Barney Li, who for 15 years dreamed of reviving the Vincent brand, has died. Details are few at this time, but Li was touring with friends in Arizona this past weekend when he was involved in a single-bike crash.
Li, 62, was a self-made millionaire via his line of Eagle One car-care products, which he sold to industry giant Valvoline in 1998. He then devoted much of his time to resurrecting Vincent, the British company known for its fast V-Twins that had gone out of business in 1955. Li acquired the rights to the name and built an updated prototype using a minimally modernized version of the old 1000cc air-cooled Vincent motor. When that combo proved unsatisfactory, Li convinced Honda to sell him high-performance, liquid-cooled RC51 V-Twins. Designer James Parker—of RADD front end and Yamaha GTS1000 fame—was commissioned to come up with all-new models, and Roush Industries produced four prototypes that were rolled out to the press and investors in 2002.
“Vincents were always mythical motorcycles that exceeded anything else,” Li said. “Everyone knew about them and how fast they were. I want to extend that great and worthy legacy.”
Cycle World got exclusive rides on the sporty Black Lightning S and later the Black Eagle power-cruiser. We noted the controversy that using a Japanese engine in an American-designed neo-Vincent had created.
“It’s knocked vintage noses out of joint and lit up chatrooms all across the Internet,” we wrote in 2004. “So noted, but Li is not trying to resurrect your Uncle Albert’s Black Shadow. If that’s your cuppa, grab a Walneck’s, a magic marker and be prepared to part with $30-35 Large (now $50-60,000). The new Vincent, packing double the horsepower, with top-notch suspension and brakes and jewel-like build quality, will set you back between $20-25K.”
Unfortunately, an investment community soured by the failure of Excelsior-Henderson, then Indian, then Norton, passed on yet another retro start-up, so Li back-burnered Vincent for a while, biding his time. With the 90-degree RC51 motor now out of production, Li was most recently in talks with another company to provide air-cooled, narrower-angle Vees. He was turning up the heat once more.
Li was a friend and mentor to Kenny Dreer, who had his own difficulties resurrecting the Norton Commando.
“He was a very trusted friend and a loyal supporter of all of my efforts,” said Dreer. “I will miss him for sure. He was like my own Ben Franklin—wit and wisdom a phone call away. He would call me to discuss his never-ending love affair with Vincent; we discussed every aspect of that deal, from backlit handlebar switches to motors, frames, the look and feel of a Vincent, it was endless. His dream with Vincent, mine with Norton; we even tempted the British Motorcycle Gods by discussing a Norton-Vincent (or Vincent-Norton) Motorcycle Company more than once.”
Li is survived by his wife Elizabeth, sons Justin and Darren, daughter Nikki and brother Jerry. Cycle World passes along condolences to Li’s family and friends. As Dreer said in closing, “Barney touched many within the motorcycle community, and among those of us who knew him well, he will be remembered with great fondness. May he forever ride with the Gods of Speed, for riding was truly his passion.”