Vincent's First Dealer

  by Lindsay Brooke

(from Classic Bike magazine, June 1986)

Anyone who has ever been in love with the Vincent motorcycle, whether through the intimacy of ownership or just plain lusting after one from afar, has a good Vincent story to tell. It never fails. One of the best of these tales comes from the late 1940s, when The Beast was just beginning to make its reputation in the US. The story was told to my father by a cocky kid who owned a Rapide and who loved to put on a convincing British accent.

'I wanted to show this chap with a brand-new 61 cubic inch 'arley who 'ad the faster machine,' the kid began. 'So I set up a little meeting between the two of us out on the by-pass. Before we set off, I gave him just one request -- to signal to me when his 'arley was all-out at top speed. 'Off we were, soon runnin' side by side at about 60 miles per. I shouted to this chap, "Are ya all out yet?" He shook his 'ead, and crouched closer to the 'arley's tank. At seventy-five, I shouted the same question, but the 'arley man still shook his 'ead. Finally, as both our bikes nudged the ton, I noticed my counterpart's silencer trailing a blue plume of smoke. He was glued to the tank now, and looked to be holdin' on for dear life. I screamed, "ARE YA ALL OUT YET?" This time he nodded affirmatively.

'Then I just shifted the Rapide into fourth,' said the kid.

Gene Aucott has heard scores of Vincent stories like that one over the years. As the first Vincent dealer in the US, Gene has lived and breathed Stevenage lore since before the war, when as a young machinist at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, he acquired a Series A Comet in pieces. Today, sitting in the room of his home which until 1972 contained Vincent spares, he recalls the night Phil Vincent approached him about establishing a US dealership.

'It was a Sunday evening in 1944,' Gene says. 'Phil Vincent and I had been corresponding since before the war, and here I was in England, courtesy of the US Navy, as the chief engineer of an 85ft tugboat. After spending the day at the works, where Vincent and Phil Irving showed me what was to become the Series B Rapide, we went to dinner at the home of Frank Walker, the managing director.

'During coffee,' Gene continues, 'Vincent says to me, "When we get to making motorcycles after the war, we won't be able to supply everybody. What we want are enthusiasts like yourself to be our American dealers.'"

Gene recalls his reluctant thoughts at first -- a 24-year-old Navy lieutenant fresh out of diesel engine school; an enthusiast with plenty of experience riding and wrenching the Aces and Indians of the US, but lacking any business background whatsoever. 'What he wanted were enthusiastic motorcyclists,' says Gene. 'Vincent called them "up the garden" dealers. I told him I was very interested.'

Thus began a business relationship and strong friendship between the two men which lasted until PCV passed away. It was strictly a handshake deal, until 1950 when the Indian Corporation became the official US Vincent distributor and Gene had to sign a formal contract with them. Correspondence in those days across the Atlantic was all by mail, as telephone service cost about $17 a minute -- a bit pricey for 'up the garden' motorcycle dealers!

Gene kept his regular job at the Navy Yard (he was now working with experimental aircraft engines) and ran his Vincent shop at home, in the evenings and on weekends. This proved to be a good move, because selling Vincents in the US in the late 40s wasn't the easiest of jobs.

'The most machines I ever got at one time, up until 1950, was six,' Gene recalls. 'I had deposits for 56 motorcycles before I got the first one. But by the time I had received maybe the first 10 bikes, I had given back almost all the deposits because I couldn't guarantee delivery.'

Indeed, the inconsistent supply of machines was only one of Gene's headaches. Dealing with the status quo in Britain was another. Going through a myriad of brokers -- shipping brokers, boxing brokers, chequing brokers -- just to get a bike, drove Gene crazy. 'I told Phil Vincent that the British were still doing things as if it was King Arthur's day,' he says. 'He didn't like that, but it was true.

'I always tried to give constructive criticism,' he notes. 'But even Phil Irving said, before he left Vincents in 1949, "Gene, we used to call you John Q Public, because of your letters".'

Slipping clutches were The Beast's biggest problems, recalls Gene, who was fitting his own 0-ring cure for clutch oiling long before the works finally came out with their own 0-ring in 1954. 'It took them so long to correct little things like that -- but then again, Phil Vincent was always busy working on a future project.'

Rapides constituted the brunt of the 93 Vincents sold by Gene from 1946 to 1955. Strangely, the touring model with the valanced steel mudguards didn't go over in Harley and Indian-land; Gene had to retrofit most of them with the aluminium versions just to sell them. He also sold one Lightning (although he modified Shadows to Lightning spec), three Chinese Red machines, the sole blue Vincent made (a show model sent to New York) and less than 10 Comets. Just one Series D machine went through the Aucott shop, although Gene says the business had picked up greatly by '55.

How did he handle his customers? 'First of all, I was very sceptical of selling a Vincent to a guy who had money, maybe a wealthy kid, because if it was his first bike he was gonna kill himself,' Gene says. He told prospective buyers that the machine was deceptive: so light, and with a lazy engine lope at high speed. Gene recalls that even PCV told him, 'Don't sell the bike to every Tom, Dick and Harry.' How many modern executives and their dealers follow this ideology?

At a wonderfully fit 71, Gene Aucott still enjoys riding -- although now it's more likely he'll mount either his 860GT Ducati or his early 750 MV than any of his earlier classics. He consistently attends VOC rallies (he's an honorary member) and AMC meets, and corresponds regularly with former customers and Vincent owners the world over. And he's planning a restoration of a very special Vincent he found not so long ago -- his very first Series A Comet!