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'Barn-find' White Shadow triples its low estimate at auction

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Barn-find mania is showing no signs of slowing, and to reconfirm it applies equally to two-wheeled machines as it does four-wheeled machines, Bonhams saw a rare 1949 Vincent-HRD 998cc White Shadow Series-C motorcycle triple its low estimate at the Spring Stafford Sale days ago.

Large and pricey motorcycles for their day, Philip Vincent’s machines focused as much on industry-leading performance — a Series-B Black Shadow was billed as the “world’s fastest production motorcycle” in 1948 — as on craftsmanship and looks. Everything on these big V-twin bikes was substantial, a little overengineered and built to last. In the lean post-war years the Vincents tended to cost twice as much as their competitors, but effectively delivered twice the performance, with the Black Shadows capable of reaching speeds in excess of 120 mph. Finding a place to hit those speeds safely was a different matter then as it is now.

Most motorcycle enthusiasts know that the name Black Shadow comes from the black-painted engine casings — most of the approximately 1,700 motorcycles left the factory this way. Most, but not all. About 16 examples kept the unpainted aluminum finish of the V-twin engine casings, and were dubbed White Shadows.

The Black Shadows and White Shadows were some of the fastest and most expensive motorcycles of their day, Photo by Bonhams

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The example sold by Bonhams had been with the seller since 1973, and spent the last 40 odd years in storage. The auction house states the motorcycle has one previous recorded owner, and that the cycle was last used in 1976. Said to be an all-numbers-matching example, the motorcycle appeared complete and ready for a restoration when it was finally rolled out of storage.

Bonhams estimated this White Shadow to bring between £50,000 and £60,000 ($64,000 to $77,000) on auction day, but the cycle ended up selling for £163,900 (US $212,070). The unexpectedly-strong result is understandable: There are just a handful of the original 16 White Shadows left, and they don’t come up for sale all that often. The fact this example spent the last 40 years in storage added a bit of time-capsule mystique, with its well-preserved visual condition helping as well.

1949 Vincent-HRD White Shadow engine

Only about 16 White Shadows were said to have been built, and just a handful survive. Photo by Bonhams

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In such condition, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it treated to a strictly-mechanical restoration that preserves as much of the existing bike as possible.

“The highlight of the sale, the Vincent White Shadow, proves that barn-find machines remain as desirable as ever,” said James Stensel, Head of Bonhams Motorcycle Department. “The percentage of lots sold reflects continued buyer confidence. Bidding was brisk throughout the sale, pushing values well beyond the pre-sale auction estimates.”


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