The very rare Australian-made Spencer
Most bike people haven’t heard of David Spencer’s motorcycle creations of the early 1900s, but the Motorlife Museum in Kembla Grange, NSW, is host to one of them.
The Museum’s exhibit is one of only two surviving Spencers and only 10 to 12 were ever produced. it’s a credit to this man’s engineering expertise that any of them survived, given that there would have been no spare parts for these machines, so they continued to function by being extremely well-made in the first place.
Most early motorcycle brands were based on bought-in components – engines, gearboxes, carburettors and electrical equipment, in particular. However, David Spencer must have known what today’s politicians have failed to grasp: Australia is a long way from anywhere else and needs to be self-sufficient.
Probably for that reason and also because he could, he designed and made his own major engine components: firstly, making cedar patterns and then casting and machining crankcases and heads himself. He made his own control levers and carburettors, and bought-in only Bosch magnetos from overseas.
David Spencer was modest about his achievements, so the name ‘Spencer’ needs to be searched for: small stampings on some parts and the name cast into the crankcase.
His bikes were good performers and he won several gold medals at track races, hill climbs and road trials, on his 2-2.75hp bikes, between 1907 and 1910.
There were two engine sizes in the model lineup and this bike is powered by the larger, 475cc, single-cylinder, side-valve engine, with inlet and exhaust valves operated by a camshaft. Earlier Spencer engines had ‘atmospheric’ inlet valves.
(It’s an interesting side-track that atmospheric valves in early engines weren’t called ‘suction’ valves, because it was really the ambient atmospheric pressure – 14.5psi at sea level – that forced the valve open, when the downward movement of the piston created lower than atmospheric pressure in the cylinder.)
Drive is single-geared by a rubber belt to a large pulley on the rear wheel.
This Spencer bike has rigid forks and a long brake lever under the handlebars that forces a rubber block onto the wheel rim, a la bicycle brakes.
This bike was held by the Spencer family until 1986, when it was purchased by Queensland bike restorer, Paul Reed, who undertook a complete restoration.
Years later, Paul Reed sought an owner, who would preserve the bike for posterity and ensure it didn’t leave our shores, The Motorlife Museum was chosen for this task and the Spencer is exhibited courtesy of the Paul Butler Collection.