A motorcycle that once broke the Australian land speed record has set a new auction record.
The rare 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle went under the hammer for $A1.2 million at Bonhams 8th annual motorcycle auction in Las Vegas.
One of the most desirable bikes on the face of the planet, it’s the most anyone has ever paid for a motorcycle — old or new.
Built to special order and imported new into Australia by Tony McAlpine, the 998cc Vincent Black Lightning is one of about 33 Lightnings built by the Stevenage, England factory — and one of only 19 that are thought to still exist.
It’s based on the legendary Black Shadow – hailed by many as the world’s first superbike.
The Shadow became the fastest set of wheels on the planet when it showed a clean pair of heels to a Jaguar XJ120 at 122 mph — just under 200km/h.
At the time Black Lightning was built, another well-known Vincent nicknamed “Gunga Din” was undergoing work in the factory.
After the work was complete, the two machines faced off at Great Gransden airfield where it is said McAlpine’s bike out-paced Gunga Din by a clear 30 yards at each start.
Factory records indicate speeds in excess of 130mph were reached — 210km/h — in third gear.
Most importantly, however, the McAlpine-ordered motorcycle smashed the existing Australian speed record in 1953 when Jack Ehret achieved an average speed of 141.5mph — 227.7km/h.
At that time the Australian Land Speed record was constantly under attack.
In January 1953, Ehret selected a remote stretch of road in western NSW to challenge Les Warton’s Vincent record of 122.6mph.
Despite a few problems, he averaged an officially timed 141.509mph to smash the record.
Ehret claimed the attempt cost him £1,000-plus, but considered it well worth it in sales promotion for his business to earn the coveted certificate from the Auto Cycle Council of Australia.
Over the next five years, Jack Ehret and the Black Lightning were regular fixtures at Australian road race meetings, with the Vincent appearing in both solo and sidecar guise.
Its proudest moment came at the much vaunted international meeting at Mount Druitt in February 1955, where 500cc World Champion Geoff Duke visiting from England was the star attraction with his works four-cylinder Gilera.
Duke had demolished the opposition in his previous starts on his Australian tour, but on his home track, Ehret was fired up for action and fancied his chances in the Unlimited TT.
“Ehret made a poor [push] start in the Unlimited event, whereas I was first away, and piled on the coals from the beginning,” Duke wrote (reporting on his tour in the British motorcycle press).
“Thereafter I was able to keep an eye on the Vincent rider approaching the hairpin as I accelerated away from it.
“Although he was unable to make up for his bad start, Ehret rode to such purpose that he equalled my fastest lap, and we now share the honour of being the lap record holders.”
Bonhams Head of Motorcycling, Ben Walker, said Rollie Free and Marty Dickerson, both legends in the Vincent universe, knew of this motorcycle and Ehret’s acclaim.
“After the ‘Bathing Suit Bike’ ridden by Free, the Ehret bike is likely the most important Black Lightning in existence and is one of the world’s most desirable machines.”