Common Tread

Land-speed-record Black Lightning sets auction record: $929,000

Jan 30, 2018

The world record for a motorcycle sold at auction was just broken at the Rio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, where a 1951 Vincent-HRD Black Lightning sold for $929,000. 

Black Lightnings are already extraordinary motorcycles, but to break world auction records a bike needs a truly special story. Case in point: The previous auction record holder was a 1915 Cyclone board tracker owned by Steve McQueen, which sold for $551,200 in 2008. That’s outrageously cool, but the Vincent has topped it.

1951 Vincent-HRD Black Lightning. Bonham's photo.

Only around 30 Black Lightnings were ever produced, but the Jack Ehret bike is among the most famous. "Rollie Free and Marty Dickerson, both legends in the Vincent universe, knew of this motorcycle and Ehret's acclaim," said Ben Walker, Bonhams Head of Motorcycling in a press release. "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."

Isle of Man racer Tony McAlpine imported Black Lightning No. 7305 to Australia in 1952. It was briefly owned by another racer before Ehret bought it thirdhand. In 1953, Ehret put his Black Lightning in the history books by posting an average speed of 141.5 mph during land speed record attempts on a closed public road (the previous record was held by a similar Black Lightning).

1951 Vincent-HRD Black Lightning. Bonham's photo.

If you’d like to relive the day Ehret set his Australian land speed record, check out this firsthand account, as told to Frank Trento. Highlights include an even more impressive top speed (forfeited due to malfunctioning timing equipment) and a desperate last-minute fix before the record-breaking final run:

“Great consternation, and a look at the gear stick, showed that it had sheared off a pin inside, and the net result was no selection.

"Big panic by this time, with allocated time running away and apparently nothing could be done to effect repairs. But ingenuity is the call sign of the racing fraternity, and a tube spanner was called into service from the tool box. Off came the gear indicator, on went the spanner, much belting tight, plenty of insulation tape, much thought of how to change gear, and back down the road for a run from the Carrol end. All ears were tuned for the note, and finally we heard him take off, noticing the slower change of gear and attendant loss of revs. Much sinking of feelings, but the motor was going well and when he pulled into the pit end the clock said over 142 mph. With light spirits he pushed off for another run down over the tape, and even with the wind playing havoc with his leg he was able to reach forwards and kick the selector forward with his toe. Had lots of trouble getting the leg back on the rest but was able to put up the mean time of 141.509 mph for both runs.”

A dream come true for Jack Ehret. Ehret's ACCA record certificate. Bonham's photo.

Ehret kept his Vincent, last raced in 1993, until 1999. Fittingly, the bike is heading back to an Australian buyer. Stevenage, England was its birthplace, but Australia is home for this Black Lightning. 

1951 Vincent-HRD Black Lightning. Bonham's photo.