The last Australian Tilbrook motorcycle


Engineer Rex Tilbrook (1915-77) first built an all-Australian motorcycle in 1947, and from his Adelaide factory from 1950, the first production roadsters were sold, identified by oversized fuel tanks to cover the distances typically travelled in Australia, after originally producing a range of motorcycle components and accessories, as well as the Tilbrook classic sidecar to suit a range of motorcycles, including his own.

The 1956 Tilbrook prototype — the last Tilbrook to be built — departed significantly from the models that preceded it, with the most striking feature the all-enclosing bodywork which covered the petrol tank and carried the seat.

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Tilbrook prototype 1956

The 1956 Tilbrook prototype was the last road motorcycle Australian engineer Rex Tilbrook made, and was presented at the Royal Adelaide Show of that year. It is distinguishable from other Tilbrooks due to its striking bodywork covering the fuel tank and hidden toolbox compartment. Unfortunately, by the 1950s the Australian motorcycle trade had significantly declined, so the 1956 prototype never made it to production. This is the only surviving example of this groundbreaking Australian design.


Tilbrook Prototype 1956 / Collection of Dennis Martin, Owner – Paul Martin / Photographs: Brayden Mann


Country: Australia
8 hp

Engine: 197 cc two-stroke Villiers single
Designer: Rex Tilbrook
Production: 1947-56

Interesting facts

  • The first Tilbrook motorcycle was built live, in front of an audience, at the 1947 Royal Adelaide Show over the course of 54 days.
  • The 1956 prototype on display is the last of 55 complete road machines built.
  • Due to Australia’s geographic isolation, motorcycle design and manufacturing has been particularly innovative with more than 200 motorcycle brands in Australia since the late 1800s. Many of these companies began with a founder looking to create their own ‘ideal’ bike, meaning that few ever saw significant production numbers and were often made with a mix of imported parts.
The Tilbrook crew and the ‘No.1’ motorcycle they built from scratch at the Adelaide Show in 1947 / ‘Rex worked hard to fulfill engineering dream’ Victor Harbour Times (SA: 1932-86) Friday 10 May 1985 / Image courtesy: Trove, National Library Australia

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  1. A real thrill to see Rex Tilbrook getting a good mention here! Though his year of departure was more like late 1987 I recall. Last time I saw him was early 1987 at my Uncle’s funeral in Adelaide. Keith Frearson worked for Rex some 30 years as fitter and turner, metal fabricator and other talents. He is pictured in the photo seated on the left with Rex’s hand on his shoulder. As Keith told me, his prosthetic leg was giving him ‘buggery’ from standing over the bench, building that motorcycle for those weeks at the Adelaide Show, all hand fabricated!
    I worked for Rex in the early 1980’s at Whalers Haven, Victor Harbour, restoring old farm machinery and indeed some of his old motorcycles, setting up sidecars for his customers and listening intently to his stories and gleaning advice on the old engineering ‘arts’.
    Old Keith was a quiet achiever but he taught me many tricks of his trades during that time, which I went on to utilise in my endevours in the motor sport industry, mainly rally cars!