The Vincent story instructed by the individuals who have been there in new documentary

A brand new documentary follows the life and profession of legendary motorbike designer Philip Vincent, instructed by the individuals who have been there. Alex Bestwick speaks to director David Lancaster about bringing the Vincent story to the display.

David Lancaster grew up round Vincent bikes. “My mother and father toured Europe on their Vincent, my father did the identical up till he handed away in 1990, so I’ve at all times recognized Vincents and been round them,” he tells me as we chat about his new documentary Velocity is Costly, which explores the lifetime of legendary motorbike designer Philip Vincent.

The documentary can be available for purchase as a DVD and digital launch on September 25th .

Vincent’s story has at all times been of curiosity to David. “He began off basically very rich, from a really privileged background I suppose you could possibly say, however having made these great bikes ended up just about in poverty, dwelling in council lodging.” In Feltham, in actual fact, not too removed from the place David lives now. What’s extra, David’s father knew each Philip Vincent and Phil Irving.

The private contact might be felt all through the movie, which isn’t simply concerning the bikes, but additionally the individuals who made them. “Even on the early phases, we wished it to be a narrative about human endeavour as a lot because the motorbike itself,” says David.

Philip Vincent’s household labored carefully with David and co-producer Gerry Jenkinson, together with sharing dwelling movie shot by Vincent himself. It was additionally necessary to David to listen to the tales of the women and men who labored on the store ground.

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“We thought it was a great way to inform the story of a machine by the people who constructed the machine. We additionally wished to get the voices from the store ground as a lot as the 2 Phils, Phil Irving and Phil Vincent – each sensible, pushed, presumably you could possibly say geniuses, however in fact it takes lots of people to construct and design a bike.”

A black and white over the shoulder shot, showing David Lancaster talking to John Surtees.
In one in every of his last interviews, John Surtees talks to David about working on the Vincent manufacturing facility in Stevenage as his first job.

The making of the documentary was clearly as a lot of a crew effort as constructing Vincents, and David commonly makes references to the crew behind the scenes all through our dialog. “Plenty of the individuals who helped with the movie had are available as a result of their ardour is Vincents,” he tells me.

This ardour comes by in each side of the documentary. Vincent bikes have been comparatively short-lived, but have an everlasting legacy. I requested David extra about why he thinks that is, and the making of the documentary:

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Why do you assume it’s that we’re nonetheless speaking about Vincents right now?

Vincent had a genius for design, however he was additionally a advertising and marketing genius. He gave them these actually cool names: the Black Shadow, the Gray Flash. It actually captured some folks’s creativeness. But additionally they’re actually good bikes, and for those who journey a Vincent right now, you may nonetheless journey together with site visitors, you may sit on the motorway at 75mph, actually the V twins, the 1000s. There’s not many British bikes – I’ll in all probability upset a load of individuals – however actually solely a Norton Commando may do this kind of lengthy distance, 2 or 3 hundred miles a day. I imply stuff goes incorrect with them, as a result of they’re 70 years outdated…

Additionally, I feel they’re simply objects of magnificence. Each time I see one I nonetheless assume it’s essentially the most lovely motorbike engine. I simply assume the movement of the exhaust, the best way the 2 cylinders sit on the good 50-degree angle… They usually’re enjoyable to journey. For the time, they should have been wonderful. The Sequence B Rapide got here out in 1946 and the nation had simply gained the struggle. The phrase is ‘they misplaced the peace’ as a result of rationing endured till the early 50s, meals, petrol. So I simply admire the ambition of Vincent and Irving to launch a 110mph motorbike into a rustic that was actually on its final legs, every thing drained and worn out, together with the folks. Most producers put a lick of paint on a pre-war mannequin and so they carried on roughly as they have been. Vincent got here out with a very new design – clearly the Sequence A V-twin was simply earlier than the struggle, however there have been solely 78 or so made.

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You’ve simply received to admire the imaginative and prescient that they thought ‘that is what the world wants. It doesn’t want a plodding, go-to-work 350. It wants a 1000cc motorbike that prices some huge cash and does over 100mph’. I feel the world wants folks like that.

So what went incorrect for Vincent?

The extra folks we spoke to, the extra it emerged there was this pivotal motorbike accident which he had within the winter of 1947, which was a extremely unhealthy winter when it comes to climate. He fell off testing a Rapide at about 80 mph with out a crash helmet. As I feel maybe generations post-war have been vulnerable to do, it was quite ‘properly, I misplaced my sense of steadiness and took a few months off…however brush your self down and press on’ but it surely turned out he was in a coma for fairly some time. So the extra folks we spoke to, significantly John Surtees, mentioned there was a character change, that he wasn’t fairly the gregarious evangelist for his bikes, he grew to become a bit extra withdrawn; much less collegiate.

Then Phil Irving left a 12 months or so later, and the later fashions have been fairly controversial, as you might know, the enclosed fashions with the fairings. So you could possibly see this peak of engineering and design with Phil Irving and Phil Vincent working collectively, in some methods it didn’t truly final that lengthy, and the manufacturing facility stopped producing bikes on the very finish of 1955. They produced extra bikes than folks assume, 11,000 have been produced.

Then speaking to Philip Vincent’s daughter and his grandson Phil, who’s fairly an enormous a part of the movie, we started to take a look at his later profession, which was actually one in every of frustration. He by no means received one other car put into manufacturing, however he had this wonderful artistic thoughts and he was at all times pondering of issues. He developed a rotary engine which appeared to have numerous potential however he couldn’t fairly elevate the cash to get it put into manufacturing or get a bigger producer . And rotary engines are actually attention-grabbing, however Mazda have kind of ploughed their very own furrow, there aren’t that many available on the market, there’s been a few motorbike ones, the Suzuki RE5… However as a result of Vincent may complicate his designs, it was an advanced rotary engine, and he wished it to be made out of ceramics.

Anyway, this was all fairly unhappy. At first, on leaving his personal firm, he ran a storage in Lincolnshire, then they moved to London and he did some constultancy work for British Rail, he did some journalism, however basically his artistic life peaked within the late 40s and 50s. Then after a sequence of strokes they moved to this council flat out in Feltham, which is sort of close to me, as a result of he couldn’t rise up the steps within the flat they have been in.

It was fairly unhappy, and I believed that is actually attention-grabbing. Then in 2018 – so we’d been engaged on the movie for a great whereas – a Black Lightning, which was the Australian land velocity file machine, bought at Bonhams for 1.2 million Australian {dollars}. I began, as you’re continuously doing on a documentary, making an attempt to affix the dots:  that Vincent died in ’79 just about penniless, and right here we’re 30 odd years later and one in every of his machines has develop into the costliest motorbike ever bought.

Ewan McGregor narrates the documentary. How did that come about?

Throughout lockdown, our American producer, James Salter, who’d been on board because the early days, mentioned ‘I feel I’ve discovered a means that we will put this mission in entrance of Ewan McGregor.’ Which he did, after which as a result of the emails went in to my SPAM folder, I simply received a telephone name from Ewan McGregor at about three within the afternoon, fully out of the blue, as a result of I hadn’t checked the emails.

He mentioned, ‘this sounds nice, I’d like to be concerned.’ It was a type of telephone calls the place you stand as much as reply the telephone and go, ‘oh, it’s Ewan McGregor.’ And I mentioned, ‘the script’s all prepared’ however in fact it wasn’t fairly.

He mentioned, ‘ship me the script subsequent week’, so Gerry Jenkinson and I spent a really intensive interval doing the voiceover script. I’d achieved gadgets on tv and written gadgets for TV, but it surely’s actually totally different once you’ve received this longer kind narrative. It’s sort of like writing a novel. Anyway, fortunately he preferred the script – he wasn’t going to do it if he didn’t prefer it, I feel that was fairly apparent.

Then per week or so later he recorded the voiceover from his dwelling studio, and James Salter, our American producer, was within the recording studio in Los Angeles and I used to be in West London on FaceTime video, directing Ewan McGregor, which was essentially the most weird expertise of my life.

American tv host Jay Leno additionally seems within the documentary to debate his love for Vincent bikes.

Did you must slender down what you could possibly match into the documentary?

Inevitably. There’s a lot that we needed to omit. I kind of regretted what we overlooked, however you actually need to give attention to the story. One man mentioned to us, ‘I’d have thought you’d achieved extra concerning the pre-war Vincents’. Clearly, they’re within the movie, however I feel he nonetheless had the concept that it was going to be a mannequin information to Vincent bikes with some speaking heads and I attempted to say, ‘no, we need to inform the story of this man and Phil Irving.’ So in the DVD that’s popping out there’s an hour of additional content material, after which we’ve received a great deal of different content material as properly. However after some time you must give attention to getting the movie launched, you’ve received to undergo the Movie Censors Board, get certification. There’s a lot concerned, you may’t hold going again and what you could possibly have achieved or what you overlooked.

Vincent bikes broke numerous world information – which to you is essentially the most iconic?

They’re all nice as a result of going these kinds of speeds on bikes, it’s actually tough, you actually have to hold on. However essentially the most iconic one is the Rollie Free file bike, as you noticed within the movie. We didn’t know there was truly cinefilm of the occasion till the chap who owned the bike tell us about this. In order some folks know, he received very close to to attending to 150 mph on a Black Lightning prototype at Bonneville Salt Flats, however he determined his leathers, which had been ripped per week or two earlier than, have been flapping round. So he determined to do the runs mainly in swimming trunks and a pair of trainers. And also you assume ‘what on earth is occurring in that man’s head?’ Plenty of motorbike fatalities, they will fairly often be infections of the pores and skin quite than damaged bones, so if he’d have come off at any kind of velocity on salt, he would have died virtually instantly or he actually would have been in peril of dropping his life as a result of your pores and skin is your largest organ, isn’t it? So the bravery of the man, the foolishness… I imply that’s what I wrote within the script, no one had achieved extra earlier than or since or was extra dedicated to a file than Rollie Free on that afternoon. And I used to be fortunate to satisfy him years later, he was at a Vincent rally in Canada and he was nice enjoyable, he was actually attention-grabbing. I used to be solely 11 or 12, however I sat and listened to him speak about these adventures, and also you simply assume ‘wow’. Even at that age, I believed, ‘that is wonderful.’

Rollie Free famously went the additional mile for the world file – stripping right down to his swimming trunks.

What impression have Vincents had on the motorbike scene?

I feel they do have an everlasting legacy, as a result of if somebody sees one, it’s evidently greater than an outdated bike. I feel anybody who’s taken with autos in any means, not in any deep means, you simply take a look at it, and I see this once I’m out on my bike, folks do flip their heads and so they do with plenty of outdated autos. So I suppose there’s a way by which is it the last word basic bike? I feel it in all probability is. Due to the efficiency, due to the person endeavour. It wasn’t designed by a committee, it was designed by Phil Irving and Phil Vincent, and so they pushed by a bike that BSA or Triumph simply would by no means have put into manufacturing with. They might have mentioned ‘we don’t want to try this, the market doesn’t want it’ whereas Vincent and Irving have been of the opinion ‘we’ll construct one of the best motorbike attainable and we’ll discover some consumers afterwards.’

John Surtees makes the purpose that he labored for Vincent and that was his first job, after which he drove for Honda and he drove for Ferrari and he rode for MV Agusta. So it occurred to me, the place does Vincent are available that pantheon? And it was nice, John Surtees mentioned, ‘properly, he’s up there with these pioneers.’

Regardless that one may speculate on the worth and the costs of this stuff, the truth that they’re nonetheless wanted and so they nonetheless promote for 30, 40 thousand kilos for a primary mannequin, is kind of testomony. And that’s the identical with Ferraris and MV Agustas and all of these stand-out producers, lots of which haven’t lasted. Bugatti can be one other instance, and Bugatti presumably is a better parallel to Vincent as a result of these have been pushed people and each of them wished to make one of the best car for the highway, which was totally different with Ferrari who was obsessive about racing and to a level MV Agusta.

When you may personal or journey any Vincent, which wouldn’t it be?

Nicely, I actually just like the one I’ve received, as a result of it was my mother and father’ bike within the 50s and I tracked it down. That’s a really early post-war bike, a 1947 bike.

The Gray Flash is a extremely attention-grabbing mannequin, it’s the racing 500cc. There’s not lots of these; about 30. I’ve at all times preferred these, and so they have been constructed with this very lovely palette of gray. As I say, Vincent was nice, he would give them these sort of Boy Personal names: Gray Flash, Black Knight. They’re all good, truly. All Vincents have gotten one thing going for them. The later ones, the enclosed ones, are very snug, they’re excellent within the rain. They’re not mild and nimble bikes, however they’re what my dad had for the final 30 years of his life, which he actually cherished as a result of he simply preferred to take a seat on a motorbike, go lengthy distance, and it was a bit like being in a Rolls Royce, simply cruise alongside.

David Lancaster along with his earlier Vincent, a 1939 Sequence A Comet.

You talked about monitoring down your mother and father’ Vincent. What’s the story there?

The Vincent House owners Membership have entry to the manufacturing facility information and I’d been asking my mom about it after my father died and he or she mentioned, ‘oh, I don’t know what the engine quantity was or something’ after which I discovered the registration in an image. And I did discover the engine quantity, it was a little bit of detective work, in an outdated handbook of my father’s. So I appeared on the engine quantity and I believed ‘oh, perhaps that’s the Rapide which they used within the 50s.’ After which I received by to the registrar on the Vincent House owners Membership and he very kindly mentioned, ‘I feel the bike’s in Germany.’ He wrote to the proprietor. I went to see the bike, it was in a museum.

Then it got here up for public sale at Bonhams, and I managed to boost the cash to be able to purchase it. I bought a few different issues, however I’m very glad I did as a result of it’s a motorbike meaning loads to the household, and it’s additionally one in every of my favorite fashions, the early post-war Rapides. In some methods, they’re the purest instance of it as a result of that’s what they launched in 1946 and, like most automotive trajectories, the bikes received heavier and taller and the early Rapides are fairly good and fairly low and a bit old school, but it surely’s an outdated bike. I don’t see the purpose in altering this and altering that, you would possibly as properly go and purchase a ten 12 months outdated BMW for those who’re going to try this.

Are there every other tales within the motorbike world you need to inform?

I feel there are. I’ve began one other documentary – foolishly – but it surely’s not about bikes, it’s a couple of meals author. I imply there are some nice tales in motorcycling. Joey Dunlop lived an attention-grabbing life, multi-TT winner. On the Bonneville Salt Flats yearly there’s some very compelling folks constructing their very own bikes and going at 2 or 3 hundred miles an hour, they’re actually attention-grabbing.

I feel like all of this stuff, the car is what runs by the movie, however the human tales behind the car, that’s the place the curiosity is. Someone giving up a job to construct one thing or sacrificing practically every thing – sacrifice is at all times fairly an attention-grabbing human endeavour, and Vincent made sacrifices. He may have labored for an enormous automotive producer, however he went his personal means. He by no means actually labored for anyone, Vincent. He had his personal motorbike producer on the age of 18 or 19, and perhaps that was his downfall. Perhaps 6 or 7 years working at Triumph or Norton would have taught him extra about costing and constructing one thing to a finances. However as Jay Leno says within the movie, the legacy is the truth that they didn’t have bean counters everywhere in the bikes, particularly within the early post-war years, and that is to our profit. The bikes have been constructed to be nearly as good as they might be quite than constructed down to a price.

The place can our readers watch the documentary?

The documentary can be accessible to purchase on DVD and Digital Obtain from September 25. That’s received a 24-page booklet with a number of the interviews we’ve achieved, some additional info. Additionally there’s an hour’s additional content material, which is all good things, it’s extra interviews with the manufacturing facility folks, additional footage of Jay Leno who talks brilliantly concerning the bikes extra on US racer Marty Dickerson and the US-drag bike, The Barn Job.

On the identical date, it will likely be on digital obtain, which can be on Apple, Virgin, Amazon. Extra information to return quickly too on different actions – control our Fb and Instagram accounts, and essential web site

Anything so as to add?

There’s loads individuals who helped make the movie occur. Our monetary supporters have been great. They’ve supported us, they’ve helped us with flights, they’ve helped us with filming, so I have to do a shout out to these folks. A documentary like this, you actually do it since you need to see the story instructed, and so they’ve been as necessary an element as myself or Gerry our co-producer or Russell Icke and Liz Deegan, our sensible editors. So due to the folks like Kris, Harvey, Peter, Tim, Colin and others who supported us. Plus some stand-out moments and nice folks akin to Peter Bender (proprietor of the world’s most costly motorbike) who transported the bike lots of of miles throughout Australia, so we may movie it again on the identical highway it set the Southern Hemisphere land velocity file on, in Gunnadah, in 1953. With Peter, we managed to trace down, and movie, two aged gents who watched Jack Ehret set the file, after they have been younger schoolboys, 70 years in the past now.

Velocity Is Costly can be accessible on Digital Obtain from twenty fifth September. 

Pre-order your digital copy right here and your Collector’s Version DVD right here.

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