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1939 Vincent-HRD 998cc Series-A Rapide

The Vincent-HRD marque originated in 1928 when Philip C Vincent acquired the name, jigs, tools and patterns of the recently liquidated HRD Company. ('HRD' stood for Howard Raymond Davies, the Isle of Man TT winner who had founded the firm in 1924). Vincent moved production from Wolverhampton to Stevenage, pioneering his own design of sprung frame on an entirely new range of machines. Like Davies, Vincent relied on proprietary engines, but increasing dissatisfaction with suppliers led to the creation of Vincent's own engine in 1934. A 500cc high-camshaft overhead-valve single, this all-new power unit was designed jointly by PCV and his Chief Engineer Phil Irving who, so legend has it, came up with the idea of a 1,000cc v-twin after seeing two drawings of the single superimposed on one another. By producing a v-twin in this fashion, many of the existing single-cylinder components could be utilised, thus reducing costs, an important factor for the fledgling concern.

Despite its plethora of external oil pipes - an arrangement that gave rise to the famous 'Plumber's Nightmare' sobriquet - the Series-A v-twin is undeniably handsome, its high-set camshafts and relatively short cylinders endowing this magnificent motorcycle with a muscular, broad-shouldered look. On test, the prototype engine proved to be as powerful as its looks suggested, delivering a maximum of 45bhp at 5,500rpm on a relatively low 6.8:1 compression ratio. It was installed in a new version of Vincent's sprung frame equipped with Burman four-speed gearbox, girder front fork and powerful twin front brakes, the complete machine tipping the scales at an admirable 430lbs. On the road the Series-A Rapide fulfilled all of its maker's expectations, proving capable of reaching 110mph, comfortably faster then the rival JAP-powered SS100.

The prototype Series-A Rapide was proudly displayed on Vincent's stand at the 1936 Motor Cycle Show at Olympia, but only a handful were sold in 1937, the first full year of production, as the motorcycling public remained sceptical of the upstart firm's performance claims. This scepticism was soon dispelled by the exploits of the works Series-A racers piloted by Manliffe Barrington and 'Ginger' Wood, the latter shattering the Donington Park lap record in 1938 and returning a staggering standing quarter-mile time of 11.75 seconds at the Gatwick sprint.

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