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Speed is Expensive

By Ben Shehadi | February 12, 2024

Are you a motorcycle fan? Well, Speed is Expensive might be just for you! Directed and written by Lancaster David, it is a biographical documentary about a legendary motorcycle designer named Philip Vincent.

Vincent came from a wealthy upper-class British family who owned property in Argentina. Like many English colonial landowners, the family saw young Phil’s future in the motherland. So, he was sent to England to receive an elite private education. He was accepted at Harrow School, whose students are notorious for their arrogance and ambition. But his supreme self-confidence would lead the motorcycle mogul-to-be to his destiny.

At school, Phil cared little about his studies. Unorthodox by temperament, his life’s passion lay in the fast-paced world of motorcycles. “The quest for speed had become a global obsession,” the narrator explains. Inspired by his hero, Howard Davies, the teenage Vincent became obsessed with creating his motorbike. His brief time at Cambridge ended abruptly, and he devoted himself entirely to his motorized passion.

At the tender age of 19, Vincent became the world’s youngest manufacturer of motorcycles. Although lacking any real experience, the young man used his inherited fortunes to accomplish his larger-than-life dreams. While most of the Western world languished in poverty during the Great Depression, the well-to-do Vincent engaged Britain’s luxurious scene of dance halls, cafes, cocktail bars, and Parisian-style promenades. He forged the world’s most successful motorcycle partnership with Phil Irving, a maverick from Australia.

Vincent set up his factory in Stevenage, about thirty miles north of London but far from Britain’s industrial Midlands. This strange location became a blessing in disguise since it was far removed from Nazi Germany’s Blitz bombing campaigns. The charismatic Vincent recruited Britain’s finest talent to his mecca of motor manufacturing.

“…biographical overview of the legendary motorcycle designer Philip Vincent.”

From the 1920s to the 1940s, Britain’s motor market was dominated by the Brough Superior, dubbed the “Rolls Royce of Motorcycles.” Among its most famous riders was the real-life Lawrence of Arabia. By this time, Phil’s motorcycles were breaking world records. His personal life also flourished. He got romantically involved with his longtime secretary, who shared her lover’s passion for motorized mayhem.

Post-war Britain suffered from supply shortages. Everything from food to petrol had to be rationed. So Vincent was instead attracted to the booming economy and vibrant motor scene of the United States. Working with legendary racer Roland “Rollie” Free and bike enthusiast John Edgar, Vincent rolled out his iconic Black Lightning motorcycle. He followed this up with another ultra-success, the Black Shadow. It revolutionized the motor industry with a staggering speed of 125 miles per hour.

But by the 1950s, Vincent faced stiff competition from a new generation of motor manufacturers, who geared their products toward a younger demographic. Today’s associations with motorcycles were formed: leather jackets, hot girls riding on the back, all to the soundtrack of rock ‘n roll music. Vincent’s brand fell out of favor, getting a bad reputation as an old man’s junky bike. But Phil totally remade his bikes. The new machines were outfitted with rotary engines and ceramics. Vincent’s new designs became his most classic bike to date.

Well-edited and produced, Speed is Expensive meticulously documents Vincent’s extraordinary life of innovation through interviews with the man’s family, friends, and workers. Stylistically, it possesses the textured quality of vintage film. It cuts well between its plethora of live footage, still photos, and in-person interviews. While hardly as unconventional as Phil Vincent himself, Speed is Expensive is a thoroughly researched and watchable documentary about one of the modern world’s most gifted motor manufacturers.

Speed is Expensive (2023)

Directed and Written: Lancaster David

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jay Leno, Paul Simonon, John Surtees, etc.

Movie score: 6/10

Speed is Expensive Image

"…meticulously documents Vincent’s extraordinary life of innovation..."

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