Australian & NZ Motorcycles

Today in Motorcycle History

Tilbrook Motorcycles, Engines and Sidecars

A Brief History of the Marque

Rex Tilbrook of South Australia was well known for both his high-quality sidecars and for his motorcycles.

Like many an adventurous Australian motorcyclist, he yearned to join the hub of the motorcycle world and at the age of 18 sailed for England, arriving in 1933. The Brooklands community soon accepted him and he worked with Vickers and Hawker before opening a workshop in the area, specialising in tuned exhausts. He did very well until 1938, when a fire destroyed his workshop. With the future looking decidedly grim, he returned to Australia shortly before WWII broke out and spent the duration contributing to the war effort in a local factory which put his mechanical skills to good use.

At war's end he returned to his passion and was soon producing motorcycle accessories, and in 1947 built his first sidecars. That same year he also built his first motorcycle based on a Zundapp design, but with most parts including the engine castings, the frame and the forks built locally. It was far advanced from most of its rivals and handled well. Features included a massive fuel tank to better cope with the long distances which most Australians had to cover.

This 250cc machine was followed in 1950 by a road racer of 125cc, again of largely his own design and construction. The bikes and the team were presented at the track in splendid fashion, European style.

Rex Tilbrook designed a brand new engine for the purpose of winning the 1953 Bathurst race, a rotary-valve 125cc. It was, however, not a success and he returned to to a conventional two-stroke engine, achieving a 4th place in the 125 TT. The original twostroke 125 was taken to Phillip Island for the International GP in 1989 but was withdrawn before the race.

Rex continued in business for many years before, with his wife Dorothy, opening a restaurant in a seaside town which became quite successful.

A more detailed and decidedly more eloquent version of the Tilbrook tale by Jim Scaysbrook is available here: Remarkable Rex Tilbrook

    Tilbrook's racing bikes were good, but not good enough to win the Bathurst TT races run at Mount Panorama in NSW, a fast, exciting and very dangerous circuit with sections named Conrod Straight, Mountain Straight, and Skyline - so called because as you approached it that was all you saw before peeling hard right and down into the equally daunting Esses which today have a monument to mountain king Ronnie Toombs, who, it is said, on the day of his return to racing after a four year hiatus argued with his wife in the pits. She did not want him to run, and her last angry words to him were "Well go out and kill yourself then!"

    That was related to me by Bob Levy, a well-known racer and team manager of the day.

One of Herbie Durkin's Globe of Death bikes from 1950 - a short-wheelbase Tilbrook - fabricated special frame - South Australia.

The machine has a Villiers engine, probably a 250 or 350cc. The very short wheelbase is to cope with the curvature of the dome/globe. The frame was especially fabricated out of heavy tubing to cope with the stresses of the globe. The axles are up to 3/4 inch diameter (19mm) to avoid shearing off due to the centrifugal forces generated. The dent in the rear wheel cover is due to a circus lion riding the bike and falling off. He landed on the bike and squashed it!

Thanks to Doug Gordon for the great story and the image.

News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 - 1954), Wednesday 2 September 1953, page 2


Herbie Durkin's daredevil riding act in the "speedway cauldron of death," to be seen at the Show, is just as dangerous as it looks.

Those who think it easy should inspect Herbie's X-ray album - 21 fractures from his jawbone to his left little toe. Durkin, who lives at Bridgewater, is 45, and was a speedway star in the days of Paddy Dean, Tom Benstead, Billy Lamont, and the SA aces Jack Chapman, Frank Duckett, Dick Wise, Ned Kelly, and Arnold Hanson. A freak speedway accident 20 years ago cost him a broken neck, but it has since been the means of earning him a small fortune.

Lying in a hospital bed he dreamed up daredevil motor cycling "globe of death" acts for shows, and he made his dreams come true. He thought up the "cauldron of death" idea when he was recovering from a fractured spine two years ago. The actual cauldron was built at Stirling.

News (Adelaide, SA), Wednesday 2 September 1953
Trove NLA

Sources: Trove NLA, Doug Gordon

See also:

  • Tilbrook at Bikelinks
  • Wall of Death
  • Speedway and GrassTrack Archive

  • 22-Jun-21
    Obsidianaj at
    1965 R50/2 BMW
    Looking for a tilbrook sidecare for sale, thank
    Lonnie Williams

    Wed, 13 Sep 2017
    briancar at
    Tilbrook sidecars single sidecar approximate years 1950

    Where could I purchase suspension springs or other parts for my three Tilbrook sidecars ?
    Brian Cartwright
    Bunbury/Western Australia Australia.

    That's certainly a tough one. There was a chap making Dusting sidecars in Melbourne, and I think the name of the business is Melbourne Sidecars. If anyone has an answer, I imagine he will know them.

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