When I acquired 2751, it had fitted to it a very smart looking painted petrol tank that has been signed by John Surtees at an event in Japan (see pic in the ‘History’ section of this blog).
This tank looked splendid but as I dug into the original specification of 2751 I realised that the original tank would have been dull chromed as this was mentioned on the Works Order Form. Period shots of other Grey Flashes fitted with these exotically finished items exist:
Then, one day, I was communicating with David White, in NZ. David, a Vincent enthusiast and racer, knew of the myth of 2751 and had provided me with most of the period shots of it being raced by Len Perry. He mentioned in a June 2008 email: “I’ve been digging around trying to source a set of rear torque stays and I think I’ve managed to source a set from a gentleman named Ian Neilson who happens to own amongst other things a Grey Flash replica. Anyway, during our conversation, after I mentioned the reason why I was after some replacement stays, Ian reminded me that he has both the original petrol tank and seat unit off Len Perry’s Flash. The tank was modified by Len years ago but still has some dull chrome which sounds promising. Anyway, Ian may part with these items so best if you phone and speak to him directly.”
I procrastinated a while… Then in another email David mentioned: “Ian has told me that the tank was painted black and had filler over the welds when he purchased it and he had had it stripped to reveal the past dull plating and modifications.”
This sounded very intriguing but I didn’t hold out my hopes. I contacted Ian. The seat might have been fitted to 2751 at one time but it was not a Vincent item. The following pics of the tank were sent through:
Well, that does look like dull chromium plating but look at the state of it! And those welded-on extensions…
I had a bit of a think. I wanted the tank on the off chance that what Ian had told me was indeed true – but I knew there was a very high chance that this was some other tank from an unrelated machine. The modifications did look very old and the finish possibly period. I came to a deal with Ian whereby I swapped the Surtees-signed tank fitted to the bike for his rusty item – a direct swap. I paid the freight of shipping my tank to him from Japan to NZ and he agreed to cover the costs of sending his tank to EuroBrit MotorBikes in Melbourne, Australia. I remember packing up my perfectly good tank and wondering what the hell I was doing…
Then, one day, chum Franc, at EuroBrit called to tell me the tank had arrived. He unpacked it and I asked him to grind off the side extensions to see what lay underneath. This is what was revealed:
I felt that this was overwhelmingly convincing. The finish under the extensions was consistent with the finish visible on the areas not covered by them. And the finish looked period-correct and the extensions had obviously been welded on at a later date and didn’t feature the plating. The transfers were positioned correctly and had been damaged by the heat generated by the welding.
An approximation of correct transfer placement can be ascertained from this period shot:
When compared with this one:
What remained of the extensions was further trimmed.
In addition, the tank was of the correct pattern fitted to 2751 in period shots of the bike. But the biggest clue that the tank was what it was purported to be lay in the fact that only I, Bill Hoddinott and David Dunfey knew that 2751 had been fitted with a tank finished in a such a way. If anyone had wanted to enrich themselves by selling me a rusty old tank, and telling me that it was originally fitted to the bike, then it would have been highly unlikely that they would have known that it was not painted (as many Grey Flash tanks were). Only a very few people had any recollection of the details of the bike and Works Order Forms are closely guarded and only available to owners of genuine Vincent racing machines – to prevent counterfeiting. Obviously, I was elated my gamble had paid off and am dead certain that this is indeed the fuel tank that 2751 left The Works fitted with. I invite anyone to prove me otherwise! 😊
Note added 27.05.2020: During a recent phone conversation with “Mr. K” (the Vincent enthusiast that bought 2751 from Peter Johnson and brought it to Japan) he stated that, whilst attending the 1995 New Zealand Rally, he was approached by a man (most likely Ian Neilson) purporting to own the original tank from 2751 – Mr. K had made it known that he owned the Weston Webb Grey Flash. He (Mr. K) recalled that the man described the tank as “big type” (a reference to the welded on pannier extensions) and that although he was offered the part, he declined to purchase it as he was unable to corroborate whether it was genuine or not sight unseen.