G.C.S motorcycles

One of the earliest posts in this was blog was about the stillborn “Aussi-Also” motorcycle, which was a failed attempt to manufacture an “Australian” motorcycle. This post is about the other end of the spectrum – the G.C.S., one of the more successful motorcycles manufactured in Australia in the first quarter of the 20th century.

The G.C.S was named after George Cyril Stillwell, who commenced his business career as George Stillwell & Co at 392 Post Office Place, Melbourne, Victoria in September 1912. In early 1913 Stillwell had moved to larger premises at 378 Lonsdale Street, and by the end of the year the first G.C.S motorcycle appeared. They featured Chater Lea frames and either J.A.P or Precision engines. After the initial advertising for the bikes, it appears that the J.A.P engine was preferred, although there was evidence of Precision and Blumfield engines also being used. The J.A.P engine was used by many motorcycle manufacturers in Australia during this period, so there were probably times when the demand for engines by manufacturers exceeded supply, so hence the need to find an alternative engine. The GCS was finished with a black frame and had a dark red petrol tank with gold lettering, and was a very handsome motorcycle.

Until December 1916 George Stillwell ran the business as a partnership with his father Walter, but when Walter retired Leslie Parry became the new partner in the business. The name of the company was changed to Stillwell & Parry, and in 1918 the firm moved premises again, this time to 307-311 Elizabeth Street, on the corner with Little Lonsdale Street. By this time, G.C.S has established a reputation as being in the upper class of Australian built motorcycles, being more expensive than most, though still enjoying good sales.

The G.C.S design had become more Australian as George started buying his frame components from A.G. Healing & Co from 1916 onwards. Healing & Co built frames between 1912 until and 1923, and supplied them to other manufacturers as either completed frames or individual components to be assembled. The G.C.S became well known for its “pong box” exhaust, which was a highly-polished copper silencer, with foot-operated cutout. Its delightful sound led to the name. Around 1918 the colour scheme changed to green and black. All enamelling and plating was done by outside firms, and in the early post-WW1 period, Healing & Co fully assembled some G.C.S bikes, as Stillwell & Parry were busy expanding their agencies for various British motorcycles.

Circa 1920 GCS powered by a 6hp J.A.P engine

J.A.P engines were difficult to obtain in the latter years of WW1, so De Luxe and MAG V-twins were used until a regular supply of J.A.P engines was guaranteed. A few MAG and Reading-Standard engines were used on occasion though. Sturmey Archer gearboxes were also in short supply, so many G.C.S motorcycles of the period used a fixed belt drive, or the use of Reading-Standard gearboxes. Buyers had the choice of 28 x 3 or 26 x 3 inch wheels and 2 or 3 gallon petrol tanks.

By 1920 the G.C.S was still the aristocrat of local makes, and was updated with a one-piece saddle-style petrol tank and the option of all chain drive with either Sturmey Archer or Burman gearboxes being used. The last batch of G.C.S motorcycles was built by Healing & Co in 1923, although the company built one-off bikes until 1926, if the prospective buyer pre-paid for the bike. Stillwell and Parry continued as a motorcycle dealer until 1941.

Only a handful of G.C.S motorcycles survive, and are highly sought after by collectors. A 1919 750cc V-twin sold for nearly AUS$75,00 at an auction at Las Vegas in 2011.

Restored 1919 GCS 750cc V-twin which sold for nearly $75,000 at auction at Las Vegas in 2011

The main source for this blog post was Robert Saward’s authoritative book “A-Z of Australian-Made Motorcycles: 1893-1942”, published by Turton & Armstrong in 1996.


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