Written By Teresa Greco
The award-winning documentary Speed is Expensive unveils the inside story of the motorcycle maverick, Philip Vincent, the brilliant mind behind the legendary bikes.
Actor and motorcycle enthusiast Ewan McGregor narrates the story of the most expensive buy in the history of motorcycles in Speed Is Expensive: Philip Vincent and the Million Dollar Motorcycle (2023). The acclaimed documentary, directed by David Lancaster, was released on DVD and digital on September 26. Back in 2018, the world of motorbike collectors changed forever when an Australian collector bought a Vincent Black Lightning for $1.2 million. But Speed is Expensive not only centers on this legendary purchase but the man behind the famous motorbike.
Speed is Expensive brings to the screen one of the most dramatic stories in automotive history – the rise and the fall of the Vincent motorcycle. These fast, revolutionary machines were produced by eccentric engineer Philip Vincent and his small team in war-ravaged England. Philip Conrad Vincent was a man in a rush – who walked away from his studies at Cambridge University to build his ground-breaking motorcycles at just 19 years old. The bikes took on the world – and often won – gaining more speed records than any other manufacturer during their brief production. In 1955, the firm claimed the ultimate prize: the outright world speed record of 185mph.
Yet, just months later, the company pulled out of the motorcycle market. The bikes’ creator, Philip Vincent, never designed another vehicle which would go into production. He died in 1979 – the family fortune exhausted pursuing his obsession with speed. “Speed is expensive,” he would say.
Today, high-profile riders such as Brad Pitt, Ryan Reynolds and Jay Leno revere the bikes. Racing models fetch $1 million at auctions and in private sales.
But Speed is Expensive is more than the story of automotive endeavour. It is also a detective story, a search for family secrets and identity. The film follows Philip Vincent-Day, the 26-year-old grandson of Philip Vincent who never met his grandfather, as he embarks on a journey looking for answers about his forebear’s amazing life and machines. The journey of discovery is transformed by a wonderful find of a rich colour and black-white collection of high-quality film footage shot by Philip Vincent himself, showing his private and professional life from the 1930s onwards.
The search for the untold story of Vincent took the film crew across the UK, and to France, Australia, Ireland and the USA. Hours of unearthed personal films and audio interviews join accounts from Vincent’s family and the men and women who worked with him to provide an intimate portrait of a flawed genius. Revealed is how Philip Vincent and his workforce built such revolutionary motorcycles and the secrets behind the bikes’ amazing performance. Director David Lancaster says: “It is wonderful to be able to bring the film to North America with Virgil Films. Over the past years we’ve crossed the globe, from the USA to Australia, to film the world’s most expensive, exciting and beautiful motorcycles and talk to Philip Vincent’s family and remaining colleagues in order to bring Vincent’s story to the screen.”
Vincent motorcycles were the bikes to beat in speed record attempts and sprints right up until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Riders such as Brian Chapman in the UK, and Jim Leineweber on the Barn Job in the USA, pushed the boundaries of terminal speeds and quarter-mile times.
Today, Philip Vincent is seen as nothing short of a genius… the man whose frame designs the Japanese would borrow years later; whose Black Shadow model remained the fastest motorcycle the public could buy right up until the early 1970s.
Ewan McGregor was selected to narrate this film as he “has ridden more miles on a bike than most, some of it captured onscreen in the Apple TV+ series ‘Long Way Up,’” says Lancaster. “Ewan loves classic bikes and knows his motorcycle history. We couldn’t have wished for a better narrator.” McGregor’s narration is joined by Vincent fans such as former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, and artist, musician and motorcyclist Paul Simonon of The Clash. The documentary also features the final interview with world champion on two and four wheels, John Surtees, who trained at Vincents. Jay Leno says of the film, “It looks great. I’ve never seen moving footage of Philip Vincent before and it really brings the story alive.”
Now, through a young man’s journey of personal discovery, the full story of the pioneer who changed motorcycling forever is told.