HomeNews and EventsHistoric Vincent Black Lightning stars at Bonhams’ Las Vegas motorcycle auction

Historic Vincent Black Lightning stars at Bonhams’ Las Vegas motorcycle auction


The auction action shifts north and slightly west from the Phoenix area next week as Bonhams and Mecum stage their annual motorcycle sales in Las Vegas. 

Last year at the Rio hotel and casino just west of The Strip, Bonhams boasted the highest price ever paid for a vintage motorcycle at auction, $929,000 for the 1951 Vincent Black Lightning on which Jack Ehret of Australia set a two-wheel land speed record in 1953.

Bonhams has another Black Lightning on the docket for its 2019 Las Vegas auction. This year it’s a 1959 that has been owned by only five people, most recently and for the past 50 years by Erich Hegeler, who restored the historic machine originally owned and raced by Hans Starkle. 

Bonhams, Historic Vincent Black Lightning stars at Bonhams’ Las Vegas motorcycle auction, ClassicCars.com Journal
1974 Munch Mammut is powered by an automobile engine

Also highlighting the Bonhams’ docket are a Munch Mammut, a collection of vintage motor scooters, and a Harley-Davidson barn-found by Wayne Carini of the Chasing Classic Cars television show.

•  The 1974 Munch Mammut (Mammut is German for Mammoth) “can rightfully lay claim to being the world’s first superbike,” Bonhams says. 

“Not content with the twin-cylinder motors powering most bikes of the day, (Friedl) Münch went to the automotive arena and plucked the engine from an NSU 1000 TT Prinz,” it adds. “In retrospect, this engine seems almost perfectly suited for motorcycle use. Four cylinders in line, 1,000cc, air-cooled, with a single overhead cam and a rugged five-main-bearing crankshaft. 

“The Münch-designed frame was a robust twin-cradle affair, obviously inspired by the stellar Norton Featherbed, best of the day. Two years before Honda’s blockbuster CB750, Münch produced the world’s first modern inline-four.”

Bonhams expects the bike to sell for $115,000 and $135,000 at auction.

•  The scooter collection includes nine machines, actually 10 counting the circa-1970 Cushman child’s car that pulls the circia-1946 Cushman “Husky” Model 53A scooter on a trailer. In addition to several Cushmans, the collection includes scooters by Mitsubishi, Heinkel, Tessy, Salsbury, Cezeta and Metrakit.

•  The Carini barn-find is a 1916 Harley-Davidson Model 16F that Bonhams expects to sell for between $80,000 and $100,000 in as-found condition.

Bonhams, Historic Vincent Black Lightning stars at Bonhams’ Las Vegas motorcycle auction, ClassicCars.com Journal
Wayne Carini’s barn-found 1916 Harley

The docket includes around 130 motorcycles which can be previewed January 23 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. with bidding beginning at 11 a.m. on January 24.

But the star is the Black Lightning, which Bonhams calls “the holy grail” and the “Ferrari GTO of two wheels.” 

Technically a 1949 Vincent 998ccBlack Lightning Series-B machine with frame RC3548 and engine F10AB/1C/x1648, Bonhams expects the bike to sell for $360,000 to $400,000 at the auction.

It notes in its catalog that Philip Vincent couldn’t afford a year-long motorcycle racing effort but realized that top-speed records also drew a lot of attention, and thus Rollie Free’s 1948 record speed run on a Series-B Vincent Black Shadow. Not only was the record set for the first time on a motorcycle that wasn’t supercharged, but Free exceeded 150 mph at Bonneville while positioned prone on the bike and wearing only swimming trunks and tennis shoes.

The Black Lightning was a production bike based on the Bonneville record-setter. It was equipped with a tachometer, alloy wheels, Elektron (magnesium alloy) brake plates and a quick-shift gearbox. 

Bonhams, Historic Vincent Black Lightning stars at Bonhams’ Las Vegas motorcycle auction, ClassicCars.com Journal
Back in the day: The Black Lightning and one of its owners

The Black Lightning on offer at the auction was produced in January 1949 — the second one produced — and that the order form shows it was produced with “HRD Brampton ’46 pattern forks’, Amal TT10 racing carburettors, alloy brake plates, Dural mudguards, ‘long s/car’ handlebars, ‘3 frame springs s/c’, gearbox with intermediate ratios, and 21″ front/20″ rear wheels.”

Further, “Show finish as far as possible” was specified, and to accommodate the 20-ionch rear wheel and racing tire, the longer of the two available rear frames was used, which was similar to the Vincent Black Lightning that was displayed at the Earls Court motor show in 1948.

Bonhams reports that RC3548, the second such bike produced (the Earls Court example was the first) was tested by Vincent works rider George Brown before its delivery to Starkle, who had ridden for the NSU works team, winning three European championships before World War II.

Starkle raced his new Vincent in the unlimited class with a sidecar attached, and fitted Series-C Girdraulick forks to deal with the added stress placed by having a sidecar attached. 

Starkle sold the bike in 1952 and the second owner, a Mr. Amrein of Basel, Switzerland, rode it to England to have it converted for road use, including lights, muffler, pillion seat, footrests, etc. Amrein sold the bike to a Mr. Duffner , of Weil am Rhein, Germany, in 1955. 

Another Weil am Rhein resident, a Mr. Kuttler, acquired the bike in 1961, disassembled the engine but never rebuilt it. Instead, in 1968 he sold the bike to Hegeler, who rebuilt the engine and between 1971 and 1999 rode approximately 30,000 miles before deciding to return the bike to its racing specification, a project begun in 2000 and completed in 2004.


Since then, the bike has participated in several non-competitive demonstration runs at various motorcycle events, and Bonhams says that never in its history has the machine sustained any damage.

Bonhams notes that “some deviations from factory specification have been made to make the Vincent more practical to use.” These include newly manufactured cylinder heads, smoother-running Bing 32mm carburetors, 19-inch wheels, a kick-starter and electronic ignition. However, the original parts are included in the sale. 

Bonhams also says that Hegeler has offered to share his advice on the bike’s maintenance with the next owner.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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