Provenance and Description of Bill Hoddinott's Vincent Black Lightning Replica
One of the finest examples of a Vincent Black Lightning Replica is up For Sale in the U.S. Read the background story and detailed descriptions of this bike created 25 years ago by its owner and builder, Bill Hoddinott, who is the Vincent Owners’ Club expert historian on Black Lightnings. You’ll find his contact info at the end of the story should you be in the
market. - Bar Hodgson
BILL HODDINOTT'S VINCENT BLACK LIGHTNING REPLICA
Introduction from the Black Lightning Section of the Vincent Rider's Handbook, Seventh Edition, 1954, p. 63: "...we assume that anyone purchasing a Black Lightning already has a considerable knowledge of the meticulous care and attention which every racing machine deserves - and must get if it is to perform well."
Since I served the Vincent H.R.D. Owners Club for 20 years or so as the Organizer of the Black Lightning/Grey Flash Section, with a monthly column in the Club journal MPH; and am widely known in the Club, and that only the very best parts were put into my personal Black Lightning Replica as will be described below; and that the bike has been depicted in MPH, and is itself widely known as mine, that I personally built after a lifetime of experience building Vincents since I first joined the VOC in 1961; I have to conclude after looking at comparable recent sales of similar Lightning Replicas, that mine has a current auction value of $150,000 or more. Genuine Vincent Black Lightnings more or less original are selling at auctions and in private sales today for prices in the range of $400,000 to $1,200,000 depending on quality and provenance.
The general background of it is that during the 1980s, my late pal Big Sid Biberman and I worked together building some Vincent basket cases. In the late '80s, we had a chance to buy out the Vincent parts of a Virginia Beach man who had been a Vincent rider in the 1950s and '60s and had about two basket cases plus a complete Series B Rapide. Most of his parts were good low-mileage ones acquired in his period from other local riders.
Among the things were a very nice, low mileage Black Shadow crankcase (F10AB/1B/5887), heads and cylinders and we decided to build from this basis plus other frame and fork parts from him or elsewhere, plus our two personal lifetime collections of rare original Vincent factory Black Lightning parts, a nice Black Lightning Replica.
The first thing to understand is that this is NOT a genuine factory-built Vincent Black Lightning, of which about three dozen were made in the '49-'55 years. But it is built to be essentially the same in appearance, content and potential performance if correctly set up by a Vincent expert; being built locally to essentially the same standards using parts and techniques of which the original factory would have approved. If a Black Shadow owner had taken his bike to the Works in the early '50s and asked to have it converted to Black Lighning specification, something like this bike would have been the result. I will go down through everything inside and out and describe its origin and specifics, to provide a full disclosure for the benefit of my Estate and any prospective Buyer.
Since this bike was built of components from here and there it naturally had no Virginia Title, but when Sid and I completed it (I built the entire motorcycle and Sid got the seat built) in late 1991 we went through the legal process to obtain an official Virginia Title, issued to both of us on March 26, 1992 as Title Number 46565589. At the time of application for the Virginia Title, to provide a year for the vehicle, we estimated the year of manufacture of the crankcase as 1950, and this is the Year that appears on the Title. Later on, we found that the actual year the crankcase was manufactured at the Vincent factory would have been 1951.
In 1995 Sid and I ended our partnership building bikes, and divided up the remaining assets of the partnership, and by agreement between us this Black Lightning Replica came to me. We applied to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles for a revised Virginia Title in my name only and this was duly issued May 3, 1995 as Title Number 97119300. The Title for this Black Lightning Replica will be found in the folder of car and motorcycle Titles in my file cabinet.
Since completion, the engine and frame numbers of this bike have been registered with the Machine Registrar of the Vincent H.R.D. Owners Club.
I will proceed to go through the descriptions of the various components of the Replica.
The heart and soul of the motorcycle. In a postwar Vincent Twin, the crankcase includes the gearbox as one massive unit and the Upper Frame Member and the Rear Frame Member are attached to it so that in a sense, the power unit serves as a Chassis Member for the motorcycle.
As mentioned, a nice original low-mileage Black Shadow crankcase with cylinders and heads was available for a basis of the motorcycle. Two "front" heads were available, both clearly low mileage as proven by the lack of wear on the spark plug threads and exhaust port threads. All 1950 and later Black Lightnings used two "front" heads rather than a front and rear head as on the road models.
All of the ball and roller bearings in the crankcase were replaced, but the original oil pump was found in perfect condition hence retained, but a Vincent Picador double-speed oil pump worm was fitted to the crankshaft to provide double the original oil pump delivery as used in the Picador target aircraft variant and several famous Vincent racers after the time of factory production. It is worth mentioning that the original oil pump is so well fitted that it only allows about a cupful of engine oil to seep down into the sump from the Upper Frame Member oil tank in the six month intervals between which I have turned the engine over and exercised it to keep everything in good operating condition ever since 1992. The oil presently in the engine and oil tank is 20W-50 Valvoline Racing. 50 wt. oil is in the primary chaincase as the best lubricant for the chain.
In one of his books the Vincent co-designer Phil Irving recommended the "banjo" fitting for the oil feed pipe to the oil pump be replaced with an adapter for a "straight-in" feed. I went to a lot of trouble to locate an adapter for the 1/4 BSP threads of the crankcase to a suitable straight-in but cranked AN fitting for the feed hose. This resulted in a well-engineered arrangement Phil would have approved.
A super-duty racing crankshaft was prepared for the engine by sourcing an Alpha crankpin with 1-1/4" shanks (much stronger than the 1" Vincent originals) and Manx Norton crankpin nuts, and 3/16" Alpha caged roller bearings. A pair of new Vibrac Vincent racing connecting rods had years previously been obtained from Harry Bellville's stock of original Vincent factory parts, and these were sent to Alpha for fitting to their crankpin and rollers. On receipt, we machined a set of Vincent flywheels to take the oversize crankpin shanks with the correct fit and aligned the mainshafts to very close limits. The mainshafts were previously tack-welded to the flywheels to prevent turning under the severe shocks of racing. After assembly and alignment of the crankshaft, the crankpin nuts were carefully tack-welded to the crankpins, and to the wheels, so that the flywheels could not "shift" under racing shocks and let the mainshafts go out of alignment. But this tack-welding was done harmlessly by an expert so that the welding beads could be removed with a milling cutter to allow disassembly and servicing of the crankshaft at some future time. The Manx Norton castellated crankpin nuts require a special socket wrench which can be made by any good machinist using a suitable 3/4" socket.
New 11 to 1 original Specialloid pistons and rings were used, and the perfect cylinders had new L.A. Sleeves installed to the correct interference fit, and the correct racing piston skirt clearance of .0075" used to ensure freedom when very hot. Compression plates were used to bring the compression down to a figure of about 10 to 1 which should be satisfactory for race gas, but to use today's 93 octane unleaded, it would be necessary to get the compression ratio down to about 8 to 1 to avoid detonation and this would mean replacement pistons.
New valve guides with o-ring seals and new valves were installed in the cylinder heads, together with racing valve springs. New old stock Vincent Black Lightning Mark 2 cams were used with re-surfaced cam followers and a new steel large idler gear and valve timing carefully set with a degree plate to factory standards.
New primary chain and Series D shock absorber and tensioner parts were fitted, and the clutch has the solid primary friction plate of the Black Lightning with carefully set up clutch shoes.
The gearbox is built completely to Black Lightning specifications with the high first gear ratio and double-backlash on third and fourth gears for racing gearchanges. The Phil Irving "Non-Overrunning" gearchange modifications published in MPH were done to the gearchange components to allow positive gearchanges under racing conditions. The gearbox oil presently in it is 75W-90 gear oil. Before the crankcase was assembled the opportunity was taken to weld a reinforcing rib in the gearbox for the camplate spindle boss, a known weak point in the Series B and C case. The camplate spindle is installed with Red Loctite to provide a permanent fitment of great strength, since the gearbox can be assembled and disassembled with the spindle in place, rather than removing it. However, the camplate spindle could be removed by an expert by the careful application of enough heat to "kill" the Red Loctite. But there should never be any reason to remove same.
A special full-floating hard bronze bushing was made for the mainshaft bearing in the gearbox as recommended by Phil Irving for racing, to replace the original soft oilite bushing. It is located between the input and output shafts in the box, which rotate relative to each other in all gears except fourth.
When the bike was first completed and tested in the street out front, it was fitted with a standard Lucas KVF magneto which had been converted to manual retard. About 2005 I was able to acquire a genuine Lucas Racing KVFTT magneto exactly as fitted to the original factory Black Lightnings and install this. It came to me from a Dutch engineer who was a Vincent enthusiast and he stated that it had been rewound and renovated with a new condensor by a qualified expert. It appears to be in normal working order but this should be verified before trying to run the bike again. That can be done by removing the spark plugs and spark plug cables and rigging the cable ends so that the wires are about 1/8" from the cylinder head fins. Do NOT have any flammable gasoline vapor anywhere around this operation which could result in FIRE. If the bike is pushed or the rear wheel turned with rollers, regular sparks should jump from both plug wires and that will show the ignition is in normal working order. With long periods of storage it is possible for magnetization of the magneto to dissipate. These Lucas magnetos were made back in the 1950s and will need expert servicing from time to time. But in good condition they powered many Vincent Black Lightnings to world and national speed records in their day and when renovated by a qualified shop can still give new performance and reliability. Except for the slightest of maintenance, the magneto is not something for amateur tinkering. The advanced timing for this compression ratio should be 34 degrees which is about 3/8" of piston movement before top dead center on the compression stroke and high-octane gas is necessary. 100 LL aviation gas from the airport should be suitable. As with cam timing, a proper degree plate and tackle should be used to set ignition timing.
The KVFTT was made by Lucas specifically for the Vincent Black Lightning and is highly prized today. Market values for good ones range up to $10,000.
Here we were fortunate to acquire from Vaughn Greene in California a very nice set of the special 32mm Amal T.T. racing carburetors used on all 1950 and later factory Black Lightnings. The factory adapters for them to the heads were originally chromed at the factory which suggests a factory Show Model. They came to Sid and myself from famous Vincent Bonneville racer Dave Matson in swap for a two-start oil pump worm we had. It is not confirmed, but I speculate that Dave got them from Harry Bellville who in turn had them from Bob Burns and Russell Wright when they sold Harry their World Record Black Lightning and their backup bike at Bonneville in 1956. This could well mean that they originated from Russell's Black Lightning which took the World Record in 1955 in New Zealand, because it started life as the factory 1953 Show Model and the original cylinder heads were replaced by a set of factory Big Port heads with 1-7/16" Amals, donated by the Vincent Works, before they took the World Records. The 1953 Show Model had two front heads with 32mm Amal T.T. carburetors exactly like the ones on this Replica, and so these adapters may be the same ones.
Please note, at the time of building this bike I fabricated a complete set of carburetor cables for it from scratch materials. It is known that the solder and so forth deteriorates in time, so I recommend that for reliability, all new inner cables and end fittings be sourced and re-made with high-strength solder and proper flux. High quality soldering materials for same are available through welding supply houses.
STARTING THE BIKE
I assume the Buyer will have considerable expertise with Vincents. The 10 to 1 compression is so high that running and bumping solo does not work, the rear wheel locks. A Pusher is essential. It would be best to do what I never did, get a proper set of battery-powered Rollers for the back wheel so that the operation can be rationalized. I understand they currently are available for about $700. It is now nearly 30 years since I last started the bike with a Pusher and rode it in the street in front of my home. At that time it ran normally, but note that these racing carburetors have no idle stops so the operator has to keep the engine running by holding the throttle, unless the cables can be adjusted to hold the slides up as instructed in Chapter X. of the Vincent Rider's Handbook. The T.T. carburetors need expert adjustment and management and were always somewhat prone to seeping.
These are an original untouched set of Vincent Girdraulic Forks with such low mileage that all the bushings are good and the paint is original, as is that of the engine's timing cover. I thought it well to preserve these original factory painted parts untouched since the paint was still in good condition.
A new old stock set of Electron magnesium Vincent racing plates with original factory paint we got from Vaughn Greene in California who had saved them since the 1950s. But caution, Electron castings may deteriorate and become unsafe for racing or road use over many years.
FRONT ALLOY RIM
A 21" x WMI Borrani same as originally fitted by the Vincent factory to Black Lightnings, with correct spokes. It came to us from Buchanan's Frame Shop in California, who made a specialty of supplying and lacing alloy rims for many years, and may still do. Correct Avon rib tire 300x21.
TACHOMETER AND BRACKET
Correct Smiths Rev Counter as supplied for Black Lightning on correct factory bracket.
This was expertly altered to increase the clearance underneath for the front carburetor, and the friend who did the work was instructed to air-pressure test the completed tank for leaks. It was then beautifully painted and the correct ornamentation added by another friend. Unfortunately, everything being a joint venture, the first friend missed one tiny leak at the left front mounting lug with the result that when testing and running the bike, eventually a slight seep appeared which bubbled the paint a little. I obtained a Dupont tank sealant product approved for the metal fuel tanks of small aircraft and applied this inside the tank. Then touched up the spot, and hopefully, the tank is now sealed satisfactorily.
A set of completely original, untouched 2" Vincent factory racing pipes. Very very hard to find in the world today especially in this good condition.
San Remo alloy rim in WM2 x 20" size as fitted to original Black Lightning. 350x20 Avon tire. Renold chain with rivetted master link on alloy rear sprocket with Vincent adapter replacing brake drum. Original Black Lightning Electron magnesium rear brake plate on left side, has been repaired by welding and should be evaluated for reliability before any serious road or racing use. There is an additional spare of these among my parts. Both have been repaired and the repaired portion should not be used for the torque stay position. Note caution about magnesium castings in Front Brake section above. The tires on the bike are Avons, never used, but of an age where replacement is advisable before serious riding.
FOOTREST PLATES, GEAR LINKAGE, FOOTRESTS AND BRAKE EQUIPMENT
We made the footrest plates to original factory specifications of 5/16" aluminum plate. The footrest pegs are like factory ones except longer for my large feet. The gearchange linkage and gear pedal are a combination of original factory parts and meticulous reproductions we made and had cadmium plated like the originals. The rear brake pedal and related parts are accurate reproductions we made and had cadmium plated.
We asked Ted Davis, ex-Vincent factory development engineer, for the dimensional specifications of the original late Black Lightning seat and what he gave us was close to accurate. Sid Biberman had the seat executed as you see it.
DRILLED AND LIGHTENED PARTS
We followed factory drawings and practice to lighten many parts of this Replica, from the cylinder head brackets to the seat stay drums and many bolts.