Back in 1965 a Swiss engineer named Fritz Egli bought a Vincent Rapide in order to go racing. Hill climbs were popular in Europe, but were nothing like the American version, which involved scrabbling up steep dirt slopes. The European race would take place on very twisty paved roads going to the tops of mountains, rather like our Pikes Peak run. And Switzerland has lots of mountains to race up.
In the early ’60s Egli, then around 25, had gotten a scholarship to study in California, and on weekends took to racing Ariel singles in the desert. He was well aware of chassis problems on motorcycles, and while a frame might be suitable for ordinary use, when seriously stressed could prove to be inadequate.
After getting back to Switzerland he bought a well-used Rapide because of the engine—and it was cheap. The Brits often referred to them as “bikes for old men,” since the technology was essentially out of the 1930s, and resale value was low, a couple of hundred dollars. Now all Vincents are extremely expensive.
The company, Vincent Engineers (Stevenage) Ltd., had been out of business since 1955, after Philip Vincent announced that his machines were expensive to build and consumers were not willing to pay the true cost. However, the big engines, a 998cc OHV V-twin like the one in the Rapide, were still popular among performance enthusiasts 10 years on.
Egli loved the power, but found the chassis sadly lacking when used in competition. Or if moving extremely fast along public roads. When highly stressed the spine-type frame, such that it was, would wiggle, and the engineer decided to find out how to improve upon it.
There was nothing conventional about the minimalist frame, with both the front end and the swingarm bolted to the engine. Vincent had used a square spine running under the gas tank from the steering head to above the swingarm pivot, where things got a bit complicated.
The 50-degree V-twin served as a stressed member, both cylinders being bolted to the hollow spine, which doubled as the oil tank. The weak point was the subframe, vaguely triangulated, the two under-saddle shock absorbers angling back from the spine to the top of the triangle, their bottoms attached to the swingarm pivot which was attached to the crankcase.
A slightly curved section running roughly along the fender line made up the third piece of this cantilevered suspension system. A good many nuts and bolts kept all of it together.
The essentially frameless wheelbase was a mere 56 inches, the same as on a BSA 350 single, and gave the bike the ability to change direction quickly, useful on the winding British roads. Contemporary reviewers pretty much liked the handling, saying it had the power of a TT machine and the agility of a 500, but did allow for its shortcomings.
The stock Rapide engine put out some 45 horsepower, but talented tuners could get that up near 100. Roadracing was not the Vincent’s forte, but land-speed records and drag racing—sprinting in Brit terms—were popular.
Egli would solve those handling problems. Dismantling his Rapide he realized there were too many fasteners in the chassis, so he would stiffen it up by welding, not bolting, all the sections together. And use straight pieces, as he felt that anything curved was not as strong.
He made the spine round, about 4.5 inches in diameter, still holding the six pints of oil. Then he chucked the under-saddle shocks and built a pair of triangular subframes, using very straight one-inch tubes welded together, and a pair of shock absorbers running from the back of the triangles down to the swingarm.
He bolted on a front fork from a racing Matchless G45—and in 1968 won the Swiss Hill Climb Championship. His Vincent also won it for the next three years, although he was not in the saddle but his chosen rider was.
Now he was in the business of finding Vincent engines to put in his frame, and finishing it off using an array of mostly Italian components…good products, and Italy was conveniently close. Parts like Ceriani and Paioli forks and shocks, Borrani rims, Dell’Orto carburetors, and Campagnolo and Grimeca brakes were readily available. Traditionalists might request Girling shocks, Amal carbs and the like, but the performance-minded appreciated the latest gadgetry, like the nine-inch, four-leading-shoe front brake.
He built about 100 of these Egli-Vincents, though no precise number exists. The engine might be in a different state of tune, and all the aftermarket bits could depend on the buyer’s request—or even what was available. But the nickel-plated subframe was always the same, with beautiful brazing beads at the three intersections, a work of industrial art.
Finding Vincent engines was not much of a problem, but when Honda’s CB750 came out, Egli realized that making a frame for this bike would be more profitable than working with the old British unit. In 1969 he gave Roger Slater, an English businessman and motorcycle racer of some note, the right to build Vincents using Egli-made frames.
This bike in the photo has a 1970 Egli frame and a 1948 Vincent engine, still with “HRD” on the timing case; that would change to “VINCENT” in 1950. Howard R. Davis was the man whose motorcycle company Philip Vincent bought in 1928.
Rather than that big five-inch, 150-mph speedometer seen on many Vincents, Slater put a standard three-inch Smith’s speedo and tachometer over the headlight. Egli built his last Vincent frame in 1972, but people like Slater kept the design going.
Remember, when built this was OHV technology meeting the onslaught of overhead camshaft multis. This particular bike was built nearly half a century ago, and gives the owner great pleasure, even greater since he recently installed a discreet Alton electric starter.