Monday, November 26, 2012

Vincent desperately tries to stay afloat, circa 1957

The Vincent Black Prince was a fully enclosed version of the Black Lightning; a last-ditch attempt to update Vincent styling as, by the mid-'50s, sales were flagging. Buyers were, largely, unimpressed. But the experience molding fiberglass for the fairing and bodywork was put to use in the Amanda Water Scooter.
In December of 1955, the last Vincent motorcycle came off the assembly line. But Vincent did not finally go into receivership for a few years. Between ’55 and ’59, the company made a several forlorn efforts to stay afloat. They bid on a contract to produce motors for aircraft target drones, but didn’t win it. And, they nearly created a whole new industry, the personal watercraft sector.

I say, they nearly created a whole new industry. They did sell the first personal watercraft -- the Amanda Water Scooter -- in 1957. That was about a decade before before Clayton Jacobsen II ‘invented’ the jet ski. With slightly different luck, the Vincent company, if not Vincent motorcycle production, would still be going strong.

Sorry I can't embed this video, but if you click here,
you can watch four '50s-era vixens throw a new Vincent into the river. 

I’m not sure who had the idea for the Amanda Water Scooter, but I think that it was brought to Vincent for manufacturing by a company about which I know nothing except a name: Aero Marine

Much of the development was carried out by Ted Davis, a Vincent employee who had served in the Royal Navy, and worked at General Motors’ marine division here in the U.S.

The Amanda had a fiberglass hull with sealed flotation chambers, rendering it virtually unsinkable. Early versions were powered by 75 or 100cc single-cylinder two-stroke motors that gave the scooter a top speed of 7 mph. Those motors were pulled from a stillborn Vincent lawnmower project(!) 

In spite of that very modest top speed -- which effectively made the Amanda a children’s toy -- Vincent shipped about 2,000 water scooters to the U.S. Europe, and Australia. However, Vincent had been working on more powerful marine twins since WWII, when Phil Irving designed a very innovative two-stroke ‘twinple’ (my term) for a parachute-dropped lifeboat.

Davis fit a two-stroke twin in the Amanda, which gave it a top speed of about 20 mph. That attracted the attention of the Arnolt Corporation here in the U.S., which ordered 5,000 of them.

Although there were some early production model problems, including engine heat that weakened the fiberglass ‘deck’, they were largely worked out in later models. The Amanda was equipped with a prop and not a 'jet', but it’s obvious that it was the first personal watercraft and that only bad luck prevented Vincent from having a successful second act in a whole new category.

Unfortunately, while Vincent’s Ted Davis was displaying the Amanda at the New York Boat Show, another Vincent employee drowned while testing an Amanda back in the U.K. The drowning story was picked up by the New York Times. The Amanda project was sunk and, a year or two later, the Vincent company finally went under.

Every now and then, an Amanda shows up on Craigslist. Just the other day, one came up for sale in Dallas.


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