer. As renowned motorcycle journalist Sir Alan Cathcart (who, incidentally, is also one of the only living people to have ever actually ridden a Black Lightning) explains in this video, the handlebars and a few other details instantly point to its sidecar-racing nature.

This particular 1949 Vincent HRD Black Lightning will cross the auction block at the 2024 Bonhams Spring Stafford Sale on 21 April 2024 at 10:30 BST. As you can see from the photos, it's in unrestored condition, but clearly spent a good deal of its decades-long hibernation indoors. Bonhams expects it to fetch between £120,000 and £150,000. We'll include a link to the auction placeholder page so you can keep an eye on it in April 2024 if you're interested.

Gallery: 1949 Vincent HRD Black Lightning