Bike nut, and he has a plane!

NOSTALGIA ON TWO WHEELS: BILLY NEL IS IN LOVE WITH HIS OLD BRI­TISH AND ITAL­IAN MAR­QUES

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - SPORT - Jim Free­man

His Con­vair 880 air­liner is one of only two in the world.

It’s per­haps not very flat­ter­ing but Billy Nel might best be de­scribed as a scrap mer­chant to his core. Not that he wasn’t a very suc­cess­ful scrap mer­chant in var­i­ous places around the coun­try be­fore he was in­vei­gled into pol­i­tics in East Lon­don in the Eastern Cape but, de­spite his 20-year ca­reer in par­lia­ment and else­where, he’s al­ways re­tained his pas­sion for mo­tor ve­hi­cles.

“Any­thing with wheels and a hooter fas­ci­nates me,” laughs the ebul­lient Nel, born in Welkom in 1943 as the youngest of eight chil­dren.

“I come from a mo­tor­cy­cling back­ground. Dad used to ride and my Welsh mom would climb on the back. All my boets had bikes.

“In those days, there were only English and Ital­ian bikes.”

Now re­tired and liv­ing out­side the sea­side vil­lage of Kei Mouth on the Eastern Cape Wild Coast, Nel has sur­rounded him­self with (mainly) mo­tor­cy­cles. He runs the largely pri­vate Mor­ganville Farm Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum which in­cludes more than 650 an­tique mo­tor­cy­cles.

While there are quite a lot of older Ja­panese and Ital­ian mod­els, pride of place goes to the Bri­tish mar­ques: Tri­umph, Ariel, Nor­ton, Royal En­field, BSA and oth­ers.

No an­ti­sep­tic mu­seum with halo­gen light­ing and scrubbed floors this, the col­lec­tion is housed in a scat­ter­ing of sheds on his 12ha farm in what used to be called the Transkei. It is ac­ces­si­ble to the pub­lic only on the oc­ca­sional open-day he holds for lo­cal char­i­ties or to vis­it­ing mo­tor­cy­cle clubs dur­ing ral­lies.

About 85% of the bikes are in work­ing con­di­tion and some are ex­tremely valu­able.

Among the real rar­i­ties is a 1930 AJS R6 Twin Port 350, of which only five were ever built. “There are only two left,” says Nel. “The other is in a mu­seum in Ger­many.”

The bike, plus an­other 15 of the older, more valu­able ma­chines are parked on a ve­ran­dah next to Nel’s bed­room. “They are ex­cep­tion­ally scarce and prob­a­bly worth as much as the rest of the col­lec­tion put to­gether?” How did he started col­lect­ing? “A few years af­ter leav­ing school, I joined one of my broth­ers as part­ners in a ve­hi­cle scrap­yard. We’d strip cars for parts but, af­ter work­ing with him for a year-anda-half, I dis­cov­ered he’d sold the busi­ness with­out telling me. “I opened my own busi­ness.” His love for mo­tor­cy­cles, he says, “grew and grew and grew. I was buy­ing bikes and stor­ing them in peo­ple’s garages and other funny places around Welkom.”

In 1974 he moved to East Lon­don. “I con­tin­ued col­lect­ing but it was only af­ter I re­tired from pol­i­tics that it re­ally got out of con­trol. I bought this place just to house my stuff.” He still reg­u­larly rides his Har­ley-David­son Fat Boy, Tri­umph 900cc triple, Kawasaki GPZ 750 Spe­cial Edi­tion, Kawasaki Ze­phyr and BMW K100S.

Nel got in­volved in pol­i­tics in the late Eight­ies when the erst­while Na­tional Party asked him to stand in the place of the in­cum­bent MP for East Lon­don, Peet de Pontes.

De Pontes had been forced to re­sign be­cause of his re­la­tion­ship with Mafia boss Vito Palaz­zolo. He was sub­se­quently con­victed of fraud and rack­e­teer­ing for fa­cil­i­tat­ing Palaz­zolo’s South African pass­port and doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Nel was elected to par­lia­ment in 1989 but re­signed in 1994 to join the Eastern Cape Pro­vin­cial Leg­is­la­ture. Ten years later he be­came MEC for Fi­nance, a po­si­tion he held till he called it quits in 2008.

Nel has quite a col­lec­tion of small cars, too, but prob­a­bly his quirki­est ex­hibit is an old jet air­liner that has been used by, among oth­ers, The Who and the Rolling Stones and is parked on his lawn. The Con­vair 880, he says, is one of only two still in ex­is­tence (the other is at Elvis Pres­ley’s Grace­land es­tate).

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