Bonhams to auction Jack Ehret's Australian-land-speed-record-breaking 1951 Vincent Black Lightning at its annual Las Vegas motorcycle auction, Jan. 25, 2018, in Nevada.
Introduced in 1948, the Vincent Black Shadow was without question the first true Superbike of the modern era. Officially timed at 122mph, it was faster than the Jaguar XK120, then the world’s fastest production car. But even more performance was to come with the introduction that same year of the ultimate — and today most collectible — Vincent, the Black Lightning.
Weighing just 360 pounds compared to the Black Shadow’s 458 pounds, the Lightning was a production racer based on the bike that Rollie Free famously rode to an AMA land speed record of 150.313mph. Featuring high-performance racing components, the Lightning produced a claimed 70 horsepower, 15 more than the Black Shadow.
It is generally accepted that no more than 33 Black Lightning’s left the Vincent factory in Stevenage, England, during the model’s 1948 to 1952 production. Those low numbers make any Black Lightning a machine of great rarity and historical importance. Yet few match the bike featured here, the famed 1951 Black Shadow ridden by Australian “Black Jack” Ehret to an Australian land speed record of 141.5mph in 1953 and soon to go up for sale at Bonhams’ annual Las Vegas Motorcycle Auction, Jan. 25, 2018.
Originally owned by Aussie rider Tony McAlpine, who assembled the bike himself in June 1951 while working at Vincent, it was clocked at 130mph — in third gear — in July that year. McAlpine took the Lightning with him when he returned to Australia later that year, putting the bike up for sale. Car dealer Jack Forrest purchased the Vincent, then raced — and crashed it — in the Australian TT at Bathurst in the Senior Unlimited TT. In fact, Forrest crashed the Lightning in two of the three races he entered the bike. Those experiences apparently soured him on the Vincent, and he subsequently put it up for sale with Sydney Vincent dealers Burling and Simmons, where it was purchased by local racer Jack Ehret.
Like Forrest, Ehret also entered the Lightning in the Australian TT, but with better results, finishing second in the 1952 event. Ehret’s success with the Lightning proved the bike’s superior capacity, and eager to get his name in the record books he set his sights set on the hotly contested Australian Land Speed Record. On Jan. 19, 1953, on a remote stretch of road in western New South Wales, Ehret made his attack on the record, riding the Lightning to an officially timed 140.509mph.
Ehret continued racing the Vincent with great success, often with a sidecar attached. He was Australian Title point’s leader in 1954, and in 1955 he crossed the finish line at Australia’s Mount Druitt race in front of 500cc World Champion Geoff Duke. He finally won at Bathurst in 1956, in the Sidecar TT with George Donkin riding passenger.
By the end of the 1950s, Ehret was no longer racing the Lightning, but in 1968 he pulled it out of storage for a race at Oran Park, coming in a respectable third in the sidecar class with John “Tex” Coleman riding passenger. Ehret would race the bike two more times, again at Oran Park in the late 1970s, but now in the Historic class and winning both of his races, and finally at Eastern Creek in 1993, where he lapped the entire field in the Historic Sidecar races with his son, John, riding passenger. After 40 years racing, the Lightning was finally retired, its provenance cemented with a record of having finished on the podium in 80 percent of its races
Ehret shifted his attention from motorcycle racing to running nightclubs, and in 1999 he sold the bike to Aussie Franc Trento, owner of Euro Brit Motorbikes in Melbourne. Ehret died in 2001, a fact that perhaps inspired Trento to preserve the Lightning in its original race condition. In 2014 Trento sold the Lightning to the current owner, who shipped it to Vincent expert Patrick Godet in his native France.
Once there, Godet and his team stripped the Lightning, rebuilding it internally as needed with new parts made from the original Black Lightning drawings. The crankcases, cylinders and heads are original, but the worn crankshaft was repaired and it has new pistons, piston liners, valves, valve springs and camshafts. Externally, Godet and his team laboured to maintain the bike’s originality, replacing only those items necessary for safe riding. The brake and clutch cables, for instance, feature the original housings, but the inner cables are all new, all done to keep the Ehret Vincent looking exactly as it did when last raced by Jack Ehret.
Without question the most significant motorcycle to be auctioned at Bonhams’ upcoming annual Las Vegas motorcycle sale, Jan. 25, 2018, the Ehret Vincent is expected to sell for more than R9,0 million rand.