VEE VARI­A­TIONS.........................................

Over the years, John Waltham has owned a suc­ces­sion of big V-twins: pre- and post-war Vin­cents, Harley and Hes­keth heavy­weights. Which ma­chine does he rate as the best of the bunch? The an­swer may sur­prise you…

Real Classic - - News - Pho­tos by John Waltham

Over the years, John Waltham has owned a suc­ces­sion of big V-twins: pre- and post-war Vin­cents, Harley and Hes­keth heavy­weights. Which ma­chine does he rate as the best of the bunch? The an­swer may sur­prise you…

It struck me re­cently that I’ve had my Hes­keth V1000 for rather more than a decade, and that this was roughly the same pe­riod of time that I had pre­vi­ously owned a 1340 Harley Low Rider Sport. Be­fore that, I’d had a 1938 Se­ries A Rapide Vin­cent, again for ten years. That had been pre­ceded by ten years of post-war Vin­cent own­er­ship. It seems I en­gage in ten year bouts of – what? Masochism? Plea­sure? Ad­dic­tion?

I bought my first Vin­cent, a D Rapide, in 1968 when I was a 17 year-old stu­dent. They were cheaper then and I paid its first owner, a lo­cal farmer, £129 for it. That was a lu­di­crously high amount, given that my pre­vi­ous 500 Tri­umph had set me back only £60 and was three years younger. I was me­chan­i­cally in­ept and the Vin­cent had re­ceived no use or main­te­nance for some years. I kept it for three months and was glad to see the back of it when I sold it for £149. I swore I’d never have an­other one, con­sol­ing my­self with a Nor­ton-en­gined 750cc AJS 33 CS fol­lowed by a BSA A7SS.

But a few years later I needed a side­car tug and couldn’t lo­cate my pre­ferred choice of a Mk2 Royal En­field In­ter­cep­tor. So I made do with a Se­ries C Rapide and Wat­so­nian Monosport, part of a col­lec­tion which hadn’t run for about five years. By then I knew enough to be able to look af­ter the bike’s me­chan­i­cals, and re­ally en­joyed the V-twin’s

power de­liv­ery, both with and with­out the chair. The ac­cel­er­a­tion when used solo but on side­car gear­ing was a real adrenalin rush! I re­ally didn’t re­gret not get­ting that En­field…

The only prob­lem I had with the Se­ries C Rapide was with the big end, fol­low­ing an at­tempt to keep up with a 750 Honda on a side­car-equipped (and geared) Vin­cent; not a good idea. I still have the con­rod, and you can pass an egg through the mis­shapen big end eye. The re­doubtable Bob Dunn re­built the crank assem­bly for me, and there­after we did many thou­sands of miles, side­car and solo, with re­mark­ably lit­tle bother. I was very glad to be able to use the var­i­ous Vin­cent fea­tures that made at­tach­ment and de­tach­ment of a side­car such an easy job; the ad­justable bot­tom fork links for al­ter­ing the trail, and the re­versible rear wheel (plus a cou­ple of ex­tra chain links) that gave al­most in­stant side­car gear­ing. I used to pull in to a layby be­fore get­ting on the mo­tor­way, change the gear­ing to solo in a cou­ple of min­utes, and set off up the mo­tor­way with the chair on solo gear­ing; won­der­ful! And fuel con­sump­tion back up to around 50mpg, rather than the out­fit’s 40 or so.

The only other change I made to the bike was to paint the petrol tank green be­cause I had no black paint left. This was in the late 1970s when ‘orig­i­nal­ity’ was all the rage, so there was much non-pos­i­tive mur­mur­ing about this around the VOC. To my sur­prise, I re­ceived a let­ter from Phil Vin­cent him­self telling me to keep my chin up – the very first ma­chine he’d made had been sold with a green tank. So a lit­tle strip of Dymo tape (re­mem­ber that?) went on the tank, say­ing ‘Ap­proved by PC Vin­cent’.

Some­time around 1975, I saw some­thing which en­tirely stole my heart away. It was long, low, cov­ered in oil pipes (and oil) and ex­posed hair­pin valve springs, and it went up the road like a scalded cat. It was, of course, a ‘plumber’s night­mare’, the Se­ries A Vin­cent twin, and I was in love. I started hunt­ing for one, es­pe­cially af­ter I blagged a cou­ple of rides on two ex­am­ples be­long­ing to friends. I kept a dossier so I’d know where they all were, and even­tu­ally, in 1981, this bore fruit. Al­though I felt like a heel, I sold the Se­ries C and, with­out a back­ward glance, headed off to Wi­gan pier. Long-term VOC mem­ber Bill Han­cock (a man for whom I had great re­spect) had an A Rapide, 1938 vin­tage, for sale in pieces. Know­ing of my search he had, af­ter long de­lib­er­a­tion, de­cided that I could have the bike – a de­ci­sion for which I have never ceased to be grate­ful.

Be­low: Co-de­signer of the Vin­cent, Phil Irv­ing, with the ‘C’ Rapide in side­car mode

Left: ‘Post-war Vins are ten a penny…’ says John Waltham. ‘Here’s mine, in side­car haul­ing mode around 1975

Be­low: John’s ‘C’ in solo mode, with green tank an­dand acace bars

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