Jack Wilson's Vincent Racer Build: the Test Ride

A Felix Prequel

By Tony Blackstock

 

In a recent series of articles on a Vincent barn find Bev Bowen researched and recorded the history of what is now "Felix," the original Black Shadow modified by Jack Wilson to run at Bonneville. We all enjoyed reading about it in "MPH" #777, 779 and 783. As I was one of the few remaining people who witnessed this bike being built, I was happy to play a small part by helping Bev with some of the details and history reported in his story of Felix's journey.

 

By the strangest of coincidences (in fact, you could almost call it "spooky") this writer was the first to alert Bev (1) that his newly acquired bike was THE Jack Wilson original, (2) that it had been owned by Bob Welborn (who was, and still is, one of my best friends) and to my surprise (3) that the Del Orto carbs which ended up on Felix were originally mine, which I had coincidentally obtained at the same time of the original Vincent build by Jack Wilson. All of this is captivatingly recounted in Bev's "MPH" story.

 

One thing that had not been covered in detail in "MPH" was the bike's first test ride. As pointed out in "MPH" this fellow Jordan one day showed up at Pete Dalio's Triumph shop with a Black Shadow and wanted Jack Wilson to prep it for a Bonneville record attempt. Pete, with dollar signs in his eye, readily agreed and turned him over to Jack. Somehow, in outlining his game plan, Jack mentioned my name as having owned and raced an original factory-built Black Lightning. From that day on Jordan was constantly questioning me about the Lightning --- how fast it was, how it was equipped, etc., etc. Among other things, I told Jordan that Lightnings came equipped with two front heads. As a result Jordan would have it no other way until he had a second front head. Learning from me of a Black Shadow owned by Carlton Williamson, the BSA dealer next door, which was not running but also not for sale, Jordan went after its front head. Through a lot of arm twisting (and a great deal of money) he secured the much-wanted twin front head so Jack could proceed with Jordan's plan.

 

As a matter of curiosity I followed Jack's progress with the build, until finally a few months later it was completed. Jordan, not being a bike rider himself, looked for a test rider to try out the finished product. He was keenly interested in comparing its performance to that of my Black Lightning and so he asked me to perform the test ride.

 

A few blocks behind Dalio's shop a new freeway was being built. The concrete had partially been laid and some of the on-ramps were not yet finished. It was still closed to the public. Barriers were in place to keep cars or trucks from entering; BUT on a motorcycle there was just enough room to squeeze between the barriers. This was our test track.

 

I should mention here that the "test ride" was not to be a road test as you might see in a bike magazine which checked such things as handling, suspension, brakes, etc. This was just as well as due to its modifications the Bonneville bike could not have gotten high marks in those areas. Jack had trimmed as much weight as practical... stripping it of its lights, battery, seat and the stock exhaust. He had done away with the rear shocks and most of its brakes and had even cut away the left side of the gas tank to make way for the enormous Del Orto carbs he installed. The end result was all business... lean, mean, brutish and magnificently ugly. It was built strictly for going top speed in a straight line over a smooth flat (salt) surface. Is only concession to the rider was a small padded pillion seat mounted at the rear of the cutaway tank.

 

I was to ride it alone to the "test track" and check it for power/speed and hopefully bring it back in one piece without killing myself in the process. The Beast was fired up at Dalio's shop and I proceeded down to the yet-to-be-completed freeway, testing its abbreviated brakes along the way. They worked, but just barely. Cumbersome as it was I managed to carefully work my way between the barriers and headed for the newly laid pavement. The first thing I noticed was the awkward seating. The only rideable position was to lay down on the tank and peer through the forks at the pavement. The new concrete was thankfully smooth, flat and very fast. As soon as I was able to head straight I opened the throttle WFO and held on. The surge of power was instantaneous. I knew I was in for a wild ride! Unlike my Black Lightning, which was geared for mile drag racing and necessitated rapid shifts through the gears, this bike with its tall top end gearing left me plenty of time between gearshifts. However, the speed was overwhelming!! I ran it through all four gears before nearing the end of the pavement. I did not have time or enough pavement to top it out completely in 4th, but at 140 plus miles per hour it was still accelerating - HARD!!! My own estimate of its potential top speed would have been easily 160 MPH or probably over - and that still being unstreamlined and on pump gas.

 

I returned to the shop through a different set of barriers and reported in to Jordan and Jack Wilson. As it turned out shortly after that Jordan apparently suffered a financial setback and asked Pete Dalio to sell the bike.

 

It's a shame that Jack Wilson's endeavor never made it to Bonneville. With all the speed and power this Vincent had it could have easily set a new record in its class... and Jack could have added another notch in the pistol grip of his Texas six shooter.

 

 


 

 

 

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Copyright 2015 by Tony Blackstock