1936 Vincent Series A Comet Special
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The Brough Superior SS100 had been the world’s fastest road-going motorcycle until it was matched by another 1,000 cc British V-twin, the Vincent HRD Series A Rapide, in 1936. Both of these bikes command huge prices today, but the bike on which the Rapide was based – the 1934 500 cc Vincent Comet - can be had for a much more reasonable price. Legend has it that the idea for the Rapide was actually sparked when designer Phil Vincent accidentally slid two 500 cc blueprints over each other.
Vincent was founded in in Stevenage outside London in 1928 when Australian Phil Vincent used a $30,000 loan from his father’s Argentinian beef business to buy the original HRD company from Howard R. Davis. The young Vincent had designed a very clever cantilever rear suspension that would be employed on all of his bikes, and both he and George Brough used J.A. Prestwich (J.A.P) engines until their increasing demands for more power drastically affected reliability.
Brough was not around after the Second World War, but Vincent went to work completely redesigning the 1,000 cc Series A Rapide to create the Series C version. He adjusted the angle of the V-twin, relocated the oil lines inside the engine and simplified it significantly. The Comet, meanwhile, received these same improvements and remained effectively the front cylinder of the V-twin. The Series C Comet is an ideal buy. It generally costs a fraction of the price of the Rapide, but has all the character and look of the larger bike.
The frame of the Comet is the same as the Rapide, and includes the complex Girdraulic forks and cantilever rear suspension. The 26 bhp Comet weighs 390 lbs, 40 lbs less than the 45 bhp Rapide, but it’s still capable of 95 mph and has comparable handling. Vibration at high speed is something to consider with the Comet, and the Burman clutch releases quickly and takes some getting used to.
Vincent also offered the touring Meteor and the racing Grey Flash, on which John Surtees began his career, before buying a Norton. By the time Vincent closed its doors in 1956, the company had produced 3,942 Comets, 128 Meteors and 31 Grey Flashes.
Aside from the numbers built and the cheaper price, the Comet offers other appealing qualities for buyers. Almost everything in a Vincent is numbered, and factory records are excruciatingly complete and you can send your serial number to the Vincent Owners Club registrar to get a copy of the build sheet, road test report and even the shipping order.
Weak points to watch out for with the Comet are typical of British motorcycles of the period. Hard starting can be caused by weak magnets or a worn timing advance. Excessive mechanical noise can be worn timing gears, and poor compression indicates worn piston rings or valve problems. Fortunately, the spares supply is relatively strong, but the brass Comet carburetor and the tool kit are difficult to replace.
Most Vincents are black, but there were 30 red Rapides and 17 red Comets produced to meet American requests for a flashier bike. These are quite rare, though not as rare as the one or two Series D Comets believed to have been built before the company closed its doors.