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.

See this rare Australian-made motorcycle as well as the locally produced 1906 Spencer, 1914 Whiting, 2009 Deus Ex Machina ‘The Drover’s Dog’, and the 2020 Savic C-Series to experience a whole new view of the motorcycle at ‘The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire’ showcasing 100 designs from 1871 until 2020 — only in Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) until 26 April 2021.

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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

Buy: ‘The Motorcycle’ publication

With over 320 pages and 400 colour illustrations, The Motorcycle: Design, Art, Desire showcases 100 superb examples of motorcycle design from the late 19th century to the present day and beyond to the technological innovations of the future. Beautifully illustrated with newly commissioned photography and archival ephemera, this visually arresting survey of the motorcycle’s influence in realms as diverse as film, fashion, sport, advertising, and technology will prove compulsive reading to design lovers and motorcycle fans alike. Available at the QAGOMA Store and online

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