Chris Vincent has died| Phil Wain | TT and Roads
Chris Vincent, one of Britain’s most successful sidecar racers, passed away on Thursday at the age of 86.
Vincent is most fondly remembered for his win at the 1962 Isle of Man TT Races on his BSA outfit, breaking the BMW stranglehold in the process, but he was much more than that with five British Sidecar Championships to his name as well as being a formidable solo competitor.
Indeed, 1965 saw him win both the Sidecar and 50cc British Championships making him the first man ever to win British titles on two wheels and three. He also took two top 12 finishes in the solo races at the TT.
Born in Birmingham on 20th January 1935, Vincent left school at the age of 15 and immediately joined the BSA factory before joining Norton’s race shop in 1954. It was whilst working at Norton that Vincent met 1952 Sidecar World Champion Cyril Smith and his interest in sidecars was sewn.
He eventually returned to BSA as a bike-tester but his sidecar career, like many before him, started in speedway and on the grass, becoming National Sidecar Champion in the latter in 1958. He soon switched to the tarmac though with an early result coming on two wheels when he took seventh in the Thruxton 500-mile Endurance race in 1959.
His first foray to the Isle of Man came the following year but he failed to finish in both the 1960 and 1961 Sidecar races although he did score his first World Championship points in ’61 with fifth place at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium.
However, he had quickly established himself as a fearsome competitor on the short circuits, his speedway background allowing him to be particularly quick through the corners where he could drift the outfit and get the power on sooner, and he didn’t have to wait long for success on the Mountain Course.
Having taken third at Clermont Ferrand, France and sixth at Montjuich Park, Spain, Vincent came into the 1962 TT in good form although the race was expected to see the BMW outfits of Max Deubel/Emil Horner and Florian Camathias/Heinz Burkhardt dominate. Indeed, they slotted into first and second on the first lap but Vincent, with Eric Bliss in the chair, was holding onto third ahead of Colin Seeley.
Chris was promoted up the order to second when Camathias crashed at Kerromoar and when Deubel retired on the final lap he duly took over the lead, going on to win by 37s from another BMW outfit of Otto Kolle with Seeley in third. It was BSA’s first ever TT victory and the first all-British sidecar win for eight years.
The three Grand Prix results saw him finish fifth overall in the World Championship but the British scene tended to see his main focus over the next few years although he continued to make trips to the likes of Spa and Assen, Holland with second place taken at the latter in both 1964 and 1965. He also took eighth in the 1964 125 TT race.
With his trademark goatee beard, success also came at the Southern 100 before back-to-back British Championships were taken in 1964 and 1965, when he took fifth at the TT, firstly on his trusty BSA and then the inevitable switch to BMW power and he made history in 1965 when he also won the 50cc British Championship on a Suzuki.
The mid-1960s also saw Vincent pioneer a new sidecar design when he repositioned the BMW Rennsport engine so instead of the shaft driving the rear wheel, it would drive the front and sidecar wheels instead. However, the FIM soon outlawed the outfit.
The development took up a lot of Vincent’s time but sixth place was taken in the 1966 World Championship, with top six finishes taken at Clermont Ferrand, Hockenheim and Assen whilst he also took a career-best solo TT finish of eighth in the 1967 250cc Production TT race.
It wasn’t until 1969 that he took his third British Sidecar Championship, once more with his trusty BSA outfit, and the outcome was the same in both 1970 and 1971 as he dominated three-wheel proceedings and 1972 saw him make a surprising full-time assault on the World Championship, the opportunity to campaign the URS-Munch too good to turn down.
Helmut Fath had used his own design to win the 1968 World Championship and after taking a close second the following year, he handed the controls to Horst Owesle who, partnered by Brit Peter Rutterford, took the 1971 title.
Fath wanted a third title and, aged 37 at the time, Vincent knew it would represent his best chance of World Championship success but luck deserted the partnership in the first half of the season with DNFs at the first four rounds, including the TT.
It was only at round five of the eight-round Championship that Vincent scored his first points with second at Assen and although he ended the year strongly with victory at Imatra, Finland, second at Brno in the Czech Republic and fourth at Spa, the damage had been done at the beginning of the year and he had to settle for fourth overall.
Vincent and passenger Pete Casey were all set to go again in 1973 but Munch backer George Bell withdrew his financial support leaving Chris without machinery. He briefly campaigned one of the new Yamaha-engined outfits but he retired from racing in 1974.
After opening a motorcycle shop in Earl Shilton, Leicestershire, he nurtured the successful careers of his sons Max and Jason, the latter becoming 250cc British Champion, and continued ride in demonstration events and make regular appearances at Classic parades.