July 5, 2022

The worldwide success of George Miller’s Mad Max first installment in 1979 meant loads for Aussies, younger and previous. Not solely did it show that we might punch above our weight when it got here to movement footage and storytelling and introduce the world to the brand new style of ‘automotive chase apocalypse’ films, nevertheless it was additionally an important car (pun totally supposed) in introducing the world to Aussie tradition; and what may very well be a extra necessary side of Antipodean society within the late ‘70s than the Aussie V8?

And whereas lots of my countrymen and girls would love to have the ability to let you know about how the film additionally featured some killer Aussie bikes alongside the now-famous Ford ‘final of the V8 interceptors’ Falcon XB, the unhappy reality of the matter is that every one you see within the film was wall-to-wall Kawasakis. So, why was Australia so adept at making vehicles and never bikes?

Spencer motorbike c.1906 earlier than restoration. {Photograph}: Paul Reed

The unhappy reality of the matter is a standard thread that has been woven all through Australian manufacturing from its very earliest days. Regardless of the multitude of desires Aussies needed to make vehicles and bikes domestically, the unavoidable reality of the matter is that the nation’s inhabitants is just not solely minuscule, nevertheless it’s additionally as far-off from the remainder of the world as you may get earlier than you begin getting nearer once more. The upshot is that every part you may have to import to make a car prices a bomb, and your possibilities of making up the prices you’d put on to get them down right here can’t be recouped with native gross sales as a result of there merely weren’t sufficient clients to purchase the bloody issues.

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Regardless of this harsh actuality, a handful of ‘by no means say die’ Aussies determined their yard sheds is also motorbike factories, and regardless of the palpable complaints of ‘the Misses,’ the historical past books present that between the flip of the century and the top of World Battle 2, greater than a dozen battlers gave it a pink sizzling go. Listed below are three of the perfect.

Spencer Bikes, Brisbane c. 1906

A 1906 Spencer motorcycle as it appears today
A restored Spencer motorbike because it seems at this time. {Photograph}: Penelope Clay

David Spencer was a Queensland mechanical engineer who was born in England in 1870. One way or the other discovering time in between fathering 9 youngsters, the person used his metalworking abilities developed by his job on the Australian railways to construct a bike in 1906 in his North Brisbane storage. And in a really Burt Munro-esque vogue, he determined that one of the best ways to check his automobiles was to race them.

A 1906 Spencer motorcycle as it appears today
{Photograph}: Penelope Clay

Making nearly each a part of his creations in his shed, his cedar and bronze patterns for engine and drivetrain castings survive to today and inform a narrative of an engineer who was supremely succesful. ‘Spencer’ branding throughout the bike’s varied levers and reservoirs. One of the best instance of his bikes is proven right here – a 475cc single with the encryption ‘No. 3’ on the engine. So impressed have been the native police by Spencer’s bikes that they reportedly requested he construct them 50 examples. Involved he wouldn’t be capable of ship on the order, he turned the provide down. However simply think about if he’d in some way handle to make the order a actuality? Possibly we’d be speaking about Holden, Ford, and Spencer a century later?

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Whiting Bikes, Melbourne c. 1914

 A 1914 Whiting motorcycle powered by a 494 cc JAP side-valve V-twin
A 1914 Whiting powered by a 494 cc JAP side-valve V-twin. {Photograph}: Penelope Clay

Predating Brough Bikes by a superb 4 years and clearly pushed by the identical ‘prime shelf’ motorcycling passions, Saville Whiting was an Australian on an engineering mission. With a deep understanding of the problems surrounding motorcycling’s nascent years, the Melbourne-based designer and engineer solved the problem of ‘arduous’ motorbike frames with a really four-wheeled answer; leaf springs.

An Australia Post commemorative stamp showing the 1919 Whiting 685cc V4 motorcycle
An Australia Submit commemorative stamp, displaying the 1919 Whiting 685cc V4 motorbike.

Satisfied of the concept’s price, he named the design ‘spring body’ and took the daring step of touring to Mom England in 1914 to promote the concept. And whereas the native newspapers have been smitten, naming the bike ‘the final phrase in luxurious’ for its journey consolation, the outbreak of World Battle I used to be additionally quashing Whiting’s plans for mass manufacturing. Returning to Melbourne, he soldiered on to supply three variations in complete, a Douglas-engined mule, a J.A.P.-engined second model, and an experimental air-cooled 685 cc V4 engined last swan tune in 1919, predating the British V4 Matchless Stirling of 1931 by a full 11 years.

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Waratah Bikes, Sydney c. 1911

A proud Waratah Motorcycle owner and his bike
A proud Waratch Motorbike proprietor and his bike. {Photograph}: Jonathan Carroll

Generally known as the most important and most profitable of all of the Australian motorbike makers, Waratah was based in 1911 and carried on till its post-war demise in 1951. Beginning off as importers, they stand in stark distinction to Spencer and Whiting of their strategy to the enterprise and manufacturing. Shunning the small, handmade strategy, they offered principally bikes assembled out of pre-existing frames and British engines. This modified to principally ‘badge engineering’ Norman and Excelsior bikes imported from England after World Battle II.

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Waratah Motorcycles employees and a new bike in Sydney, circa 1945. Photograph: Waratah Motorcycles
Waratah Bikes workers and a brand new bike in Sydney, circa 1945. {Photograph}: Waratah Bikes

Whereas little data stays on them, it’s clear they maintain the report for Australia’s longest-running and most profitable motorbike producer, promoting Waratah-badged bikes properly into the Fifties. And when you could also be tempted to downgrade them because of their lack of home-grown engineering chops, it’d pay to keep in mind that Holden was additionally began as an Australian-based ‘physique builder’ that used imported Basic Motors ‘knock down’ componentry and chassis to assemble vehicles domestically.

The irony is that the identical post-war increase in automotive gross sales that empowered the rise of the cafe racer tradition within the UK additionally noticed off the final of the bikes in Australia because the comfort, carrying capability, and moist climate safety of the tin tops skilled a wholesale shift to the four-wheelers from the Fifties onwards. But it surely’s attention-grabbing to notice that on many separate events, the nation was a hair’s breadth away from having its very personal Triumph or Harley-Davidson. However we are able to nonetheless dream, can’t we?