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Vincent rapide chinese red

What now?

(from our Travels with Guido series #352, Sept 2019, updated July 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen; pic Classic Avenue

It’s one thing to spend a fortune on a classic, but then what do you do?

The chances of muggins ever spending US$89,000 (Au$130k) on an old motorcycle that doesn’t run are slim in the extreme. Think snow ball’s chance in hell. Though perhaps, if I had any financial brains, it would actually be the smart thing to do.


One of the inventions that really should be banned is list emails, because it can’t be good for you. I’m thinking those wonderful things sent out by assorted people trying to tempt you with the latest transports of delight that have graced their showrooms. Whether it’s a manufacturer, an auction house, a broker or dealer, they’re all dangerous. Some days I wonder if it would make more sense to take up drinking as a hobby.


Like a lot of people, I’m on all sorts of lists, including those for assorted auctioneers, including a mob called Bring a Trailer (one of my favourites) and a high-end motorcycle broker in the California called Classic Avenue. Just this week the evil genius running the place sent a mail-out just on Vincents. Sadly, affordable ownership is but a distant memory for these things, with prices for twins starting at $60k-or-so. Not impossible, but sobering for most of us.


Without question the highlight was a red/black 1952 Touring Rapide – a rare colour combo that includes Chinese red panels on a black chassis. Very desirable. What really made this bike special, is that it’s essentially an unmolested and unrestored one-owner machine. As those given to clichés are wont to say, they’re only original once.


Assuming you can stump up sufficient cash to relieve the current custodians of the ownership papers, what the hell do you do with it? One option is to simply put it in a glass case and watch it both rot and appreciate in value. To me, that’s not really an option. I’ve never been a fan of mummification or open casket funerals, and deliberately retiring a machine that could be got running relatively easily is a not-too-distant third on that list.


Of course when I say easily, you’re probably up for a significant bill to recommission the thing. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it climb well north of $10k, by the time you also dealt with some of the reliability issues with the original design.

(A cautionary note here from friend and engineer Phillip White: "I am fairly certain the last rider of that Vincent did not just park it up and walk away even though it was running perfectly. I have been down the rabbit hole Of the Just Getting it Running Barn Find. It is a bottomless pit of despair.")


However could it be money well spent? Along with the contemporary Harley-Davidson and Indian V-twins, this is one of the few bikes of the period that can do decent distances at proper highway speeds without necessarily breaking into an oil-soaked lather.


The big conundrum would be over whether you restore the thing. At the moment, the fashion is to go with the original patina. In fact patina has become so popular in recent years that I reckon you could sell it as an aerosol. Imagine the ad campaign: New! Improved! Instantly age your investment in the comfort of your own garage! Add years of convincing use and abuse!


Perhaps the good thing is that it’s cheaper to evict the spiders and just get it running, with strict orders to the mechanic not clean anything that’s on the outside of the engine cases. And it does relieve you of the burden of working out whether you restore it to showroom or concours condition, which are arguably two very different things.


All those decisions – it’s enough to give you a headache. There are times when just going out and buying a nice mid-sized late model twin makes all the sense in the world. Five kay will get you something that would probably outrun the Rapide without raising a sweat.


What now? Someone else can agonise over the Vincent’s future…

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