Sometimes things just find you…
THE STORY OF MY CHINESE RED RAPIDE
I very much missed owning, riding and showing my Black Shadow and had decided that I would like to somehow acquire another one. This is easier said than done as the prices of Vincent twins had skyrocketed. I then came up with what, at the time, seemed like a feasible but enormous plan, I would build one from any parts I could dig up.
From a fellow VOC member, I acquired an Upper Frame Member from a Comet, a ratty seat with green covering and some other assorted parts. I purchased a Made in India replica gas tank that was completely chrome plated. Here, I thought, was the beginning of my next Vincent.
In October of 2009, I received an email from Phil Mahood with some vague details of two basket case Vincent’s in Michigan. I put it down to just another rumor of long lost Vincent’s and continued with my plan to build a bike piece by piece.
Over the next six month’s, more details of these machines emerged from VOC Michigan member Doug Sawicki. This was indeed a genuine find. The two bikes were part of an estate that Doug was trying to liberate and make available to his fellow VOC members. The first bike was 2/3 of a Black Shadow with a missing rear frame member. The second was what was reported to be a 1949 Rapide with numbers matching on the engine, upper frame and rear frame members. Even with it being 2/3’s of a Black Shadow, it was beyond my financial means. I decided to work with Doug on purchasing the Rapide. Doug being a very meticulous person, photographed the various components and boxes and completely inventoried the parts. This information was all emailed to me on March 21, 2010 and I agreed to purchase the bike for $23,000 U.S. I arranged a Line of Credit with my bank and a money transfer was sent to Doug. I had not seen the bike or up until that point, met Doug in person. It was a huge leap of faith.
Doug made arrangements with me to bring the bike in it’s various boxes to the 2010 VOC North American Rally in Niagara Falls, Ontario. This was not until June so I had a few months to start researching and collecting parts. While looking closely at the photos Doug had sent, I noticed red paint on a few of the components. I immediately called Phil and told him I had a feeling that this bike may have something a little special. Phil called the VOC Machine Registrar and provided him with the serial numbers.
It is said that when a door closes behind you, a bigger and better door opens up in front of you. I had indeed purchased something special. I had unknowingly purchased one of only 107 red Vincent twins ever produced. It was a 1950 Touring Rapide in Chinese Red.
“IT LOOKS LIKE JUNK TO ME!”
That was the comment Cindy, my significant other made when I showed her these pictures for the first time. These are the actual pictures taken of the bike by Doug Sawicki as found at Don Woods Racing in Michigan.
THE VINCENT RAPIDE’S PROVENANCE
Anyone can claim their motorcycle/car/antique is something special. That doesn’t necessarily make it the truth. Having the documentation to back your claim is called “Provenance”.
The Vincent Owners Club retains the original records of most of the machines produced. This makes it easy to establish what a machine was when it left the factory and what options were originally fitted. The Works Order Form and the Dispatch Check Sheet confirm the bike to be a Red Touring model.
Note the date on the Works Order Form. I took possession nearly sixty years to the day after is was ordered. A sign from the Vincent Gods perhaps?
MATCHING NUMBERS VINCENT RAPIDE
On a “matching numbers” Vincent the Rear and Upper Frame Member serial numbers will be exactly 1900 apart from the Engine number.
PICK UP THE PIECES
The time had come to take delivery of my “junk”. I rode my Harley SuperGlide to the VOC North American Rally in Niagara Falls, Ontario from my home just north of Toronto. My partner, Cindy Del Tatto followed close behind me in a rental Honda Fit.
The first thing I did when we arrived at the Rally was to accept Bar Hodgson’s offer to take my old Shadow for a spin up Lundy’s Lane. It felt good.
Next order of business was to meet up with Doug and stuff the boxes of parts into the Honda. Doug had delivered the engine to Phil’s house earlier in the day.
Taking in the rally……
THE RESTORATION BEGINS
LET’S SEE WHAT’S IN ALL THOSE BOXES
After the bike was finished, my friend Phil Mahood joked that it was probably the sorriest looking basket case he had ever seen in his 45 year’s plus of working on Vincent’s. I am glad he chose to share that with me later and not at the time I picked up the boxes.
This is what I had purchased site unseen:
- An engine missing most of the internal components but in pretty good condition considering.
- A rear frame member that had been cut in half.
- A solid set of Girdraulic forks.
- Upper Frame Member.
- A brand new Alton generator that turned out to be for a pre-unit Triumph and not usable on a Vincent twin.
- One brake drum.
This is what I was missing:
- Gas Tank
- Complete wheels front and rear – Exhaust system.
- Just about every fastener
The hunt was on.
A DELICATE STATE OF REPAIR
The one issue with the otherwise excellent cases was the cam follower spindle. It appears it had backed out at one point and was repaired poorly by a previous owner. In the motorcycle restoration hobby we call this a “bodge”. Most likely this bodged spindle repair gave way and ended the bikes career as a drag bike.
CAMS AND FOLLOWERS
Cams are not supposed to be round. These ones were…and mismatched to boot! The cams and followers were sent to Gary Robinson in the U.K. and were stellited and reground to Mk1 specs. They are now the proper egg shape.
CRANK IT UP!
The crank was in remarkably good shape and did not have to come apart.
Vincent Guru, Phil Mahood carried out the engine rebuild.
Our goal was to have the engine ready to display in the VOC Ontario booth at the Motorcycle SuperShow early January 2012.
Editor’s note about the transmission: If you look at the exploded view of the Harley Sportster transmission, you will notice it looks very much like the Vincent except for the shape of the trap door. Harley came out with the trapdoor arrangement just about the same time Vincent closed, makes you wonder don’t it?
THE VOC ONTARIO SECTION DISPLAY
The engine was completed in time to be put on display in the VOC Ontario Section booth at the Motorcycle SuperShow. It was a huge draw with the crowd.
A custom “Chinese Red” engine stand was fabricated by Andy Lux specifically for this show.
BABY IS A CENTERFOLD!
THE ￼JIGSAW PUZZLE
RESTORING THE CHASSIS
While the engine was with Phil for rebuild, I started the restoration process of the chassis.
A critical task in the restoration was to save the cut Rear Frame Member. One of the atrocities inflicted on the bike was the sawing off of the top section of the matching numbers Rear Frame Member. This was most likely done to facilitate a custom hard tail suspension when it was used as a drag bike back in the ’60’s.
That was the bad news. The good news was that it was cut above the brazing points. All I needed was a donor RFM. I sent out an email to a Vincent email list and 8 minutes later I had a response from Robert Watson in B.C. He had a RFM that had damaged lugs on the bottom section. Perfect. All I needed was the top section. The deal was done.
The donor and original RFM’s were given to Ken Rosevere to work his usual magic. Ken unbrazed the upper section from the donor and transplanted it to the original RFM (right). The repair is perfect. As with all of Ken’s work, the results far exceeded my expectations.
I spent every night on eBay U.K. looking for various original Vincent parts. I was able to locate an original gas tank in Ireland, wheel hubs, clutch parts and various items in England. One of the most significant purchases I made, yet one of the smallest, was a gas line “T” from Scotland. With this simple purchase, I was introduced to Chris Stewart in the VOC Scottish section. Chris and I struck up a friendship from then on and he became instrumental in locating a number of hard to find items in the U.K. through his sources.
IT’S MADE OF UNOBTAINIUM
A few of the harder to find pieces:
Lucas Altette Horn specifically for the Vincent twin. It has the wiring posts in the 12 O’Clock position to clear the rear brake rod.
Miller “Split Rim” headlight with GE 3044 sealed beam unit. These were fitted to U.S. Export models and is the rarest and most difficult part to find.
The Smiths S433/3/L 3” Chronometric speedometer
ALL CHARGED UP!
A modern electronic voltage regulator was discreetly fitted inside the original Miller box. An original rebuilt Miller D6 dynamo (generator) was obtained from Paul Dunn Dynamos in the U.K.
PIECING IT ALL TOGETHER
I set up a folding work bench in my “man cave” in the basement and began trying to make the various parts from many different bikes all fit together. Most times they didn’t. Eventually, I made them fit.
Starting with the Rear Frame Member, the dry assembly of all the parts progressed over the next year.
SEAT AND WHEELS
Both the seat and the wheels were missing from the bike and were built up from scratch.
Stainless steel spokes were used in place of the original cadmium plated originals for appearance and durability.
The seat was made from using dimensions listed in the Vincent book “Know Thy Beast”. A cover and seat foam were purchased from the Vincent Owner’s Club Spares Company.
It is important during any restoration that everything be fitted to ensure there are no surprises after everything is painted. This is even more important when building a bike up dealing with parts from other machines and reproduction items.
After the January show, Phil completed the last little bits in the engine and I brought it home in the trunk of my BMW. The mocked up chassis components were bolted to the engine and it all stared to look like an actual motorcycle.
Next step, tear it all down and off to the paint shop.
MAKING IT ALL LOOK PRETTY
The official Vincent name for the paint colour is “Chinese Red”. The actual paint code has always been a topic of debate within the Vincent crowd as is what parts should actually be painted red and what should remain black.
Matching the paint was actually fairly easy in my case. The underside of the battery box had never seen sunlight and was coated with oil thus preserving the original paint. Paul Dempster at Pine Orchard Auto Refinishers was able to use this sample to colour match the shade of red.
Determining what parts should be red and black took a little bit of detective work. I scoured the Internet, books and magazines for as many reference pictures as I could find. Most of the images I found were of restored bikes and completely painted red. This is incorrect.
I received a picture from BIg Sid Bibberman, who is a well known Vincent legend. He had purchased a Red Rapide brand new in 1950. He sent me a scan of the colour photo that was taken of his bike the day he unpacked it from the crate. Here was my reference pic!
It was clear to me what needed to be black. All Smith’s items (speedometer and brackets), tool box, license plate bracket and tire pump were black as well as the Lucas Altette horn. All Miller equipment (regulator cover, generator end cap, headlight and tail light were red. The handlebars were also painted red and not chrome as with many restored examples.
With my research photos and notes supplied to Paul, the paint was applied.
GAS TANK RESTORATION
The gas tank was one of the biggest missing pieces. A good original Series C tank was purchased on eBay U.K. and handed over to Ross Thompson Metal Refinishers for dent removal and lining.
The tank was then painted and colour sanded by Paul Dempster at Pine Orchard Auto Refinishers.
John Connery applied the 18k gold leaf stripe to the gas tank as per original factory specifications.
CVMG PARIS RALLY
THE LATE NIGHTS
Vincent was the featured marque at the 2012 CVMG Paris Ontario Rally to mark the 75th anniversary of the first Series A twin. June 15, 2012 was my deadline to git’er done.
For the two weeks prior to the rally I spent every night in the garage installing the parts that arrived in the mail daily.
At 11:30pm on June 14, I had for the most part, finished the bike. I did not receive the clutch parts in time and therefore would not be able to start the bike at the rally. This meant it was not eligible for judging in the Sunday Concours. I was ok with that. I had just finished a two year restoration of a very rare bike with a limited budget. I was content.
VOC ONTARIO SECTION
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
After being dormant for some time, the Ontario section has now been revitalized due to the efforts of Section Chairman Phil Mahood.
75 YEARS OF THE VINCENT TWIN
INAUGURAL MEETING OF THE ONTARIO RED VINCENT OWNERS ASSOCIATION
THE PHIL IRVING BASKET CASE AWARD
￼A FITTING END
MY TWO VINCENTS
Standing in front of the result of two years of hard work, my red Rapide. Behind it, my Black Shadow, now owned by Bar Hodgson. The two bikes are together for the first time.
This is a fitting end to a story of passion, heartbreak and perseverance. Phil Irving and Phillip Vincent are looking down and smiling.
A SPECIAL THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE WHO HELPED MAKE THIS RESTORATION A REALITY:Chris Stewart, VOC Scottish section for helping secure a number of hard to find parts in the U.K. Paul Dempster, Pine Orchard Auto Refinishers for the fantastic paint job. John Connery, Gold Leafing and Decals. Gary Nolan, Diamond Automotive Trim, Seat Upholstery Ron Peter, Engine case bead blasting. Roger Burtnik, Aluminum Welding. Bar Hodgson for donating the brake drums. Mike McCartney for donating the Lucas Altette horn Dave West for supplying the valve lifter parts. Mayfair Plating, Chroming and Polishing. New Toro Plating, Cadmium Plating. Doug Sawicki for tracking down the bike for me and also selling me his very rare Miller split rim headlight. Keith Newton, Wheel Lacing. The VOC Spares, parts. Coventry Spares, parts. Walridge Motors, parts. Glenn Bewley for supplying the Touring Fenders. Robert Watson for supplying the donor Rear Frame Member. Steve Corrigan & Steve Knowles, my friends the cabinet makers for making the plywood seat base. Paul Dunn Dynamos for supplying the Miller D6. Gary Robinson, Restoration of the Cams and Followers. Herb Becker, Head Work. Ross Thompson, Gas tank restoration. Andy Lux for fabrication of the custom engine stand. Heather Dollman for supplying the Renold drive chain. Gary Dollman for his never ending moral support and encouragement. Cindy Del Tatto for providing me with love and listening to my endless Vincent ramblings… ….and last but not least, my good friend Phil Mahood for engine rebuilding, endless technical advice and giving me the original lead on the bike. None of this would have been possible without him.
Words By: Ron Stupart
Images Provided By: Ron Stupart
Editor’s Note: This was an amazing build! The next time you are looking at a basket case project, and the cash outlay is a few hundred, or a thousand, just think of Ron paying $20,000 for a few boxes of greasy parts! I am honored that Ron chose to share his story here on The Biker’s Garage, if there was anyone that embodies the spirit of TBG, it’s Ron.