Phillip Vincent dubbed the Black Knight “a two-wheeled Bentley” when it was launched at the Earl’s Court Motor Show in 1954, becoming the first fully-faired superbike. Full-enclosed is probably a better description. The bodywork completely encapsulates the frame, motor and other components, serving as much to hide parts which were newly cost cut as to shield the rider from the wind. As with many radically new innovations, the fairing proved very unpopular with Vincent buyers, many of whom stripped it off as soon as they got their bikes home. With around 200 total faired Vincents made, that means seeing one in this condition is extremely rare.
There were actually two faired Vincents launched as part of the company’s Series D range. This and the Black Prince. Where the Prince was based on the 55bhp Black Shadow, this Knight is essentially a faired Rapide developing 45bhp.
As the story goes, by the time the faired bikes rolled around, Vincent was finding it increasingly difficult to compete with mass-manufactured cars by making motorcycles by hand. Not only did the Black Knight and Black Prince prove unpopular due to their futuristic looks, but it turned out Vincent was losing money on each bike sold. The company was closes in September, 1955.
The fundamental idea behind the fairing wasn’t aerodynamics, it was weather protection. Vincents were already among the fastest motorcycles of their day and this move was intended to boost their luxury credentials. With the huge leg protectors sitting perpendicular to the air flow, it was claimed that riders could ditch their motorcycle gear and ride the Black Knight to work in a suit and tie.
You’re not alone in being unable to tell the Knight from Prince. Grant and I were equally befuddled during a visit to Jay Leno’s Garage a couple weeks ago. Because they’re fully enclosed in nearly-identical glass fiber fairings, the only immediate visual clue to their identity lies in this sticker, mounted on the front an rear fenders, as well as inside the cockpit.
Other innovations included a huge side-mounted lever which allowed the rider to place the bike on its center stand while still sitting in the saddle and the adoption of Lucas electrics, chosen for their reliability. The Black Knight also used a single rear shock as opposed to the twin-shock arrangement which was popular for several more decades.
This particular example was found and photographed for us by Webb’s of New Zealand, which will put it up for auction on March 22. It’s expected to fetch between $67,000 and $90,000 (USD).