Though the bicycle trade was the original business of Finlay Brothers, motorcycles grew to become the lifeblood of the company.
Possibly, Finlay Brothers' change in focus from bicycles to motorcycles simply mirrored the widespread transition of other bicycle works of the era - making a natural progression in introducing motorcycles to ensure commercial viability. In fact, it has been suggested that as early as 1904 Finlay Brothers were making "Barb motorcycles", and by 1909 were attaching GEM 1 3/4 horsepower engines to their Barb bicycles and using a friction drive against the front wheel to achieve motor-driven cycling.1
However it may also be interesting to speculate whether ideas brought home by the younger of the brothers, Bob Finlay - fresh from the American motorpace scene2 (possibly around 1910-1915) - may have also been of influence in the company's decision making regarding motorcycles. Bob Finlay went on to be prominent in Victorian motorcycle racing as well as motorpacing, riding motorcycle brands sold by Finlay Brothers.
Finlay Brothers were agents for many motorcycle brands during the lifetime of the business, but most well known as the Victorian agents for B.S.A. motorcycles. Motorcycles were shipped from overseas and assembled at the Finlay Brothers' workshop. Servicing, repairs, sales, spare parts supply, motorcycle accessory sales, and dealing with the orders from country agencies were all handled onsite. They also sold secondhand motorcycles, and therefore dealt with a large number of different brands, many of which would have been received as trade-ins on new motorcycles.
A snapshot of the Finlay Brothers' motorcycle advertising over their years of business yields some fascinating insights:
One of the early motorcycle brands sold by Finlay Brothers were James motorcycles – made by a British motorcycle company. A 1915 advertisement for Finlay Brothers reads:
THE JAMES MOTOR-CYCLE
Brochure from a private family collection
This machine is the most perfect side-car model ever produced.
It is manufactured in England specially for Australian roads.
Call in and see these wonderful machines. It costs you nothing
to have a trial run, which will be sufficient to induce you to invest.
Write for catalogue. ‘Phone 4749 Cent.
FINLAY BROS., sole agents, 322 and 324 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.” 3
Excelsior motorcycles also made an appearance quite early for Finlay Brothers, with a 1915 advertisement describing:
- “A. – QUITE A COMMON OCCURRENCE FOR AN “EXCELSIOR”
To do 15,000 and show no signs of wear in the engine. Why?
Because the lubrication system is perfect – a most essential
feature to the life of any machine.
Call and inspect the many other perfect details that go to make
up the world-famous machine.
FINLAY BROS., Sole Agents, 322 Elizabeth street, Melbourne.” 4
Before long, Finlay Brothers were vigorously promoting their "Floater” sidecar. This product was an early move into the field of patented inventions by the company, and was marketed on claims that it had a superior design and suspension, resulting in increased passenger comfort and less strain on the motorbike.5 A model called the "Floatette" also made an appearance. Advertising in 1918 stated:
- “…SIDECAR FACTS
IN THE “FLOATER” CHASSIS
THE LIABILITY OF AXLE
BREAKAGE IS OBVIATED.
The Stub Axle in the ordinary Sidecar Chassis is supported
at one end only. This is the direct cause of the large number
of breakages which occur at the point where the axle is
brazed to the chassis.
In the “Floater” Chassis the Hinged Wheel Cradle Design
permits of the hub axle being securely anchored at both sides.
The sidecar wheel is held in position in exactly the same way
as a motor-cycle wheel is held in position between the forks,
with the result that axle breakage is unheard of in the case of “Floater” Sidecars.
The correctness of principle shown in this phase of sidecar
construction is typical of the “Floater” Sidecar as a whole, and,
no matter what motorcycle you elect to buy, you should
INSIST UPON GETTING THE “FLOATER” SIDECAR.
Your Trader CAN supply you, but if he does not stock it
apply to FINLAY BROS., 322-324 Elizabeth St.,
“Floater” Patentees and Proprietors.”6
With the addition of B.S.A. motorcycles in their sales range, Finlay Brothers made claim of Excelsior Motorcycles being - “America’s best” -, B.S.A.’s being - “Britain’s best” -, and the Floater sidecar being - “The World’s best”.7
Brochure from a private family collection
Acquiring the Victorian B.S.A. motorcycle agency must have been of great commercial significance for Finlay Brothers, and was to see them through the instability of both the Great Depression and World War II. The agency had previously been held by the Milledge Brothers firm.
B.S.A. motorcycles became the most prominent of the Finlay Brothers range of motorcycles, being made by the Birmingham Small Arm’s company in Britain. A very early advertisement in 1920 suggested in simple terms:
- “B.S.A. MOTOR-CYCLES
This medium-powered machine, of remarkably simple design
and construction, is built for both Solo and Sidecar work.
It is the ideal Motor-cycle for the country motor-cyclist,
who lives many miles from a garage, as the B.S.A. wants
practically no skilled attention to keep it in good order.
Cash or terms arranged.
FINLAY BROS., 322-4 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.”8
Henderson motorcycles were also advertised by Finlay Brothers in 1922:
- “HENDERSON DE LUX MOTOR-CYCLE,
THE FOREMOST FOUR,
Holds the world’s new 24 hour, 1000 mile, Transcontinental ,
and Endurance Championships.
If it is a long-distance record worth having – IT’S HENDERSON’S
8 to 80 M.P.H. ON HIGH.
Immediate deliveries. Full particulars, terms,
FINLAY BROS., 322-4 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.”9
By 1923, Finlay Brothers were also advertising the sale of fuel from a roadside bowser. In retrospect this seems like an obvious move for a company with involvement in both motorcycles and cars, plus other small engine products:
- “PETROL, 2/9 gal., kerb Bowser. Get the habit.
“Fill at Finlay’s,” 322-4 Eliz. St., Melb.”10
1930 saw the firm referring to their premises as “B.S.A. House”.11 Regardless of the prominence of the B.S.A. brand, it is interesting to note that Finlay Brothers continued to hold agencies for multiple motorcycle brands, and in fact in 1933 a newspaper article announced that Finlay Brothers had taken over the agency for Royal Enfield motorcycles fromFindlay and O’Connor of Swanston Street.12
- "Royal Enfield Now Finds a New Home
Royal Enfield riders and prospective owners will
be glad of the news that this machine is being
elaborately catered for by Finlay Brothers. A full
range of all Royal Enfield models is on view.
The range for this year is a remarkable one, as it
extends from £39/19/6 up to £130. All motor
cyclists are invited to inspect the complete range of
We would particularly like to get in touch with
present Enfield riders with the object of catering for
spare parts requirements.
Write for full details of the new Enfields to
FINLAY BROS. MOTORCYCLES PTY. LTD.
322 Elizabeth St., Melb. Phone, Cent. 4748."13
The advertisement above also listed Finlay Brothers as holding the agency for Panther motorcycles. Acme14 and Sunbeam15 motorcycles were also advertised in the late 1940's, as well as a re-appearance of James motorcycle advertising.16
Brochure from a private family collection
In keeping with a commercial ethos of providing a complete service for the motorcyclist, Finlay Brothers sold a comprehensive range of accessories and riding apparel. In 1931, clothing included such items as berets, sports caps, riding trousers and riding boots,17 and in 1945 leather jackets, fleecy-lined jackets and many other items were available.18
Finlay Brothers were also a part of the motorcycle racing, record setting, long distance trialling and motorpacing scene in Victoria. Race wins - of motorcycle brands sold by Finlay Brothers - were used in subseqent advertising, with family members Bob and Alex Finlay notably successful in motorsports.
The business was taken over in 1961, after a lifetime of bicycle and motorcycle sales. Many of the motorcycle makes listed in this section are well known to contemporary collectors of vintage models and it is great to hear of many still in working order.
Welcome to this section of the website, and please feel free to explore further some of the menu options listed in the upper left of this screen. We hope to add substantially to this section over the next few months.
Leather motorcycle jacket sold by
1. Robert Saward, A-Z of Australian made motorcycles 1893-1942 (Sydney: Turton and Armstrong Pty Ltd, 1996), 7-8.
2. The Mail (Adelaide, S.A.: 1912-1954), June 19, 1915, 21.
3. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), February 27, 1915, 3.
4. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), May 3, 1915, 2.
5. The Mail (Adelaide, S.A.: 1912-1954), December 7, 1918, 13.
6. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), November 23, 1918, 10.
7. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), July 27, 1920, 5.
8. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), November 27, 1920, 25.
9. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), October 25, 1922, 3.
10. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), February 10, 1923, 21.
11. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), October 22, 1930, 3.
12. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), November 7, 1933, 15.
13. Australian Cycling and Motor Cycling, January 11, 1934, 36.
14. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), August 8, 1946, 14.
15. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), September 26, 1949, 7s.
16. See note 14 above.
17. Finlay Bros. Motor Cycles Pty. Ltd., Floatette News (Melbourne: J. Roy Stevens, 1931 and reprinted by B.S.A Motorcycle Owners Association Inc. in 2003), 6, 9 & 10.
18. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), August, 11, 1945, 21.