Finlay Brothers history site

Preserving the bicycle and
motorcycle heritage of
Finlay Brothers, Elizabeth St
Melbourne, 1900-1961.
Motorcycle promotions - keeping a high profile for the business
Motorcycle promotions - keeping a high profile for the business

Finlay Brothers were just one of the numerous dealerships within Melbourne’s motorcycle precinct.

Standing out from their competitors and keeping sales volumes up must have been constant themes within the business. A diversity of promotional events were run by the firm over the years, including fuel consumption trials, speed/time trials, lifestyle promotional events, competitions, motorcycle show displays, sponsorship of leading riders, etc.

Yet the challenges, and the competitors, were both dynamic and evolving - from their earliest attempts to gain a foothold in the industry, to securing the dealerships of major motorcycle makes and surviving the economies of the depression and wartime rationing, to the later challenges of the rise of the motor car and the impact of emerging Japanese motorcycle makes on the established British motorcycle industry.

The following photographs illustrate just a few of the events that took place:

The 1931 "Sydney-Melbourne all-powers sidecar record" ride by Alex Finlay and Fred Armfield:

Riding a 4.93h.p. O.H.V. 2-port B.S.A. with Floatette sidecar, Alex Finlay and Fred Armfield were thought to have set a new record time during this trip.  This bettered the previous record by 55 minutes.1

Alex Finlay later wrote that they had left Sydney on a Friday morning at about 6am, and took a route with stops at Goulburn, Yass, Gundagai, Albury and Seymour.  They arrived at the Post Office in Melbourne at 6.36pm.

They encountered a section of roud between Gundagai and Holbrook in which the road was damaged from recent rains, resulting in difficult driving conditions and continual wetting of the driver and passenger.

It was during this section that a "near thing" - as it was later termed - occurred.  Alex Finlay wrote:

"With our throttle wide open and everything going along fine, we suddenly came across one of those deep washaways which were so treacherous.  This one did not give us time to pull up.  We hit it before we knew where we were, and in the twinkling of an eye we were at least three feet in the air, both machine and riders. 

Whilst in this position the machine slew to the right and looked like coming down on the sidecar, and then heading straight for the fence.  So great was the impact that the passenger was thrown absolutely clear of the sidecar, and only the little wooden support that holds the top of the body enabled him to get his toes into it to stop him from being thrown entirely out of the outfit.

On hitting the ground a struggle took place as to who was going to take the initiative, the machine or the rider, but fortunately it ended up in us having complete control of the outfit and feeling very glad that those breathless seconds were over."2

Alex Finlay concluded with the comment:

"In order that a record like this is made possible, it depends upon two very important factors.  Firstly, the machine, second the passenger, and in this instance I was lucky enough to have the best in both."3

Source: The Brisbane Courier (Queensland: 1864-1933): October 22, 1931, 8.

The start of a c1948 timed trial of a 250cc C11 B.S.A.:

Time, speed and fuel consumption trials were frequently used by Finlay Brothers, to demonstrate the capacity of motorcycles being sold.

The following photograph and advertisement appear to be from the same trip in around 1948, when a 250cc O.H.V. C11 B.S.A. was ridden with two people on board (combined weight 24 stone), from Melbourne, through Bairnsdale, Omeo, Harrietville, Myrtleford, Wangaratta and return to Melbourne, including covering rough terrain in the Victorian Alps. 

The 525 miles were covered in 19 3/4 hours, including stops for meals.

Advertising signage in the upper background of the photograph suggests the 1950 B.S.A. models were already in the industry's sights.

An employee of Finlay Brothers has commented on the era: "the window sign announcing the imminent arrival of the 1950 models including the new vertical twin. 1950 was seen as ushering in a new era in motorcycle design as indeed it did..."4

Photograph by Sutcliffe Pty Ltd - Illustrative Photographers. 
Courtesy of the Kennedy family.

Private family collection

Loan of a 250cc B.S.A. to a Miss Victoria aspirant:

It appears that the same B.S.A (though in a newer state), that was used in the trip over the Victorian alps above, was also loaned to a Miss Victoria aspirant.  Again, not many details are known about this photograph, though the gentleman to the right - with his hand on the motorcycle - was a longterm Sales Manager with Finlay Brothers, and the gentleman in the centre of the scene is thought to be Alex Finlay.

Photograph by Sutcliffe Pty Ltd - Illustrative Photographers.
Courtesy of the Kennedy family.

A 1951 competition celebrating the building of the 50,000th B.S.A. Bantam:

Finlay Brothers marked  B.S.A.'s building of the 50,000th Bantam with a competition in which new purchasers would go into a draw to win another Bantam. 

The first photograph below the newspaper advertisement (see below), shows a number of people from within the motorcycle industry as well as Finlay Brothers staff - presumably with the actual 50,000th B.S.A. Bantam that had been on display in the Finlay Brothers' showroom.  The second photograph shows the winner of the competition being congratulated.

The caption from this 1951 newspaper advertisement in The Argus reads:

"The 50,000th B.S.A. Bantam is here.

We are proud of the fact that the 50,000th B.S.A. Bantam has been built - and we are displaying it in our Showrooms. So we are GIVING a Bantam away to mark another fine achievement by Britain in its post war recovery.  The B.S.A. Bantam has won its top placing in popularity throughout the world on sheer merit.  It's unequalled specifications, and high quality workmanship give every rider outstanding Economy, Performance and Reliability.  There are nearly 3,000 B.S.A. Bantams in Victoria alone.

Anyone who takes delivery of a B.S.A. Bantam between 31st August and 30th November (both dates inclusive), irrespective of WHETHER IT IS BOUGHT FOR CASH OR ON TERMS, will be eligible to compete."5

Source: The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), September 6, 1951, 6.

Photograph by Frank Zaetta.  Courtesy of the Kennedy family.

Photograph by Frank Zaetta.  Courtesy of the Kennedy family.



Finlay Brothers as Flag Runners during Melbourne's 1956 Olympics:

 Keith Gales - an employee at Finlay Brothers from 1948 until 1960 - has recalled the business's involvement in the Olympic Games held in Melbourne in 1956:

 "During the Olympic games Finlay's were made the flag runners.  Because of the shortage of flags we had the job when the flag raising ceremony on the Dias was on, to take the flags of the appropriate country to the venue where-ever it was. 

We were based in the Scoreboard of the Melbourne Cricket Ground.  Naturally I'd never been in the scoreboard before, it was enormous. 

I only had one trip myself, it was to the Velodrome.  The Duke of Edinburgh was there at the time, when I got to the gate riding a [motorcycle] and sidecar they didn't want to let me in and the whole flag raising ceremony was held up for about half an hour until it was all sorted.  But when I got in there I had to go out into the middle of the arena with the flags and no-one told me to leave so I was able to stay and watch the cycling for a while."6




1.  Finlay Brothers, "Sydney-Melbourne", Floatette News, December, 1931, p5.  Reproduced by the B.S.A. Motorcycle Owners Association Inc. in 2003.

2.  Finlay Brothers, "Sydney to Melbourne in 12 Hours 36 Mins.", Floatette News, December, 1931, p 3-4.  Reproduced by the B.S.A. Motorcycle Owners Association Inc. in 2003.

3.  Ibid.

4.  Brian Lanyon, personal communication, May 11, 2013.

5. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic: 1848-1956), September 6, 1951, 6.

6.  Keith Gales, Unpublished memoirs (2010), p 15 of Chapter 2.