HRD Se­ries A Rapide

Base­ment build

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story and pho­tos Jim Scaysbrook

First came the astounding AJS V4 – astounding be­cause apart from the sin­gle ex­am­ple that was man­u­fac­tured in 1935 and ex­hib­ited at that year’s Earl’s Court Show in London and sub­se­quently dis­man­tled with the planned pro­duc­tion run can­celled – vir­tu­ally noth­ing ex­ists. As we saw in is­sue 75, this al­most to­tal ab­sence of ref­er­ence ma­te­rial did noth­ing to de­ter Dan’s re­solve, in fact quite the op­po­site.

Then came a sec­ond chal­lenge – the fabled Ve­lo­cette Roarer, but at least one ex­am­ple of the su­per­charged 500 twin that com­pleted a soli­tary lap on the Isle of Man TT course in 1939 ex­isted in the hands of Ivan Rhodes in UK. Dan was able to take mea­sure­ments and com­pared notes with Ivan, but it was still an im­mense project, which was de­tailed in is­sue 76. Now to com­plete the trio we bring you the story of how Dan Smith came to cre­ate a replica of the Vincent H.R.D. Se­ries A Rapide, a ma­chine for which he holds great af­fec­tion. Like the AJS and the Ve­lo­cette, Dan chose not to slav­ishly copy the orig­i­nal, in­stead in­cor­po­rat­ing some modern in­ter­nal com­po­nents and tak­ing ad­van­tage of the avail­abil­ity of ma­te­ri­als that were not in gen­eral sup­ply nearly 80 years ago. And un­like the other two bikes, this one was go­ing to be rid­den, and rid­den reg­u­larly, be­cause Dan and his wife Eileen are keen tour­ers, hav­ing cov­ered hun­dreds of thou­sands of miles across sev­eral con­ti­nents on a va­ri­ety of ma­chines, in­clud­ing his 1949 Vincent Rapide. Not for noth­ing is the pre-war Rapide known as the “Plumber’s Night­mare”, with ex­ter­nal oil lines, hoses and so on run­ning ev­ery­where. But in many ways, this jum­ble of ‘plumb­ing’ adds to the ma­chine’s ap­peal – it cer­tainly did for Dan. At this point, a lit­tle back­ground is rel­e­vant.

It would have been a rel­a­tively log­i­cal step for Philip Con­rad Vincent (known to his friends as PCV) to sim­ply slip into the fam­ily cat­tle busi­ness, which was based in Ar­gentina, but dur­ing his ed­u­ca­tion at Har­row, be­came in­creas­ingly drawn to mo­tor­cy­cles, and es­pe­cially their de­sign. Even be­fore he grad­u­ated, he had de­signed his own frame with rear spring­ing, us­ing a tri­an­gu­lated piv­ot­ing struc­ture. This was to re­main in ba­si­cally the same form un­til pro­duc­tion of the mo­tor­cy­cles bear­ing his name ceased in 1955. By 1926 he had drawn up sev­eral mo­tor­cy­cles, but con­vert­ing them to metal was an­other mat­ter. With fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance from his par­ents, one of these was built, us­ing a 350cc MAG en­gine, upon which young Philip clocked up a con­sid­er­able mileage. With a fur­ther in­jec­tion of fam­ily money, a com­pany was formed and premises for­merly oc­cu­pied by the car­riage builders Ot­tfords at Steve­nage, north of London, ac­quired. By now it was 1928, the same year that suc­cess­ful racer Howard R Davies de­cided to re­lin­quish the com­pany he had formed in 1925 to man­u­fac­ture his own mo­tor­cy­cles. Aboard his own HRD, Davies had sen­sa­tion­ally taken vic­tory in the 1925 Se­nior TT, a win that in­stantly el­e­vated him to leg­endary sta­tus. When Davies took the de­ci­sion to cease trad­ing, he found a ready buyer for the busi­ness in young Philip, and pro­duc­tion was trans­ferred to Steve­nage. Philip Vincent wisely chose to use the HRD brand (at least ini­tially) as it was a proven prod­uct, rather than go through the tra­vails of launch­ing a new brand (Vincent) on a cau­tious buy­ing pub­lic. A va­ri­ety of mo­tor­cy­cles was pro­duced, al­beit in quite small num­bers, us­ing en­gines from MAG, Blackburne, J.A.P., Rudge and Vil­liers (and even one with a Cross Ro­tary valve head). Al­though J.A.P. was the favoured pow­er­plant, Vincent was dis­sat­is­fied with the qual­ity con­trol, and in 1934 Rudge an­nounced they would no longer sup­ply en­gines to other man­u­fac­tur­ers, so it was time for a re-think. In 1931 PCV had en­gaged the ser­vices of Aus­tralian Phil Irv­ing, who had co­in­ci­den­tally ar­rived in Great Bri­tain from his na­tive Vic­to­ria on the pil­lion seat of a 500cc HRD rid­den over­land by John Gill. Irv­ing’s prac­ti­cal­ity was the per­fect foil to Vincent’s ad­ven­tur­ous at­ti­tude to de­sign, and the first orig­i­nal fruit of Irv­ing’s labour was a fairly con­ven­tional sin­gle cylin­der over­head valve 500, with a high-mounted camshaft, re­leased in stan­dard form as the Me­teor, as the Comet in sports trim, and as the TT Replica in full rac­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Irv­ing says the se­lec­tion of the bore and stroke for the new en­gine was con­ceived in a novel way. “84mm was the small­est cylin­der I could get my hand into for clean­ing, and as Vincent did not like long-stroke en­gines, the stroke cho­sen was 90mm, giv­ing 498.7cc.” The new 500 was very well re­ceived – fast and re­li­able – and set Vincent’s ever-ac­tive mind upon the next project. It has gone down in mo­tor­cy­cling his­tory that the en­gine that fol­lowed the 500 sin­gle came about as a re­sult of hap­pen­chance. Irv­ing was work­ing at his draw­ing board on the tim­ing side crank­case half of the 500 en­gine, and by turn­ing over the trac­ing pa­per and su­per­im­pos­ing it on the main draw­ing, he found him­self star­ing at what was in ef­fect the lay­out for a vee-twin with a 47-de­gree in­cluded an­gle be­tween the cylin­ders. This meant that the sec­ond cylin­der’s camshaft could be driven by the idler gear al­ready used for the first. He went on to say, “Trans­lat­ing the idea into real­ity was not as sim­ple as it looked dur­ing the first fine care­less rap­ture of discovery, but the sim­ple plan of off­set­ting the rear cylin­der 1 1/2 inches to the right per­mit­ted its ex­haust pipe to clear the front cylin­der, and al­lowed two stan­dard con-rods and big-end assemblies to be mounted side-by-side on a long crankpin.” Apart from new, wider crankcases, the twin used the same en­gine com­po­nents as the sin­gle, with both ex­haust ports fac­ing for­ward. The frame was also sim­i­lar to the Me­teor, al­though length­ened by three inches. The new twin was named the Rapide, and the pro­to­type was com­pleted (with the ex­cep­tion of the

“Trans­lat­ing the idea into real­ity was not as sim­ple as it looked dur­ing the first fine care­less rap­ture of discovery...”

crankshaft and fly­wheels and a metal­lic painted wooden chain case) in time for it to be ex­hib­ited at the 1936 Show at Olympia. How­ever Irv­ing was not part of the launch, hav­ing left to re-join Ve­lo­cette. The 998cc en­gine de­vel­oped 45 bhp and tipped the scales at around 200 kg, giv­ing it a the­o­ret­i­cal top speed of 110 mph. Dur­ing early test­ing, the Rapide en­gine was dis­cov­ered to be too pow­er­ful for the Burman gear­box, but apart from a re­design for the clutch, lit­tle could be done without a com­plete re­design, some­thing that could not be ac­com­plished at the time. With no suitable al­ter­na­tive trans­mis­sion avail­able, it was up to the owner to treat the ‘box with kid gloves to avoid ma­jor fail­ures that even in­cluded cracked cas­ings. From its gen­eral re­lease in early 1937 and up to the out­break of WW2, 77 (some re­ports say 79) Rapi­des were de­liv­ered to own­ers who could af­ford the ask­ing price for what was rightly claimed to be the fastest stan­dard pro­duc­tion mo­tor­cy­cle – in fact any­thing on two, three or four wheels – in the world. Nat­u­rally, there was a high at­tri­tion rate for the Rapi­des over the next six years, some even be­ing scrapped for their metal con­tent. Dur­ing the con­flict, PCV and Irv­ing found them­selves work­ing to­gether again, this time for the Air Min­istry. In what spare time they had, the pair dis­cussed what could be, post-war, the evo­lu­tion of the Rapide – the Se­ries B – with unit con­struc­tion of en­gine and gear­box to elim­i­nate the ear­lier is­sues.

Time marches on

Fast for­ward to 2006, when Cana­dian Robert Watson ac­quired a dis­man­tled Se­ries A Rapide from Toronto, and en­listed help from his friend and fel­low Vincent tragic Dan Smith in order to re­trieve it from the other side of the coun­try. Smith and Watson had known each other for many years and both were mem­bers of the Vincent Own­ers Club on the West Coast. Be­fore the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion where there are many re­man­u­fac­tured parts avail­able for Vin­cents, spares were ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to come by, so in Smith’s case, be­ing an ex­pert ma­chin­ist who wasn’t afraid of a chal­lenge was a de­cided ad­van­tage. There was no doubt that the Toronto-based Rapide was a true bas­ket case that would take a great deal of time and ef­fort, and a not in­con­sid­er­able amount of money to bring back to life. For­tu­nately, Smith was up to the task, and dur­ing the course of the re­build, be­gan to think about cre­at­ing a close-to iden­ti­cal ma­chine for him­self. Smith takes up the story. “Robert Watson de­cided ‚

one day he wouldn’t mind hav­ing an A twin to go with his post-war Vin­cents, so I knew of one in Toronto and through the sys­tem we ar­ranged to look at it and Robert bought it. It was stripped, dis­man­tled. So we flew down (from Van­cou­ver), bought a van, and bought it back (a dis­tance of nearly 4,500 kilo­me­tres). Be­fore we put it to­gether I made lots of mea­sure­ments and draw­ings, then made the ap­pro­pri­ate pat­terns and all the pieces to copy it be­fore we put it to­gether, in­clud­ing the frame di­men­sions, so it was eas­ier (than build­ing the AJS V4) but it was still a good ex­er­cise. I made the frame, but the brakes are post war stuff that I got from Neal Videan. They did have dual front brakes on the early Rapi­des but they were not finned. These brakes stop pretty good be­cause the nor­mal shoe is 7/8” wide and these are 1 1/8” wide. I had them on my Shadow and they are quite re­spectable. I do it all my­self, I don’t have em­ploy­ees. Neal Videan and Rodney Brown, they farm it all out. There are places I thought, ‘we can im­prove on this’, be­cause I like to ride it. The tank – I call it a wartime tank be­cause it looked like it had been through the first and sec­ond world wars. It’s a post-war tank and I’ve just made it look sim­i­lar with the rib­bing on top – that’s just metal bonded on – and the badges are sil­ver. I made those, I knew a jeweller and he carved the side badges out but he died be­fore he fin­ished them so I had to fin­ish them off. There’s 9 troy in each of those tank badges!” “I made the car­bu­ret­tors (not the floats) inch and a quar­ter. The big­gest Amal made in that se­ries (29 Type) was inch and an eighth. I’m a great one for keep­ing it stock so I used a stan­dard Lu­cas mag/dyno. They’re Vincent cams in it, same pro­file

as Mk 2 which was the Light­ning cam, mag­ne­tos from a Dou­glas which was an op­posed twin so you can use the same cam ring be­cause it’s a 360. I got it off eBay and it was brand new, still had a wax seal with the stamp from Lu­cas on it just one of those lucky finds, and it comes with a seal on it so I can run my chain­case wet; the other ones were grease. The chain­case driv­ing the mag­neto is alu­minium. Nor­mally the A twins had the toolbox up here (above the clutch cover), but I put a post war tool box un­der the seat and it’s a post war seat. I put the oil tank, with a screw-on oil fil­ter, down there in the shape of the tool box be­cause I like to do big miles. I first 86/20 case hard­ened the cams and the fol­low­ers, well it ate ‘em within 1000 miles and when I pulled it down I saw the big end was ac­cu­mu­lat­ing what was com­ing off the cams so when I put it to­gether for the sec­ond time with Stel­lite fol­low­ers and so on, I put the fil­ter on. “I had a set of post wars and I had them re-tubed so they’re the same. It’s a nice bike to ride. They are tube­less tyres on it – I found a tape on eBay from Ja­pan – a kit with two lay­ers of tape. I have them on my Shadow too. The inner tubes now leak down over the win­ter but these don’t lose more than a few pounds af­ter a win­ter. So now I just carry a plug kit and a CO2 car­tridge for a flat tyre. But I haven’t had to do it. The mud flap is a great thing for keep­ing for­eign ob­jects off the back tyre. A nail will lie on the road and you can ride over it and not punc­ture the front tyre but it will flick it and that’s why you get it in the back tyre. But when it hits the mud­flap it will spit it off to the side. I went to South Amer­ica and back and never had any­thing punc­ture my tyre in 30,000 miles.”

ABOVE Hand made pri­mary chain case. BOT­TOM LEFT Man and ma­chine. Dan Smith with his self-made Vincent Se­ries A Rapide.

The fabled yellow-faced in­stru­ments adorn Dan’s bike. TOP LEFT Post-war stop­ping power. LEFT Oil tank sits where toolbox once lived. The tool box is now un­der the seat. ABOVE Fuel tank was mod­i­fied from Se­ries B item. ABOVE RIGHT Hand made badges. “There’s 9 troy in each of those tank badges!” RIGHT Mag­ne­tos are a tight fit. FAR RIGHT Modern tube­less tyres on spe­cially sealed rims.

It’s easy to see where the ‘Plumber’s Night­mare’ ep­i­thet came from.

The Se­ries A Rapide for­merly owned by Tas­ma­nian Bill Wig­gins that was com­pletely re­built fol­low­ing a dis­as­trous fire and now owned by Ian Boyd in WA.

BELOW LEFT All steel front brake with no cool­ing fins. BOT­TOM LEFT Orig­i­nal tool box. BELOW CEN­TRE Rear wheel car­ries aux­il­iary sprocket.

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