Black and white image of men riding old Spencer motorcycles

Spencer motorcycle

The Spencer motorcycle embodies the well-known saying that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In a partnership with the Historical Motor Cycle Club of Queensland, an assortment of parts from the museum’s collection have been used to recreate a motorcycle of national significance.

David Spencer is credited with making the first Queensland-made motorcycle, most likely the first to be wholly made in Australia. After making his first engine in 1903 at the Ipswich Railway Workshops, it is believed he produced at least ten motorcycles between 1905 and 1910.

In the early days of motorcycling most Australian manufacturers assembled parts supplied from overseas. Not David Spencer. He made his own cedar and bronze patterns for the casting of engine and frame components. He even stamped his name onto many of these.

Volunteers standing around Spencer motorcycle during its recreation

Volunteers from the Historical Motor Cycle Club of Queensland, Ian Rennie, Doug Jolliffe and Dave Dettmar working on the Spencer in 2022. Image: Queensland Museum, Phil Manning.

Between 2020 and early 2023 the museum worked with a group of volunteers from the Historical Motor Cycle Club of Queensland on the Spencer Project. The volunteers applied their knowledge and experience of veteran motorcycles to breathe new life into an assortment of original Spencer parts to create a bike that could have been wheeled out of David Spencer’s workshop in 1906.

A selection of spare parts, tools and one partially complete motorcycle had languished in Spencer’s backyard workshop in Milton for three decades after his death. Two members of the Historical Motor Cycle Club of Queensland - Paul Reed and Dave Dettmar – bought the items from the Spencer Family Estate in 1986. The loose parts were later donated to the museum by Dave.

Loose parts used in recreating the spencer laid out on the ground

Some of the museum’s loose parts used in recreating the Spencer motorcycle. Image: Queensland Museum, Jennifer High.

In 2019 the Historical Motor Cycle Club of Queensland approached Queensland Museum with a proposal to use the parts donated by Dave Dettmar and recreate a Spencer as part of the club’s 50th anniversary in 2020.

An agreement was reached where the parts would be released to the club and, where possible, as many original parts from the collection were to be used. The project volunteers assessed the museum’s parts for suitability, identifying what was usable and what was missing.

  • Only one original handlebar grip was in the collection. A replica was lathed by Gerry Jolliffe and Dave Dettmar spun the ferrules (the brass fastening ring). The new grip was stained a different colour to visually distinguish it from the original.
  • The assortment of original brake parts were in a mixed condition. The usable parts provided the patterns to fabricate the additional, required components.
Close up of original handlebar grip for a spencer motorcycle

The original handlebars and handlebar grip. Image: Ben Ashmole.

It became apparent early in the project that the parts did not come from a single motorcycle. It appears that David Spencer may have kept them to use as spare parts for his motor engineering business.

  • The rear wheel rim in the collection was too small for the frame used in the Spencer Project. The new wheel rims were based on the design of the collection item and spun by Steve Hood in his Kingaroy Workshop.
Man using machine to spin a new wheel for Spencer motorcycle

Steve Hood spinning a new Spencer wheel rim. Image: Queensland Museum, Jennifer High.

After hundreds of hours of work the Spencer was completed, made from a combination of original Spencer parts, sourced period parts and fabricated components. The completed Spencer was formally presented to Queensland Museum by the Historical Motor Cycle Club of Queensland on 24 March 2023. In attendance were fourteen descendants of David Spencer.

Four grandchildren of David Spencer behind the recreated Spencer motorcycle

Four of David Spencer’s grandchildren – Jim Stewart, Alice Charity, Paul Spencer and Lyle Grey – with the recreated Spencer. Image: Queensland Museum, Peter Waddington.

The Spencer Project highlights that museum collections do not just preserve significant records of the past – static and lifeless things on shelves. They remain entangled with contemporary life and are powerful tools that can inspire, enlighten and connect.

Spencer specifications

Engine: 382cc, Single-cylinder, Four-stroke
Bore/stroke: 77 x 82 mm
Transmission: Direct belt-drive, from adjustable engine pulley
Power: Rated at 2.5 HP
Fuel capacity: 3.83 litres
Oil capacity: 0.65 litres
Wheels: 24 inches x 2 ¼ inches (60.96 cm x 5.715 cm)
Weight: 57 kilograms
Top speed: Approximately 72.5 kms/hr (45 miles/hr)
Ignition: Bosch DA2 magneto, pedal start
Brakes: Mechanical rim brakes, front wheel only

Recreated Spencer motorcycle

Spencer Motorcycle, c. 1906-2023. H49412 Queensland Museum Collection. Image: Queensland Museum, Peter Waddington.


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