By John Pedler
Published: Wednesday, September 8, 2021
The National Motor Museum at Birdwood is a South Australian icon. As well as being home to a vast collection of vehicles and motoring memorabilia, it’s also the end point of the annual Bay to Birdwood historic vehicle run.
This popular event has unfortunately been cancelled this year, but there are still plenty of other opportunities to explore and celebrate our state’s rich transport history.
300-360 St Kilda Rd, St Kilda
Open Sundays from 12pm-5pm
Trams run about every 30 minutes
Entry: Adults $10, Concession/children (5-14 years) $7, Family $28
Trams have been part of the Adelaide landscape since the first horse-powered models hit the streets in 1878. Electricity began replacing horses in 1909, but the four-legged engines didn’t completely disappear until about 1914.
Many of us would only know the Adelaide to Glenelg tram service, but in its heyday the network extended throughout the city and suburbs, travelling as far as Cheltenham, Morialta, Henley Beach, Glenelg, Paradise and Colonel Light Gardens. All but the Bay service shut down in 1958, and it’s quite likely the Glenelg tram would have suffered the same fate if it didn’t operate on a dedicated line – the others ran along suburban streets and roads.
The folk at the Tramway Museum at St Kilda began collecting local and interstate trams in 1957. They’ve since put together an impressive collection, including two horse-drawn trams, 26 electric trams, and five trolley buses (electric buses that use the tramline’s overhead power cables but don’t need rails).
A range of different tram models, spanning the ages, can be ridden by visitors. Return trips start at the museum and travel 1.6km to the popular St Kilda Adventure Playground. Museum entry includes unlimited tram rides.
There’s also a fascinating collection of photos showing trams through the ages scooting about suburban streets. It’s interesting to see how much the urban landscape has changed over the years, particularly in the western suburbs. Check out the interactive map on the museum’s website for more photos.
National Military Vehicle Museum
10 Sturton Rd, Edinburgh
Open Sundays from 10am-4pm
Entry: Adults $10 (special events $15), Up to three children under 15 accompanied by an adult free, Extra children $5, Concession card holders $8
The museum traces its roots back to 1976 when a small group of Jeep enthusiasts started the Military Vehicle Collectors’ Society of SA. They opened their first museum in Port Adelaide in 1993 and moved to their present location – a group of World War II-era buildings that once housed an explosives factory – in 2008.
Now known as the Military Vehicle Preservation Society of SA, the band of dedicated volunteers restore and maintain the many exhibits on-site.
Among the displays, you’ll find trucks, tanks, artillery pieces and, of course, jeeps. There’s also an impressive range of armoured vehicles, including an imposing Shorland S600 and an extremely rare LP-4 armoured car known as ‘Bandicoot’, which was built at Islington’s railway workshops.
The museum’s main focus is vehicles and equipment from World War II to present day, but there’s also a small section covering World War I, plus an extensive collection of radios and other communication equipment. Most of the vehicles are privately owned and many are in running condition.
For 4WD buffs, there’s a rare World War I-era, US-built FWD Model B; a work in progress that’s already undergone extensive restoration. The before and after photos below highlight the dedication of the museum team.
There’s also an interesting link between military vehicles and SA history. Just a few years before the first Holden car rolled off the production line at Woodville, the popular vehicle manufacturer was assembling World War II vehicles for the front line.
Farm Shed Museum
50 Mines Road, Kadina
Open Monday to Friday from 9am-4pm, weekends and public holidays from 10am-4pm
Entry: Adults $12, Children $3 (under school age free), Family (2 Adults, 3 Children) $30
The Farm Shed Museum at the Copper Coast Tourism Centre is home to a remarkable collection of dry-farming implements, rural machinery and other artefacts. It provides a fascinating insight into the region’s agricultural heritage and the copper mining industry that helped support South Australia’s bumpy economy in the late 1800s.
What the National Motor Museum does for cars, the Farm Shed does for ploughs, stationary engines and tractors. Among the dozens of vintage tractors on display, there are brands like International, Fordson, Massey Harris, Hart Parre, Lanz and Fiat – yes, the famous Italian car maker has produced tractors, as well as aircraft, weapons and locomotives.
There’s also a great collection of horse-drawn carriages and buggies, as well as other lovingly restored vehicles, including a 1930s Diamond T truck and a bright red, early 1920s Ford Model T delivery truck.
The Farm Shed Museum is a credit to the National Trust workers who’ve gathered a cornucopia of memorabilia and presented it an interesting and informative fashion.
Gilbert’s Motor Museum
34 High St, Strathalbyn
Open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am-4pm
Entry: Adults $8, Under 16s accompanied by an adult, free
The museum is housed in a building that’s been owned by the Gilbert family since the early 1900s. Through the years it’s been a bicycle factory for the famous Treblig (Gilbert backwards) racing bikes, operated as a home appliance showroom and served as a motor vehicle workshop.
Given it’s only been open for a couple of years, the number and range of vintage, veteran and classic cars, motorcycles and bicycles on show is truly amazing. The vehicles are privately owned and are on display for varying lengths of time, so you might find something new to enjoy each time you visit.
The front room is used for theme-based displays and is currently showcasing pre-1930s motoring marvels. An accompanying sign outlines the story of each vehicle, like the 1907 Rover, which has been continuously owned by the same family for more than four generations.
A gleaming grey and maroon Cadillac belongs to circus strongman Jordan ‘Biggie’ Steffens and appeared in the Leonardo DiCaprio film version of The Great Gatsby. There’s also a 1920s Morris Bullnose Cowley ‘Sports’, which paved the way for the famous MG.
In other rooms you’ll find motoring classics like a 1963 Holden EJ Special with only 31,492 miles (50,681km) on the clock, a 1972 R/T E49 Charger sporting a very rare hot mustard paint job, and a 1959 Goggomobil – and yes, it’s the Dart. There’s plenty for motorcycle fans to enjoy as well.
There’s also a section of the museum devoted to Rowley Park Speedway, an impressive collection of scale-model cars and trucks, a library covering the life and times of motoring legend Glen Dix, and many more automotive artefacts. Visitors are welcome to wander around the museum at their leisure or take a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable volunteers.
Australian Museum of MTB (Mountain Bike)
Visits by appointment, Thursday and weekends
Ph: 0400 708 500
It’s said that a bicycle frame is basically two triangles. But it’s the dramatic changes to this fundamental design, together with developments in suspension, brakes and construction materials that tell the story of mountain bike evolution.
Krischan Spranz and Joe Mullan’s love of the sport has led them to establish the Australian Museum of MTB at Willunga, home of an annual downhill race since the early 1990s. In a small room on the outskirts of town they’ve gathered a large collection of bikes and equipment, mostly from the heady days of mountain bike development in the 1990s.
From steel to aluminium to carbon fibre, the material used in bike construction has changed a lot, while all sorts of shock absorbers have been developed to ease the pain and suffering of riders. If you’re keen to slow down (or even stop), then disc brakes have become the norm.
Over time, basic bikes like the 1987 Ricardo ATB (shown below) gave way to quirky designs like the Softride, with it’s out-on-a-limb seat which served as rear suspension. This was an era of bold experimentation, and according to Krischan and Joe not everything worked. It wasn’t uncommon for a dodgy suspension to dispatch a rider to the shrubs with little warning.
These days, there’s a distinct similarity among the enormous range of bikes available, but it was the inventive developments of the 1990s that led to these modern designs. For novices and experts alike, the museum offers an interesting insight into the history of mountain biking.