Grey Flash 2751

The history and restoration of a Vincent HRD Grey Flash

When I acquired 2751 it was fitted with a BT-H BKH1 magneto.

Nearly all Grey Flashes were fitted with BT-H TT magnetos so I knew this was not correct to the bike. Also, the retard fitting was for the opposite rotation. I wasn’t expecting to be able to find a BT-H TT magneto very easily but I started making enquiries and keeping my eyes open.

Then, in conversations with David Dunfey and Bill Hoddinott, the following detail was brought to my attention:

The Works Order Form mentioned that the magneto was actually a Lucas.

David and Bill surmised that this could mean that 2751 possibly left The Works fitted with a Lucas K1FTT racing magneto… Now it is known that of the total production of around 30-odd complete Grey Flashes 24 were fitted with BT-H units, 5 had the Works Order Forms left blank and only 2 mentioned the fitment of Lucas magnetos…

The Lucas K1FTT magneto is a mythical device that only a very few people knew about and even fewer had actually ever seen. The Lucas KVFTT racing magneto, as fitted to the Black Lightning, is a legend in its own right but more widely known about. Larger numbers of KVFTTs were manufactured (somewhere between 50 – 75 units) and they sometimes come onto the open market and change hands for large sums. But the single cylinder K1FTT is a true rarity worthy of the much abused “unicorn” epithet. No one knows how many were made but is possible that as few as 10 units may have been produced.

Lucas racing magnetos were manufactured in a dedicated facility and the fully assembled units were shipped to a laboratory for careful testing before being sent out to suppliers and customers. Each unit passed by the laboratory had a number with an ‘LT’ prefix stamped into the body. Bill Hoddinott wrote about this special laboratory and the various Lucas products tested there in his illuminating BLACK LIGHTNING/GREY FLASH column for the Vincent Owners Club magazine, MPH (MPH 743).

Well, now I knew that it was highly likely that 2751 had left The Works fitted with this very special item but (i) I needed hard evidence and (ii) I needed to try and acquire one, for no matter how carefully 2751 was restored it would always be a disappointment to tell people that the bike had once been fitted with an extremely rare racing magneto… The odds of me achieving either of the above two requirements seemed utterly and completely remote.

My quest for information and parts continued and then I made contact with David White in New Zealand. David is mentioned in the ‘History’ portion of the blog and later the ‘Fuel Tank’ section. It was thanks to David that I was made aware of period shots of 2751 racing and it was David that later introduced me to Ian Neilson, who had the original petrol tank in his possession and agreed to swap it for the one on the bike. Well, this part of the story concerns the period photographs that David sent me copies of. Several were fantastic atmospheric shots but one image was an absolutely cracker… It featured Len Perry at considerable speed, his face a study of concentration. The rear forks appear to be quite loaded to the point that the tyre is deformed by the forces at work. Len appears to have hit the bottom of a dip and is banking left with three fingers on the clutch lever. By any standards this was a beautifully evocative shot of man and machine in harmony and right on-the-limit. The New Zealand sun behind him, perfectly illuminated every detail of the drive-side of the bike and it was pin-sharp. And there, plain to see and crisply recorded was the magneto!

‘LV Perry 1952 Hamilton 100’
Gotcha!

I immediately forwarded the photo to Bill Hoddinott and David Dunfey and was told that the magneto was like nothing they had ever seen before and thus highly likely to be one of the mythical K1FTTs. I was elated and now had the proof that I needed. How to go about finding an example let alone acquiring one – the second task seemed impossible…

Then, one day I was sifting through various Vincent-related sites on the ‘Net and came across something regarding Lucas K1FTT magnetos – I think it was on thevincent.com. It was just a mention about the fact that there apparently was such a device made and a name was included. This was a name that I was familiar with and it mentioned that the man supposedly had in his possession a K1FTT! I made an enquiry through a mutual contact and was able to confirm that the man in question did indeed own a genuine K1FTT, still had it and knew precisely what it was and how rare it was. My friend suggested that I call him…

I had met this gentleman once before when the mutual friend and I visited his house. We’d been shown some of his rare Vincents and I’d enjoyed a cup of tea and some of his mother’s homemade cake in their kitchen whilst I listened to him talk about the marque – he was very knowledgeable. I called him and we spoke at length about the K1FTT. Yes, he did have a complete unit that he’d bought some years previously. He really didn’t want to part with it, at any cost though… Before we hung up he did hint that he might consider parting with it if I could prove 2751 had originally been fitted with one of these rare magnetos. This sounded promising, so I emailed him the above shot of Len Perry and waited for a response… Some days later the mutual friend contacted me and informed me that he (the man in question) would like to meet with me during my next trip back to the UK.

Several months later, in November 2008, I called him from my parent’s house in Suffolk. He lived some 3 hours away but kindly agreed to travel across to me and rendezvous in Bury St Edmunds. He told me that he would bring the magneto with him and instructed me to bring my chequebook! We met in a car park and adjourned to a nearby café. The magneto was laid on the table, wrapped in a cloth. I carefully unwrapped it and there it was……..a complete and very original looking Lucas K1FTT…

A figure was mentioned and I spent the good part of an hour trying to negotiate him down to no avail… Then he told me that even if I offered him 1p less than what he was asking he wouldn’t accept it! And fair play to him, I mean, he’d graciously agreed to part with something I desperately needed and was never likely to be offered again. I immediately conceded and wrote him the cheque!

Here is what I bought:

Still showing plenty of the original grey painted finish, the Elektron magnesium body in fine condition.
K1FTT 8 49 (August 1949)
The number with the LT prefix is the laboratory testing number.

I brought the K1FTT back to Japan with me and sent photos through to David and Bill – it was a triumphant moment.

The next issue though was who to get to overhaul this rare magneto for me… I ran it past several respected enterprises and though they were keen to do the work I wasn’t instilled with enough confidence to make a decision.

Then in 2012 Bill Hoddinott interviewed Barry Basset of Coventry for an article that was published in MPH, the club magazine. Barry had worked for BT-H, knew the intricacies of magnetos on a molecular level and, though retired, still worked from home rebuilding mag’s when asked to. I thought that Barry would be the ideal man to undertake the renovation of the K1FTT, so I ran it past Bill and he agreed with me. Bill and Barry were good friends and I knew Barry realised the significance of what I would be asking him to work on. I packed it up and had it delivered to Barry by courier in November of 2012.

The rebuild was written-up in detail for an article in MPH, appearing in MPH 775 of August 2013.

Upon disassembly, all the parts made from Elektron were found to be in good condition: the main body, end plate and contact breaker cover.

The contact breaker cover.

As mentioned previously, it was stamped ‘8 49’, meaning that it had been manufactured in August 1949. We know that 2751 had left The Works in November 1949, so the date of manufacture fitted the timeline perfectly.

The disassembled K1FTT.

The armature was found to be of the universal variety fitted to all K1F, K2F and KVF models. No one-piece Monel drive spindle end cap was present – this special corrosion resistant alloy was employed in later Lucas racing magnetos. As the armature was unserviceable and didn’t differ in any way from reconditioned armatures that Barry held in stock, it was replaced outright.

One modification was performed to the magneto body: a small amount of material was relieved where the oil seal seats to enable a modern garter-spring oil seal to be fitted. This mod’ was undertaken to prevent oil ingress due to the pulsating pressure in the crankcase that invariably causes the early-type oil seals to fail. This work was carried out on the recommendation of Barry and with the agreement of Bill.

A good area of original grey paint was discovered under the brass plaque:

This was computer-matched by a paint shop and the body was etch primed, given an undercoat and then a topcoat.

The clip-fitting contact breaker cover was of the same type as used on very early KVFTT units. It was cleaned and left as-is rather than risking having it re-chromed. In addition the chromed end cap was crimped onto the Elektron breaker cover and would have been impossible to remove without damaging both parts.

The magneto was reassembled, magnetised fully and tested. I collected it from Barry in May 2013.

The directional arrow and Lucas script cast into the body were left in plain grey and not in-filled with red paint. No traces of different coloured paint were found prior to restoration.

A very satisfactory conclusion to a rather long tale involving much detective work and a lot of serendipity. Certainly, fitting this magneto and re-uniting the original tank to the bike will be a momentous occasion and one that I look forward to with great anticipation.

5 thoughts on “The Magneto

  1. peter johnson says:

    Good work, Humph. Delighted to finally see pics of this rare spark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. humphsmith says:

      Yeah, bit of a yarn but a massive stroke of good fortune!

      Like

  2. Conleth says:

    I particularly like the almost “fairy story” framing of the bargaining ultimatum…not for one penny less!

    Like

    1. humphsmith says:

      It’s funny because he sat there drinking his tea and nodding, for the best part of an hour whilst I pleaded my case for a price reduction, before informing me of that!

      Like

  3. Somer says:

    Only issue I’ve seen with early KVF-TT magnetos is erosion around armature bearings.

    Liked by 1 person

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