The Vincent in the Barn

The Vincent

Gullwings, Speedsters, and the like are all holy grails when it comes to automotive barn finds, but one of the ultimate finds in the two-wheeled world is the Vincent. Vincents were fast and few were made, so when they do show up, people tend to get a little excited. This story is about one man’s discovery of one of these British bikes and it first appeared in the appropriately named book, The Vincent in the Barn. Subscribe to email updates for a chance to win a free copy, or purchase your own from Motorbooks or Amazon. We hope you enjoy the tale and please be sure to send in your own find stories because one is going to make it into Tom’s next book!

Lanny Hyde had ridden old British bikes for years. He lived in Northern California, but he’d travel down to Southern California frequently to ride his BSA or Norton relics in all-British rides. “I’d leave my bikes at my parents’ house where I grew up,” said the retired salesman.

One day a neighbor, Warren, who lived across the street from his parents’ house, wandered over to talk to Hyde’s mother, who was working outside. “I see your son rides old British bikes,” said Warren. “My mother told him, ‘Yes, he lives up north, but he keeps them here in our garage,’” said Hyde. “‘Well, tell him I have an old Vincent stored in my garage across the street.’ My mother called me right away.”

This chance conversation occurred in 1982. The next time Hyde traveled to his parent’s house he walked across the street to meet Warren. “He told me he had a Vincent back in the barn, really a shed, but that it was all covered with plywood and junk, and he wasn’t too interested in cleaning it off just to let me see it,” said Hyde. “I don’t own it,” said Warren. “It belongs to a friend who left it here in 1960.”

Apparently Warren’s friend rode it into the shed and parked it. For the next couple of years, he kept the license plates renewed, but eventually that ended, and the Vincent was all but forgotten and went into long-term hibernation.

Warren was also reluctant to reveal the owner’s name. “It took me about six months for him to tell me who this guy was,” said Hyde. “But ultimately he told me his name was Cliff and where he lived. So I decided to pay Cliff a visit.”

Hyde stopped in front of the house and walked up to the front door. There was a screen door and a wood door. “I knocked and he opened the door,” said Hyde. “He only opened the wood door and said, ‘What do you want?’ I told him through the screen door that my mom and dad lived across the street from Warren, and that I understood there was a Vincent in the shed.”

Then Hyde popped the question: “I wondered if you might be interested in selling it?”

“No!” and he closed the door. “And that was the end of it,” said Hyde.

But as luck would have it, Hyde was transferred to Southern California, not far from where Cliff lived. “Because he lived on my way home from work, I’d stop and see him once in a while,” he said. Cliff was a machinist by trade and specialized in machining gun barrels and other critical materials. “If the garage door was open, I’d stop and talk to him and never mention the Vincent,” he said. Hyde is nothing if not patient because these visits continued for several years.

Finally, one day in 1988, Hyde gathered up his courage and asked Cliff the same question he had asked six years earlier. “You know, Cliff, I’m still interested in that Vincent,” said Hyde. “What’s it going to take for me to buy it?”

“What’s it worth?” asked Cliff. Hyde had still never even seen the bike because his parents’ neighbor Warren was reluctant to unearth the potentially rare cycle. “I told him I didn’t know what it was worth, but I would be glad to take a friend over to take a look at it and he’ll tell you what it is worth,” said Hyde. “You just give me the authorization and I’ll take care of it.”

Black plate

When Warren finally uncovered the Vincent, they discovered the bike in pretty rough shape. It had been stored in an open shed and it was covered with sheets of plywood and cardboard. “You couldn’t even see it,” he said. “When we finally pulled everything off to see what was there, the handlebars were actually green with corrosion.” It was in sad shape. “It was missing a few pieces, but the basic bike was all there,” said Hyde.

The first thing Hyde noticed was that it was missing the correct front fender. It was also missing the correct horn, taillight, and toolbox.

The bike turned out to be a Touring Rapide model, which was Vincent’s standard road-going model equipped with deeply valenced steel fenders. “The most popular Vincent is, of course, the Black Shadow, which was built for both road and track use,” said Hyde. “Then there was the Black Lightning, which was strictly for the track.”

He made Cliff an offer and the bike changed hands after a nearly three decade hibernation.

“The Rapide had a beautiful valanced front fender,” said Hyde, who feels that is the reason the original was missing. “Most of the Touring Rapides were turned into sport bikes, so alloy or stainless fenders were often substituted. Owners would get rid of the heavy looking valanced fenders, so now, of course, guys restoring these bikes are looking for those original fenders. And they are really hard to find.”

The incorrect front fender on Hyde’s Vincent was an aftermarket unit, but luckily he was able to find one from an ad in Hemmings Motor News. “There was a tiny ad for Vincent parts,” said Hyde. “So I called and asked the man if he had a front fender for a 1952 Rapide, and he said, ‘I think so, but you’ll have to call me back in a few days because I have to go up into the barn to find it.’ I called him back in three days, and he had the fender. The paint was pretty poor, but at least it was straight and didn’t have any dents.”

He secured a toolbox, a horn, and an original taillight through the Vincent Club.

Hyde brought his Vincent to restorer Gabe Malloy of Grass Valley, California, for a complete rebuild, but interestingly the bike hasn’t been started since its completion nearly a decade ago.

A wise man once said that the only way to prevent a British motorcycle from leaking is to not put oil in it, so after the rebuild it has never had fuel or lubricants installed other than assembly fluids. Curiously, Hyde has no intention of ever riding his showpiece.

The Vincent in the living room

“I’ve wanted one of these so long, and it has been restored to such a high level, that today it sits in a special foyer off my living room,” he said. “I have other bikes to ride.”

It has come a long way from having corroded green handlebars in an open shed.

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Comments

  1. David

    That’s just amazing. You have to be patient when you’re working with somebody who doesn’t want to sell. I remember back in the mid 1990s(1994?), I had worked with a guy for 12 years to buy a 1958 Plymouth Fury 2dr Hardtop. Funny, me and my wife had just seen the movie,and she said ” We have to have it”

  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    Good story. It often pays to become the owner’s friend. You only have to let him know once that you’re interested; he’ll remember when the time comes.

    If I had the bike it would’ve been ridden; I’m a firm believer in riding/driving your vintage rides but it’s definitely the new owner’s right to do what he pleases with it. I guess a living room ornament isn’t all that bad.

    • braktrcr

      I used to keep my 71 Honda 450 in my bedroom during the winter…. nawww it’s not the same

      1
  3. Graham Burn

    I’m afraid I couldn’t not ride such a fantastic machine, only on a sunny day mind you but I’d have to ride it, I remember a late friend of mine had 2 of these, he paid £1000 for one of them as a basket case and spent a long time putting it together again, this was when £1000 was a years wage for a lot of people so it was a fortune to spend on a project!!
    Graham

    • Jim-Bob

      I’d have to agree. The real beauty of a mechanical thing is not just looking at it, but experiencing it in action. I’m not a bike guy but I love the history and quality of engineering in a Vincent. I would have to ride one if I had it, if for no other reason than to perfect it and tinker with it until everything operated flawlessly. Heck, I would probably do that with the bike and leave it looking like a barn find!

    • scot

      ~ the temptation to fuel it and take a ride would eventually overwhelm me. good will power, Lanny!
      and another great read, Tom.

  4. Steve

    The fellow who restored the bike is Dave Malloy, not Gabe Malloy.

  5. David

    Must be nice to have so much money you can restore it to such a high level that you don’t want to start it, let alone drive it. What a waste!

  6. braktrcr

    I always figured if I had an unwilling seller, I would mow their lawn once a week, maybe paint their fence, stuff like that. I can’t imagine them getting angry, they will be amused we both end up being amused, and even if they still never sell, a nice friendship may start. You already have a mutual interest, which is the item you want to buy.

  7. Del Lucas

    Having ridden the old stuff (Vincent’s,MV’s ,etc.) and the new(GSX’s,Ducati’s,etc.) I have to admit it is best to ride the new and just admire the old.

  8. Leo

    @david : sometimes its not that you have “so much money to throw at a restoration and then not drive it”… Sometimes it is such a long journey over MANY years aquiring NOS parts and rare bits that in the end you are literally scared to drive it because those parts are no longer available. It sucks but the financial reality of it as an “investment” becomes a reality that is in your face. Had a concours level (probably the best in the USA) bugye that I restored over 27 years. I put around 500 miles on it over the course of 12 years after it was done :( That is one of the reasons I no longer have it, it just lost it allure because I couldnt enjoy it. The right person came along with the right size of check and….

  9. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    Great story of patience and persistence in bringing a great bike back, but the thing I’m most envious about isn’t the Vincent, since that would just cost money. Circumstances being what they are, it’s the thing I’ll never have: my favorite piece of machinery in a special foyer next to the living room.

  10. jim s

    if it was mine it would also be padlocked to a big eyebolt in a concrete floor and behind locked doors, but then i do that with all my bikes!. i too bought a car of my dreams and then sold it because i did not enjoy driving or owning it. i was so afraid something would happen to it while it was in my care.

  11. jim s

    i would love to know why cliff desided to park the bike in the first place. also why he never moved it to his own place but instead left it with a friend. the restored bike sure looks great. another great story. thanks

  12. THIBEAULT

    This guy is an idiot. Ride the dang thing!

  13. Joe Howell

    Saw one parked along the street yesterday. IMHO that owner was enjoying his more. He can still look at and admire his machine after he gets home. If you have enough dough to buy one you can afford to repair it if you break or crash it and need rare parts made.

  14. Charles Gould

    Great story, horrible ending. The whole point of why these bikes are so legendary and remarkable is the speed, sound, handling, and performance. Not riding this exceptional steed after such an incredible restoration deprives the current owner of 90% of the pleasure, experience and reason for owning one of these incredible machines. It is a shame that old bike enthusiast, who actually rides his other British bikes, would do this to one of the most desirable of British motorcycles. As a contrast, we were on a vintage ride in Virginia, when a friend who is a Vincent owner agreed to meet us and show us the local roads. He met us on his flawlessly restored Black Shadow, and proceeded to lead us on 200 miles of the twistiest roads in Virginia, including over 35 miles of dirt roads, at speeds that we could not keep up with. He wrung that old Vincent out like it was meant to be ridden and it was no worse for the wear afterwards. A quick washing and it looked as good as new, and I can guaranty you that he is enjoying his Vncent so much more than anyone who simply gazes upon one in the living room! I get the value of the investment, and not wanting to disrupt the restoration, but whats the point if you can’t ride it?

  15. Gary Fogg

    Persistence pays off ! I too have become life long friends with several people along my path in life to convince them to sell their hoarded treasures. A few after I became friends with them I actually decided to NOT buy the item I was originally after. My 68 Mustang GT/CS was one of those purchases I had to work for, there are many more.

  16. Mike C

    As an 18 year old biker in the UK many years ago, riding my tuned ’59 Triumph T110 (tuned to Bonny spec plus a bit more) I was overtaken rapidly by a bike in the dark, so I grabbed a big handful of throttle and started after it to see what it was. I couldn’t get anywhere near it – which was unusual – my Triumph was considered to be pretty quick. At some point I raced past the local bikers cafe in hot pursuit – but gave up a further on down the road after another 5 miles.

    I got back to the bikers cafe – where I was asked what the hell I thought I was doing – trying to chase down a Vincent Black Shadow. The Vincent also had an oil leak – I was covered in it ! This was @ 1963/64

  17. Dan

    How could one restore such an iconic motorcycle and NOT ride it?!?

  18. Dan-O

    Sure looks like a nice bike. BUT! What’s the point in owning it. If all you are going to do is look at it, you might as well take a picture and sell it to someone who can appreciate it for what it really is. A Motorcycle! What a shame for such a wonderful piece of machinery to be forever silent.

  19. Graham Burn

    This is always the danger when something has been over restored to better than new you’re then too afraid to use it in case the paint gets a scratch or you drop it on a patch of oil etc, personally I think I’d have got it going good and looking reasonably tidy and then ridden it.

  20. Chris A.

    The solution to the “so perfect a restoration I can’t drive it” problem was solved by a Rochester NY MB 300SL Gullwing collector. He simpley bought and refurbished a duplicate driver version of the pristine restoration car so he had one he could drive. But not too many guys can afford to restore two Vincents with one to ride unless they work a night network talk show.

  21. mal

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that only about 12,000 Vincents in total were ever made, and there are still around 6,000 in existence.
    Can anyone confirm or disprove this?
    Mal.

  22. Mike C

    11134 made according to this site http://www.thevincent.com/vinprod.html

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