South Aussie Surprise
Peterborough Motorcycle & Antique Museum
Peterborough is one of those towns that’s a little off the beaten track, but it has a big surprise for any motorcyclist with a little time to spare.
If you start thinking about the locations of great motorcycle collections, you might consider places such as the Midlands in the UK with the National Motorcycle Museum, or Alabama in the USA and its Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Peterborough in South Australia? Not so much.
It’s about 250km north of Adelaide and you wouldn’t really have much need to ride though. That is unless you were cutting across on your way back from Alice Springs and were heading for Broken Hill or Mildura.
However, once you make it past the town’s entrance that’s dominated by the railway history you start to spot some motorcycle influence. Such as the bike-themed café or the pub with a motorcycle hanging off its front verandah.
Keep your eyes peeled, and a little way down the street you’ll see a mechanic’s window decorated with a giant poster of a circa 1918 Favourite – a short-lived marque from that very place.
Tucked around a corner is the Peterborough Motorcycle Museum which, though not as vast as the international star sites, has an incredible quirky collection that’s well worth a visit.
Owner Ian Spooner and his wife retired to the town, bought a former church building and devoted it to worship of a different nature.
“We had about 20-30 bikes,” he explains, “And the wife and I decided we’d like to do a museum. In 2009 we quit work and moved up here. We’ve bought a lot more since then and keep adding to the collection.”
For Ian, the whole motorcycle thing may have been inevitable. “My dad had bikes and I suppose that’s where it came from.
He freely admits to never selling anything, pointing to the nearby Laverda Jota as an example. “When I bought it 33 years ago, I couldn’t afford a new battery, so I used to push-start it every morning to go to work!” Presumably he must have been pretty fit? “Silly,” he responds, “Young and silly.”
The real impact of his work is however the deeply eclectic tastes represented by his collection, something of which he’s rightly proud. “When we decided on the museum, we were hunting for bikes that were unusual, names that people hadn’t heard of,” says Ian.
He points to one example, a 1968 Flandria Mistral. Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it, as it’s a fairly obscure and now defunct brand. The little 50cc powerhouse was built in Belgium, ran a four-speed transmission and was good for a claimed 80km/h.
Then there’s the Casal, a more utilitarian 50cc bike, hailing from Portugal.
Look around the main room, and you soon realise this is a treasure trove of obscurity. There are several examples from France, such as the elegant and purposeful-looking Gitane Testi, a 1972 creation with a 50cc powerplant and five-speed transmission that was supposedly good for a dizzying 90km/h.
Then there’s the wonderfully-named British Wolf Vixen from 1933, a 148cc twin-port two-stroke.
Walter won a 250 and three 350cc world titles during the 1970s and clearly saw this as a great stepping-stone for a career in motorcycle manufacture. Sadly, the enterprise didn’t last, though you have to love the looks of the liquid-cooled 125 two-stroke single with its monoshock rear end. Speaking of big names, there is a Maserati race bike in residence – an incredibly delicate-looking creation from 1959.
If one-off engineering is more your thing, look for the red Benelli tucked in among some larger Italian brethren. This is a one-off working replica of an incredibly high-tech 1939 race bike which ran a 250 inline-four liquid-cooled engine that was supercharged. It was built over a period of 15 years by a former nautical engineer who chose to use a Yamaha engine as his starting point.
We mustn’t forget the machine that holds pride of place, which is the locally-produced Favourite with its 770cc JAP V-twin. These were built in tiny numbers – approximately 50 – around 1914 to 1921 and were sold out of the Smith Brothers Garage which also served as the local bicycle shop. This example was discovered in Iowa, USA, in 2013 and repatriated. It’s thought to be one of just five survivors.
Though a long way from being the biggest or most grand collection on the planet, Ian’s effort is enough to get your head spinning with machinery most of us have never heard of or clapped eyes on.
So what’s next for the museum? Waving towards another room of machines that aren’t yet ready for display, he says, “I’m at the stage now where I’m concentrating on doing up what I’ve already got.” Let’s wish him luck.
The museum currently lists 62 motorcycles on display and charges a modest $7.00 for entry. It’s located on 59 Kitchener St, Peterborough, tel 0429 031 403. It’s wise to check in advance that it will be open.