Vincent motorcycles are known for being cool, fast, and very expensive. To give scale and context to “expensive,” this 1951 Vincent Series C Black Shadow at Gooding and Company’s upcoming Scottsdale auction has an estimate of $90,000–$120,000. That’s hardly cheap, but I’m here to say that’s not expensive at all, and at $100,000 a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle is a bargain. I beg you to convince me otherwise.
Vincent produced motorcycles from 1932–55, when it went bankrupt. If you were a motorcycle fan or speed freak in the late ’40s and early ’50s, the Vincent Black Shadow and Black Lightning motorcycles were some of the most desirable vehicles on the planet. Their famous 1000cc twins were produced from 1936–55, starting with the Series-A Rapide and ending with their last ditch effort to survive, the Series-D Black Knight and Series-D Black Prince. In total, the company made around 11,000 motorcycles, of which 6852 were 1000cc twin-cylinder models. The most desirable models are the Black Shadow (Vincent also made 15 White Shadows that are identical to Black Shadows but with a polished engine), a more powerful and tuned version of the Rapide, and the Black Lightning, a racing specific version of the Black Shadow that only around 30 were made.
The Black Shadow is considered the first superbike and cemented the status by setting a new fastest production motorcycle record at 125 mph, leaving the Harley Davidson Knucklehead’s 100 mph in the dust. This record would not fall until the Kawasaki Z1 was released in 1973 and could hit 132 mph. The Black Lightning was clocked at an astonishing-for-the-time 150 mph, but that bike is not considered a production road going machine.
In 2016 and ’17, the highest sales of Black Shadows were $153,500, $142,500, and $137,500. Yet 2018 had just one sale barely above $100,000. The current #2 (excellent) condition value for a 1950 Series C Black Shadow is $100,000. In 2018, the only Vincent Black Lightning that we have record of selling at auction fetched $929,000. That bike once held an Australian land speed record and was in original and unrestored condition, and it set a new record for the most expensive motorcycle ever sold at auction. Make no mistake, $929,000 is a lot of coin, but that’s 51.5 times less than the most expensive car sold at auction.
Motorcycles have always commanded less than cars due to lower demand, despite being easier to display (or hide) in the corner of the garage. Even with that considered, $100,000 for the world’s first superbike—a production motorcycle speed record holder for 20 years, the most desirable and famous motorcycle to date, and one of only 1774 built—is the biggest bargain in the classic vehicle world. The Black Lightning is considered the Ferrari GTO of motorcycles, and for that $929,000 it’s also a bargain.
Let’s look at comparable vehicles in the car world. With the Vincent Black Lightning considered the Ferrari GTO of motorcycles, that puts the Black Shadow comparable to the Ferrari 250 GT/Lusso, the more civilized road-going sister to the GTO. The #2 condition value for a 250 GT Lusso is $1,750,000, with 2018 auction sales ranging from $1.48 million–$1.7 million. As for the GTO, the two most recent sales are $48 million in 2018, the highest price ever paid for a car at auction, and $38 million in 2014.
Putting it into perspective, you could buy every single one of the 30 Black Lightnings for the current highest price at public auction and still have $20.1 million left over. With that $20.1 million you could then turn around and amass an additional 270 Black Shadows, 15 percent of the total production, for $100,000 each.
Even if we were to remove the GTO comparison and look only at the average values for production land-speed record-holding cars from the same period in which the Black Shadow held the motorcycle record, the Black Shadow (and motorcycles in general) offer far more value for the dollar. The record-holding cars in the 1950s and ’60s are the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, Aston Martin DB4 GT, Iso Grifo GL 365, Lamborghini Miura P400, and Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. The average #2 value of those vehicles is $1.5 million. That’s 15 times higher than the #2 value of the Black Shadow.
Bottom line: We have a motorcycle packed with all the right provenance—rarity, high performance, a record-setting history, hand-built in England by one of the most technologically advanced and admired brands—yet you can buy 15 of them for the average value of one comparable car, or you can buy all 30 Black Lightnings and 270 Black Shadows for the price of one 250 GTO. Looking at it from that perspective, paying $100,000 for a Black Shadow or $929,000 for a Black Lightning suddenly becomes more reasonable—a bargain, in fact.
Maybe the real question is whether GTOs are vastly overvalued… but that’s a story for another day.