Dream Garage - One Man's '70s Neverland

Published: 07 February 2016

Tony Collins is the UK’s biggest Fizzy nut – but his bike collection goes way beyond Yamaha’s pedal ‘n’ goes. The hoard of 1970s bikes he ‘just had to have’ spans four warehouses and garages. The man just can’t help himself...

e suspect that many of you reading this are guilty of bringing home an impulse buy. That eBay bargain, that lucky autojumble find, or that bike from a mate too good to turn down. Tony Collins is the same.

But whereas most people get an ear-bashing from the missus and don’t dare add anything else to the garage for fear of further spousal wrath, Tony’s impulse buying knows no limits. There’s no real pattern to his collecting either – sure, he’s got a lot of FS1-Es and other 1970s mopeds, but he’s got big bikes too. Four or two-stroke, running or seized solid, complete or barely there – Tony’s stash has at least one, and often several of each bike that’s captured his attention.
How does one man end up with such a collection? An inability to say ‘no’ to bikes he finds or is offered is part of it. One example is his Suzuki GT185 of unknown vintage bought unseen on a whim. “I had one of those moments – I saw it on eBay, and thought that it looked good to buy, and paid £300 for it. Someone had the Fantic Chopper 125 for sale too, so I had to buy that as well – like I hadn’t got enough of them.” He’s right – he has two 50cc and another 125 variant of the eccentric ’70s Italian chopper-ped in his eclectic hoard.
Some of the collection is down to an aborted attempt to make a living out of his passion.
“Me and a friend made the mistake of thinking we could make a business out of our hobby, and it never happened. Does it ever? We spent about £30-40,000 buying bikes in to restore and sell, and that’s where some of these came from.”
The ’75 Kawasaki H2C awaiting proper restoration is part of that legacy – imported from the USA, it’s in pretty tidy condition anyway, but Tony has made full use of his current business, Classic and Custom Paint, to get the paintwork better than original.
It’s a common theme with sections of his collection – many of the bikes are still in unrestored as-found condition, but have deep, flawless paint. A 1976 KH250, also from the US, stands with pristine candy red paint on unrestored running gear.
“I imported this myself. It was originally purple, but
I didn’t like it. There was a choice of purple, blue or red for that model year, and I liked red the most.”
There’s an AR50 in the loft above his paint booths, bought dismantled but now with a stunning Lawson-style paintjob applied to the tank and sidepanels. It’s another one that’ll eventually get attention and a rebuild when Tony has the time, and when he finds out how it’s supposed to go together.
When he does get round to restoring a bike, however, he does it properly. There are new, 2011 model motorcycles that don’t have paintjobs this good, such is the level of finish that Tony insists on.
Four bikes undergoing such treatment occupy hydraulic bike ramps. One is a GT380, one of six (“and counting”, says Tony), a Suzuki A50 awaits a front end, then there’s a friend’s Kawasaki H2B and Suzuki TS100ER. It might be a professional surrounding, but there’s a personal feel to the work area. Tools and parts are strewn around the ramps awaiting the next day of the build – the TS tank rests on the roof of a Ford Escort RS1600i, also in for restoration.
The only finished minter here is an RD250C Tony has restored. “It shouldn’t be here really, but I don’t have space at home,” he tells us. “It’s the one James May borrowed for the TV programme Inventing the Teenager. I’ve got a picture somewhere of him riding it.
Almost invisible thanks to its puny dimensions is a Puch Maxi. Nothing especially interesting, but his reason for buying it in the first place gives an insight in to Tony’s bike-purchasing mindset. “I bought a 1-2 exhaust for a Puch to fit on my Fizzy, but it wouldn’t fit. So I though I’d best buy a Puch to fit it to.”
The industrial unit is littered with incomplete carcasses lurking in corners. Behind his Audi Quattro is the remains of another air-cooled RD. A GT380 is half covered with a sheet, leaning against a box of its own parts. It’s in such a state, we presumed it to be a parts donor for the complete but rotten 380 in front of the car.
“No, that one’s going to be restored as well,” Tony informs us.
Like you’d expect from a man with a lot of bikes, he has a lot of parts too. Shocks, bodywork, tanks and all manner of crusty parts are stored in corners, on shelves and sometimes on the floor. Unsurprisingly, Tony hasn’t found time to sort out his bikes and parts yet. A selection of exhausts hang on a wall like some sort of chromed meat rack.
We select a lovely FS1-E from his warehouse to take individual pictures of – but before we can rock the Fizzy off its centrestand, he stops us. “No – not that one, that one’s shit. I’ve got the good ones at home.”
He’s not kidding. His double garage is identical to hundreds of others near his home on a modern housing estate, apart from the Pontiac Trans Am ‘KITT’ Knightrider replica parked outside. Inside, it’s an amazing cavern of ’70s restoration.
Four Fizzies, one Fantic Chopper 50 (plus a disassembled 125 in the rafters), two Yamaha JT-1 kids’ bikes (one hanging from the rafters, part built), a Malaguti Cavalcone Cross on the workbench nearing the end of a beautiful restoration and a TS100J waiting for parts to come back to complete it.
It’s a true fanatic’s refuge – there’s a narrow walkway from the door to the Malaguti’s elevated platform, but the rest of the floorspace is occupied by bikes. We stay out of the way – with the TS tank hanging from the roof and parts all over the floor near the bikes they correspond to, it’s better to stay out than tread on a valuable box of new-old-stock Fizzy bits.
Tony’s collection of ’70s mopeds is impressive, but what’s even more remarkable is that two of them are the very bikes he bought new in 1975 when he was 16. Most people struggle to locate one of their old bikes, but he’s lucky enough to have two.
His original FS1-E was in bits when PS visited – he’s already restored it, but by Tony’s standards, it wasn’t good enough.
“It’s the very bike I had when I was 16. I got it back last August from my best mate who’d had it since I sold it to him. It was all together, but it wasn’t good enough. I was doing it at work, but it kept getting covered in shit and dust, so I brought it home to do again.
“Some Fizzy restorers say that the purple paint didn’t come in until frame number 17005. Mine is earlier than that, and it was always purple, so it proves them wrong. I have the original paperwork the dealer sent off to the DVLC, as the DVLA was then known, to register it, which proves the point.”
The Malaguti was also bought new by Tony – again, bought back from the person he sold it to at the time. But the second owner never bothered to get his name on the logbook, so Tony is the only registered keeper.
“It was the first bike I bought when I was 16. I bought another Cavalcone Cross that had been stood in a barn for 30 years, and never used – just for the original fitment tyres to fit to mine. Sad, aren’t I? I did use a few other bits from it too, like the mudguards.”
Typically of Tony’s hoard, it’s not the only one either. A tatty, but complete and running Cavalcone Cross awaits attention back at the lock-up.
Fizzies dominate the collection and, like the rest of Tony’s bikes, there was no intention to have so many – it just sort of happened.
“I went to a Mini show in Brighton in 2005, and there was an FS1-E there. I remembered the one I had, and thought I’d best have another one. So I started building one to ride, but I’ve spent £5000 on it so it’s never going to go anywhere.”
His original Fizzy is at home, alongside the minter and yet another purple popsicle bike. His customised ‘Sleazy Rider’ FS1-E is also at home, wearing its first-place rosette from the Billing moped show. Four more lurk at the back of a neighbour’s garage. So how the hell does one man end up with so many?
“My mate started Fizzy Parts, and he got me into them. Between us we’ve accumulated quite a few bikes, and because of my passion I’ve been made vice-chairman of the FS1-E Owners’ Club, which makes you even more devoted to it.”
Tony has an incredibly understanding wife. As well as the innumerable motorcycles, he has two old cars, two more abandoned project cars in the front garden (hidden behind a fence) and 30 Raleigh Choppers. How?
“I blame it on my mate. He’s a millionaire with a collection, and we have a deal – what’s mine is his, and what’s his is mine. So the wife thinks that all those bikes are his! Although she does know the bikes at home are mine. She still doesn’t know about all of the rest though.”
Tony says he’s downsizing his collection. We’re sceptical – if you had the space, resources and ability to complete immaculate restorations, would you sell up? No, neither would we.

 

Tony's 6 top tips

1. Get to know a dealer that specialises in parts for your bike – it’s much easier talking to someone who knows what you’ve got.

2. Use genuine parts where possible if you want to build a show winner. Pattern parts are rarely entirely accurate, and the right bits make a huge difference.

3. Don’t just take the word of others for how things should be on your bike. There’s a long of wrong information around. Get your information from old brochures, dealers and unrestored bikes.

4. If you want the best quality for your restoration, it is going to cost a lot of money. Be prepared for that – cutting corners won’t get the same end result at all.

5. Don’t just think ‘that’ll do’. If something isn’t right, you’ll always notice it, and you’ll probably end up changing it later anyway. Get it right first time so you don’t have to do it again.

6. Buy bikes you really want. If you’re not really interested in them, you won’t get round to finishing it. I need to get rid of some of my bikes for that very reason.


Words Chris Newbigging   Photography Ian Jubb