Friday, January 29, 2010


A friend on the Veteran Motorcycles Forum suggested a look at this fascinating home-built 'Planet' motorcycle; fully a 1500cc OHV from 1916! It is claimed the machine would do 85mph, which sound tremendous, given the poor state of the roads at that early date. Here is what the Melbourne Museum says about it's most interesting exhibit:

"This hand-made motor cycle was built by John Oliver who ran a motor car and motor cycle repair business in Melbourne. Oliver was born at Talbot in central Victoria in 1872 and served an apprenticeship to a wheelwright before becoming involved in the cycle business initially in New Zealand and then in Melbourne. In the early 1900s he established the Planet Cycle Works in High Street Kew. where he built bicycles using frames he brazed together himself. By 1909 the business had transformed into a motor car repair shop situated on the corner of High and Peel Streets, Kew. Oliver had previously built a number of motor cycles under the 'Planet' and 'Planet Aero' brand-names. John Oliver often referred to this one-off machine as 'The Big Bike'. It was built between 1913 and 1916.

Oliver's plans for this motor cycle were drawn up on brown paper after "arriving home one evening a little the worse for an afternoon at the local hostelery" according to his son Monty. John Oliver made the wooden pattern for the engine mouldings and castings were obtained from Chas Ruwolt's foundry in Victoria Street, Richmond and then machined on Oliver's own workshop lathe, including turning the cooling fins. The motor cycle has a large 1497 c.c. capacity V-twin cylinder engine and a single-speed transmission with a lever operated clutch. Originally it was capable of a top speed of 85 m.p.h (140 km/h). The original carburettor was a Zenith later replaced by a Schebler. The original wheels were replaced around 1938 with a pair of conventional second-hand motorcycle wheels. John Oliver died in 1949 and the Planet was left dismantled in storage. John Oliver's sons, Allen and John (Monty) Oliver decided to reassemble the machine around 1980. One replacement magneto was purchased and a non-original S.U carburettor was fitted at this time. After Allen's death, Monty Oliver donated the Planet to the Museum in 1987.


Anonymous said...

Hi Paul
your weblog is brilliant, and I believe you are one of the luckiest men on the planet, to have built a life where you can be around vintage machines...

YJH said...

Charles, don't we all wish having beautiful vintages bikes around us would be enough to keep us LUCKPY (lucky+happy)_Yes, M. d'Orléans is an extra-ordinary writer and a real searcher_thank you Paul and I am asking again : how can your readers support your work_can you organize a kind of Gentlemen (and Ladies) club "The Vintagents" ie "the friends of PDO" with an annual participation_it is not normal that printed press brings income and not your work which is superior in terms of content to all kind of "printed information"_Yves

Anonymous said...

Great site, Paul. Most enjoyable.

Don O'Reilly said...

let's see if I got this right....
1916, 1500cc, 85mph., drawn up on a paper bag, (after a few pints) then built, by one man. In 1916.
Is it just me, or is there something completely Australian about it all?

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
I have to say that the blog has really been quite extraordinary for the last several weeks (if not more). As a scholar--of much more than motorcycle lore--I find it amazing that you can research so thoroughly and "publish" so professionally, along with everything else that you are doing. A very high standard, indeed.

At the moment I'm reading proofs for an article I did on _The Damned_ (Joseph Losey) and _The Leather Boys_ (Sidney Furie). Accepted in 2005, finally being published in 2010. So much for scholarly publication in the digital age.



James J. Ward
Professor of History
Director, Honors Program
Cedar Crest College