Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance: 1948 Vincent-HRD Black Shadow Special “Black Lightning”

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Imagine it’s 1948. World War II has finally subsided, the economy is beginning to turn around, and once again motorsports can become a hobby and past-time for men oversized children.

That same year, Vincent came out with the 1948 Vincent-HRD Black Shadow Special, or as it’s better known: the “Black Lightning”. Advertised as “The World’s Fastest Standard Motorcycle”, it would take an intrepid Indian Motorcycle dealer to prove that claim. Racing at Bonneville with this very 998cc prototype, Rollie Free aimed to raise the motorcycle land speed record, and succeeded in memorable fashion.

Free first did a blistering lap of 147mph, a huge feat given the era. Holding on with all his strength, and with no real fairing to streamline his efforts, Free had to power through winds that flapped his leathers so violently that they began to rip at the seams.

Certain he could better his time by streamlining further, Free did something few intelligent people would undertake…at least while sober as a judge: Free stripped off all his riding gear, taking to the bike in only a bathing/swimming cap, speedo-sytle shorts, and a set of sneakers. 150.313mph later, a new land speed record was made, as well as an iconic of image of motorcycle racing, and what in Spanish can only be described as “cojones”.