To the sound of cheers and applause in a packed ballroom at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Bonhams – led by auctioneer Malcolm Barber – this week sold the rare, original condition, British-made, Australian speed record-setting, 1951 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle for $929,000, making it the most valuable motorcycle ever sold at auction.
Built by special order and imported new into Australia by Tony McAlpine, the Vincent Black Lightning – number 7305 – is one of about 30 Black Lightning models ever built by the Stevenage factory.
At the time of its build, another well-known Vincent nicknamed “Gunga Din” was undergoing work in the factory. Upon completion of both, the two machines were contested at an airfield where it was said that McAlpine’s bike was a clear 30 yards ahead of Gunga Din, and factory records later indicated speeds in excess of 130mph in third gear.
Most important, however, was that in 1953 the McAlpine-ordered motorcycle smashed the existing Australian speed record when Jack Ehret achieved an average speed of 141.5mph. Under the ownership of Ehret, the Black Lightning would also clinch numerous race victories throughout Australia and become renowned around the globe.
“Rollie Free and Marty Dickerson, both legends in the Vincent universe, knew of this motorcycle and Ehret’s acclaim,” says Ben Walker, Bonhams head of motorcycling. “After the ‘Bathing Suit Bike’ ridden by Free, the Ehret bike is likely the most important Black Lightning in existence and is one of the world’s most desirable machines.”
In original, unrestored and running condition – recommissioned by Vincent master Patrick Godet, this rare Black Lightning was in Ehret’s ownership for nearly 50 years.