A tale of two JAPs

This article was published in the Newsletter of the Antique Motorcycle Club of Australia a few years ago:

The two c1920 Healing-built JAP-engined motorcycles in the shed might add a little to the Healing story as told by Rob Saward and Warren Hicks in recent editions of the newsletter.

Both bikes were acquired in large lumps ( I somehow seem to miss out on the wipe-it-over-with-an-oily-rag ones!) although with many small parts missing. One characteristic of both bikes however is the presence of the frame number stamped on all the frame parts. Nothing escapes: the rear stand, carrier, the four engine plates, frame diamond, top and bottom rear chain stays, front fork blades, steering head stem and even the mount for the two central springs on the heavyweight Druids are emblazoned with the large, ornate Healing number stamps.

The Blue Bird pretty much as it came (the handlebars, carb and magneto were also with it..) Blue Bird, before restoration

Healing number 2757 is a direct drive (run and jump) 6 HP (770 cc) JAP twin with engine number 8/69710. When acquired in 1984, it was substantially complete but as it had been in the hands of an enthusiast for many years (since the 1940s?) it is possible that a few odd parts had crept in to the pile. The long, domed front mudguard for example looks similar to other Healing guards of the period but the mounting holes seemed about half an inch out of line. Nevertheless, with all matching numbers as well as the right "look" it seems likely that the bike is largely original. The black saddle tank (Edwards Brothers number 3704) had gold pinstripes and the name "Blue Bird" in yellow script between blue panels. Since the tank was clearly professionally painted and there was no sign of an earlier finish, in all probability the bike, although manufactured by Healings, began life as a Blue Bird. I wonder if any reader has knowledge of a bike shop selling Blue Bird bicycles in the 1920s? Perhaps in the Geelong area? Another clue to the history of the bike is the name "Stanley Long" scratched in the bottom of the tank. Does this ring any bells?

Healing number 2860 is very similar to the Blue Bird, except that it has chain-cum-belt transmission. Or it least it did. The bike was retrieved from the Blinman area in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia in the late 1960s, but unfortunately a number of parts were missing. Both wheels, most of the front forks, front guard, most of the small parts, as well as all the gearbox internals could not be located, but the remains have a story to tell.

The engine is also a 6 HP JAP, but it is numbered 8/69070/EXL making it earlier than the engine in the Blue Bird despite the later frame number. Both engines seem to date from around 1918. I wonder how large a stock of engines Healings held at this time? It is interesting that even a large manufacturer like Royal Enfield used JAP engines which were as much as 2000 numbers out of sequence in the veteran years! The Edwards Brothers saddle tank is numbered EB 3942 and is almost identical to the one on the Blue Bird. When I acquired the bike it was purported to be a Swastika (in much the same way as all locally-made JAP-engined bikes in Victoria are GCSs), but examining the rusty tank revealed a diamond-shaped transfer and, with imagination, the name "*****ESS". Almost certainly 2860 is one of the bikes Rob describes in his article: retailed outside of Victoria under the Peerless name by Healings, probably through their Adelaide agency.

There are a couple of features of the Peerless which warrant comment. Although the front forks are missing, the head stem and one of the fork links survive. These are not from heavyweight Druids as fitted to the Blue Bird, but seem to be similar to the Peerless forks fitted to other Healing products although heavier. Has anyone sighted a pair of these "heavyweight" Peerless forks? They are similar in design to Druids of the period, but use round tubes front and rear. Also recovered with the bike was the gearbox shell, which surprisingly is Burman rather than the more common Sturmey Archer. From the shape of the rear chain stays it is clear that the final drive is by belt. Interestingly, a GCS catalogue dating from around 1921 offers "Sturmey Archer chain and belt or Burman all chain drive", but makes no mention of a Burman chain-cum-belt option.

One more comment on finding Healing frame numbers. Although all parts are numbered (at least on my bikes and other Healing bits and pieces I have collected) The location of the numbers is often bizarre and varies from bike to bike. The Peerless for example is numbered under the gearbox, inside the engine plates, inside the rear fork and so on. A thorough search is required. Having said that, there are some Australian-built bikes which use frame lugs which look very similar to those use by Healings, but which have no obvious frame numbers. David Radloff's "JAP" comes to mind. I wonder if there were manufacturers using lugs supplied or made by Healings to build their own frames?

Remains of the 1920 Peerless The remains of the Healing-built Peerless. Reputedly used for daily transport for many years to and from the Blinman mines, it shows signs of hard use. The bottom of the JAP engine had been extensively damaged with one lug completely broken off. A nicely made pair of engine plates had been made, perhaps by the local blacksmith, to cradle the engine. Found in the same shed were damaged parts of the front forks which seemed to be undergoing repair. Perhaps the reason the bike was forced from the road?


Copyrightę Leon Mitchell 1998


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