Our British friend David Lancaster, journalist and great connoisseur of Vincent Motorcycles brought back from Germany this amazing report in exclusivity for Southsiders.
Hidden treasures in a small town in Germany
By David Lancaster
When British espionage writer John Le Carré entitled his 1968 novel A Small Town in Germany, he was describing Bonn, hometown of Konrad Adenauer, Chancellor of West Germany after World War II. Chosen by him to be the unlikely capital of the nation in 1949, Bonn became a byword for post-war conformity: ‘Even the flies are official,’ Le Carré writes, in this ‘waiting house for Berlin’.
Yet behind the ordered driveways, manicured lawns and flower boxes of Germany’s small towns, can lie hidden gems. In Niederwetz, near Wetzlar, lies the world’s only museum devoted to Vincents. There's a few Vincent collections - but this is a museum, open by appointment.
Schloss Vincent is the work of over 50 years of collecting, riding and restoring by owner Kurt Schupp, aided by his friend and associate Manfred Kinne. In addition to the major, and some of the ultra rare models to issue from Stevenage, it also boasts a beguiling section recreating the office Philip Vincent worked from at his Stevenage factory. Command and control of the small firm.
The genesis of the collection lies in Kurt’s sighting of two Vincents at a late 1950s Elephant Rally (a snow-bound festival, held in deepest winter, in deepest Germany). He was smitten, but Vincents were rare in Germany. Then in 1960, he heard of perhaps the rarest of them all, for sale, in Berlin: a Black Lightning, the stock 140mph race version of the Black Shadow. He recalls approaching his bank for a loan: ‘”For that money,” they told me, “you can buy a car.” But I didn’t want a car – I wanted a Vincent!’ And there began a 50-odd year love affair with the marque.
Across the engagingly cramped museum, there is a wealth of bikes, including a Grey Flash, the Black Lightning, Comets, Shadows, Rapides, and two very beautiful Egli-Vincents. One is the well-known twin engine model, now re-manufactured with Egli’s blessing by Frenchman Patrick Godet (www.godet-motorcycles.com); the other, a rare 500cc model.
Kurt and Manfred got a tip about a frame or two being ‘possibly for sale’ by Egli, and motored to Switzerland that week to make the purchase. A 500cc Egli-Vincent is the last Vincent to enter a FIM Grand Prix - practicing, and qualifying well for the 1971 Isle of Mann Senior TT, but not competing due to weather delays. Builder was UK Egli-Vincent importer, builder and tuner Roger Slater, rider was Ron Wittich.
A disassembled Rapide is wall mounted along the showrooms and corridors - nut, bolt, spark plug, bearing, engine case and cycle part. A smattering of ice-speedway machines are on show, too. There’s NSUs, another favoured marque of Kurt’s. Some of his first memories are of being driven in the family sidecar – his father ran a motorcycle shop - to major post-war German race meetings, at which the NSUs were dominant. By the 1950s he was riding a 250 NSU on the road, and smitten with fast motorcycles.
Kurt and Manfred Kinne met in the 70s - ‘He could speak better English than me, so I thought he’d be useful with British bikes’, says Kurt – and the collection continued to grow. Both were instrumental in creating a golden period (there’s always one, isn’t there?) for the museum. From the mid 70s to early 90s, Schloss Vincent played host to regular German Vincent Owners Club German rallies. This was before prices for Vincents rocketed out of many people’s reach, and perhaps a more eccentric, egalitarian ownership profile prevailed.
Key Vincent personnel such as Phil Vincent’s widow Elfreda, factory manager and author Paul Richardson, and chief designer Phil Irving, were not only alive and well – but often at the German rallies held in the grounds of Schloss Vincent. A thriving local motorcycle scene would mean British moto-tourists finding themselves sharing a beer with one or two of the above, joined by luminaries such as multi-world sidecar champions Klaus Enders and passenger Ralf Engelhard and eccentric bike builder Friedel Munch. In other words, the kind of scene you really only appreciate years after it’s past.
If the bikes are impressive, it is the ‘office’ in the museum that really beguiles. The typewriter, wall charts, pictures, drawing board, works drawings and a host of other paraphernalia are either original Stevenage stock or Vincent’s personal items. A map pin-points the company’s impressive roster of European agents. A 1928 sketch of the proposed ‘Southport’ model, shows Phillip Vincent’s V-twin plans pre-dating the 1930s. Most charming of all is the lovingly re-created snow-capped painting of the view of Stevenage High Street, as seen from Vincent’s office desk.
Le Carré said: ‘A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world…’ Maybe. But for Philip Vincent, for a few years parallel with the Cold War Le Carré chronicles, his bikes were the fastest, most revered and most expensive on offer. And his desk must have been a rather fine place from which to view the world.
Words and Pictures © David Lancaster, 2012
Open by appointment
Phone: +49 6445 5402
Fax: +49 6445 7890
Alan Lancaster on his Black Prince, about to leave a German VOC rally, late 1970s