From our back issues archive (Old Bike Australasia Issue 71) • Story: Jim Scaysbrook • Photos: Ian Falloon •
From Stevenage to the States, to the Caribbean, and finally to Melbourne. That’s the journey undertaken by a Vincent Series B Shadow that’s lucky to be alive.
Scooping the award for Best Post War Motorcycle at the 2017 Motorclassica in Melbourne was just reward for an Herculean effort in saving this Series B Vincent Shadow from a hurricane-plagued destruction in the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Saving any Vincent from oblivion is praiseworthy enough, but this one has a special provenance in that it is the only Series B Shadow produced with the engine in unpainted form. This machine was ordered from the Vincent-HRD factory in Stevenage on 22nd February, 1949 and shipped to John Esler – the Vincent dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. Elser was a successful sidecar racer and also one of the USA’s top Triumph dealers for nearly five decades.
Originally, this motorcycle, engine number F10AB/1B/1858, was ordered as a Rapide, but during its build, the order was changed to Shadow specifications. This meant that the engine was completely unpainted, the only one of the 76 Series B Shadows to be produced without a black-painted engine. Just who was the lucky recipient when the Shadow arrived in Grand Rapids is unknown, as is the motorcycle’s subsequent use and ownership over the next 25 years. However by some quirk of fate, the Vincent had another sea voyage, all the way to the Caribbean to the US Virgin Islands. With a total area amongst the three islands that make up the group of just 346 sq.km, it’s unlikely the Shadow ever got to stretch its legs, which is possibly why it was abandoned by its owner.
In 1974, Larry Cressell and his wife Dianne were living in the Virgin Islands, when Larry, a committed motorcycle enthusiast, stumbled upon a motorcycle chained to a palm tree. And not just any motorcycle, but the only Series B Shadow with an unpainted engine! Tragically, the engine had been partially dismantled before incarceration, and with the heads removed the engine rapidly filled with water and began a process of severe corrosion. Fortunately, Larry was able to release the Shadow from its shackles and transport it back to his home in Seattle Washington, where it joined a number of other stablemates, including the last MSS Velocette produced by the factory as well as a Thruxton, in his shed. But although this environment was somewhat more benign than that endured by the Vincent in the previous quarter century, it was far from ideal, and the partially dismantled machine was a forgotten and barely recognisable hulk when Larry passed away a few years back.
Over a period of time, Larry’s widow agreed to sell some of the collection to Jon Munn, owner of Classic Style in Melbourne, but it was a slow process. Both the Velocettes where shipped to Australia by Jon, but it took a further five years before Dianne Cressell agreed to part with the Vincent. Jon Munn takes up the story, “I have a shipping base in Ventura, California, so in January 2017 I took a 2,500 mile round trip to Seattle to collect the Vincent. It was in an incredibly sorry state. The tank had all but rusted away but the worst bit was the engine – it took 3 weeks just to get it apart and we had to push the liners out of the barrels with the pistons still frozen in the bores because no amount of soaking would free them up. We put in new big ends and crank pins, along with new liners and pistons and new pressed in bearings in the con-rods. Despite the ordeal, the gearbox internals were immaculate as was the primary drive. For some reason the rims had been changed to 19 inch front and 18 inch rear, but I had a good set of original rims (20 inch front and 19 inch rear) so the wheels were rebuilt with those. Neil Videan was a big help with other components we needed – he has a huge stock of parts. From the time it arrived in Melbourne it took five months to restore – I had a deadline in mind in order to show it at Motorclassica in October. It was a genuine back-from-the dead case.
“This bike had been factory-fitted with the optional Lightning tachometer which has yellow digits, and both this and the speedo were rebuilt by Steven Lewis who is an RAF technician. Fortunately I have the original works order from the factory dated February 22nd 1949, and every number on the bike is absolutely spot on. I know the Series C Shadows with the unpainted engines were known as White Shadows, but since this is a one-off Series B, I have never referred to it as White Shadow – I prefer to call this one just a Shadow. I would love to know what happened in the period 1949 to 1974 but the enquiries I have made have turned up nothing. There do not seem to be any sales or registration details available.”
With much hard work and a considerable financial investment, the not-white Shadow was duly completed (just) for Motorclassica 2017, where it rightly collected a major award in the International Concours D’Elegance. Especially considering the decrepit state in which it was received and the time available for the remedial work, the restoration is nothing short of miraculous – an incredible journey from the base of a palm tree in the Virgin Islands to the glamour of the Royal Exhibition Hall in Melbourne.