Lewis motorcycles in the 1920s

In 1921 Mr Elston bought a Lewis twin, fitted with a coach-built sidecar, to replace another Australian-built machine - his 269 cc Bullock-Villiers. I am not sure if his 6 h.p. Lewis-JAP was new when he bought it, but it was typical of the machines to come from the Lewis works in the early 1920s.

But before we explore the 1920s, it's worth having a quick look at the 1919 offerings listed in this advertisement from The Register in late October 1919:

The Register 25 Oct 1919

The Villiers model is, I think, incorrectly listed here as 3 1/2 h.p.; elsewhere it is given as 2 1/2 h.p. which would make it the usual 269 cc Villiers. Presumably it and the 3 1/2 h.p. Sporting Model were both direct belt drive, single speed models. Just where the 3 1/2 h.p. air- and water-cooled motors - presumably Precision - came form is a great mystery. Is it possible that Lewis stockpile lasted through the was years? As we will see, Lewis were still offering air-cooled Precision machines as late as 1922.

This 1919 line up was the basis of the model range that Lewis took to the First Automotive Show at the Adelaide Exhibition Building in October 1920, with one notable exception. Missing - for the first time since 1905 - was the water cooled machine that had become synonymous with Lewis. There was one new model (using the post-war 8 h.p. Precision twin) but without the water-cooled machines the line up was looking bland. Lewis motorcycles now fitted the "assemblage of parts" mould which typified the Australian motorcycle manufacturing industry in the early 1920s.

Perhaps Lewis were looking for innovation in their imported machines. From 1920, they held agencies for three unusual (shall we say slightly eccentric?) brands: A.B.C., P.&M. and Beardmore Precision. Studying the registration records of the day suggests none of these produced anything other than nominal sales.

In August 1922, Vivian Lewis Limited supplied The South Australian Motor with a list of its motorcycle models. Given the restructuring that was about to take place at the company, this list probably represents the final model range of Lewis motorcycles, and is worth reproducing in full:                                                                                                                                                                   

Lewis Villiers 2 3/4 h.p. Villiers (English) engine, 70 mm bore, 70 mm stroke (269 cc). CAV magneto, AMAC semi-automatic carburettor, 3/4 in. belt drive, foot brake on belt rim, 26 x 2 1/4 in. Dunlop tyres
Lewis 2 stroke 3 1/2 h.p. Precision (English) 2 stroke engine, 74 mm bore, 81 mm stroke (350 cc), detachable head and roller bearings, Thompson Bennett magneto, AMAC semi-automatic carburettor, 2 speed countershaft Chater Lea gear box, chain-cum-belt drive, 1 1/2 gallon petrol tank, rear brake on belt rim, 26 x 2 1/4 in. Dunlop Railroad tyres
Lewis single 4 1/2 h.p. Lewis (English) engine, 85 mm bore, 88 mm stroke, 499 cc. Thompson Bennett magneto, foot brake on belt rim, Brooks saddle, 1 in. belt drive on adjustable pulley,  26 x 2 1/2 in. Dunlop tyres
Lewis JAP twin 6 h.p. JAP twin cylinder (English) engine, 76 mm bore, 85 mm stroke, 770 cc. Thompson Bennett magneto, AMAC semi-automatic carburettor, Sturmey Archer 3 speed gear box with clutch and kick start, chain-cum-belt drive, Brooks saddle, aluminium footboards, foot brake on belt rim,   26 x 2 1/2 in. Dunlop Railroad tyres, 2 gallon petrol tank. Price 150
Lewis Precision twin 8 h.p. twin cylinder Precision (English) engine, 85 mm bore, 85 mm stroke (965 cc). Thompson Bennett magneto, B&B carburettor, Sturmey Archer 3 speed gear box with clutch and kick start, chain-cum-belt drive, Brooks saddle, 2 gallon petrol tank, foot brake on belt rim,   28 x 3 in. Dunlop Railroad tyres.

Of these, the JAP twin (like Mr Elston's machine at the top of the page) and the Precision two stroke (like the one seen outside the Kadina Branch in the photo below) were tidy machines which might have sold in small numbers. The others - the Villiers, the single, and the Precision twin - have remained off the radar entirely, with no surviving machine or photograph. It must have been a challenging time for Lewis, with nothing on offer that could compete successfully with the post-war British and American imports that were dominating the market.

c1920 Lewis Precion two stroke, outside the Kadina Branch

There was one last gasp in 1925. With Vivian Lewis Limited now off with the F.S. Mann empire, The Lewis Cycle Works Limited did display one Lewis motorcycle on Stand 24 at the Chamber of Manufactures Exhibition in July 1925, where it was described as "possibly the only locally produced 2 3/4 h.p. four stroke motor cycle":

2 3/4 Lewis Sports Single cylinder, upright, 70 x 90 mm = 348 cc, side valves, BTH magneto, B&B carburettor, P&H lamp and generator, all chain drive, Sturmey Archer 3 speed gearbox with kick starter, 2 gallons petrol, 2 pints oil, rear internal expanding brake, Dunlop 26 x 2 1/4 in. tyres. Engine and frame components of English manufacture.

The brand of motor in the Lewis Sports is not stated. In the absence of a surviving bike, or even a photograph, we are left to speculate about whether it might have come from J.A. Prestwich or Precision, as both were 70 x 90 bore and stroke. I lean towards Precision: Lewis had strong historical ties with F.E. Baker's Precision Works, and one of their Beardmore Precision motorcycles was also on the Lewis Cycle Works stand at the Exhibition.

I doubt if many Lewis Sports machines were built in 1925, and we have no mention of any further motorcycle manufacture at the Lewis Cycle Works. It seems that 1925 was the end of the era of motorcycle manufacture for Lewis which began in 1899 with the Lewis motor triplet.

Lewis motorcycle index

Copyright Leon Mitchell 2008

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