The classic car treasures of White River

Ford Skyliner

We join Ford on a visit to White River, a small town in Mpumalanga that holds big surprises for car enthusiasts!

Images: Ford & Stefan van Wyk

South Africans love their cars and one of the happy consequences of this is that the country has a surprisingly large number of collections (some private, some public) as well as museums to protect our automotive heritage, and to promote it, too.

We recently joined Ford on a visit to White River in Mpumalanga, not knowing quite what to expect to find in the small town. But White River has no fewer than three automotive museums (one dedicated mostly to motorcycles) within its borders and to make matters even more interesting, a classic car meet/show took place on the same day.

If you're a fan of the Blue Oval (Ford) specifically, you'll want to head over to Herman Nel's museum.

“For those who want to see Ford’s product evolution unfold from past to present right before their eyes, in one of the most unlikely of places, it doesn’t get better than Herman Nel’s museum,” says Minesh Bhagaloo, Communications Director at Ford South Africa. 

classic Ford

“Collections like this remind us of Henry Ford’s vision when he set out to revolutionize transport in 1903. The collection includes many examples that show how Ford adapted to changing demands and industry trends over the years. These vehicles, along with Nel’s enthusiasm, have helped connect old fans with their Ford hero cars, while inspiring new fans who might follow in Nel’s footsteps,” says Bhagaloo. 

Classic Ford

When Nel was 22 years old, he got behind the wheel of a Ford Zephyr. At the time, he couldn’t have predicted that this short drive would dramatically change his life forever. From that point on, Nel began collecting every type of Ford he could get his hands on and would often perform aspects of the restoration work, such as spray painting, by himself. It is his two Sierras that he considers to be among his firm favorites. He drove them to 280 000 and 380 000 km’s respectively and in memory these have been his best driving experiences ever.

classic Ford

Over the years his museum has been forced to grow outwards as new vehicles have been added. Nel estimates that he has more than 45 Fords in his possession, and these are safely stored across the museum’s three areas, spanning an area that covers approximately two thousand square meters. The museum is also home to over 6 000 model cars, most of which Nel imported personally, along with books that provide valuable insights into the cars that are in his possession.


Inside the museum there truly is a Ford for everyone’s personal preference and generation, but the Model Ts and Model As symbolise some of the most revolutionary years in Ford’s illustrious history and are a recommended starting point for the museum’s visitors. In earlier years Nel participated in some classic car rallies and in one of these he drove his Model T from Cape Town back to Komatipoort. 


Of a similar era is Nel’s sleek 1957 Club Victoria which represents something of a watershed moment within his collection, while another notable sight is the 1940 Ford V8 pickup. This vehicle used Ford’s commercial car chassis in a successful attempt to combine passenger car comfort with car-like appearance. The V8 engine under the bespoke hood is mated to a 3-speed manual gearbox. Then there’s the 1960 F100 pickup which was bought by Nel in 1990. Nel bought it from a farmer in the Kalahari and is only the second owner since new!

Ford Capri

Those who relate to slightly newer machinery will certainly be intrigued by Nel’s limited edition models, including a 1957 Thunderbird E-Series which he believes might be the only E series in the in the country. Nel also owns a Thunderbird that was released to honour the model’s 25th anniversary, with this vehicle carrying a plaque on the dashboard bearing his name. An unforgettable chapter of Ford’s local history is shown through one of the heavily accessorised Rangers which competed in the grueling Ranger Odyssey expedition, and now forms part of the expansive museum.


Entry to the museum is limited and by appointment only. Nel never gets tired of meeting visitors who share a similar passion to his own.

Also located in White River is the Casterbridge Museum run by Louis van der Merwe. Housing roughly 80 cars (as well as motorcycles and tractors and other automobilia), the Casterbridge Museum's cars are owned by various collectors. Highlights include a variety of British sportscars, including MGs and Austin-Healeys, as well as vintage Ford Model T and Chevy pick-ups. Entry is free (but please contribute using the donations box).

Casterbridge museum

As we ventured outside to walk among the cars attending the show, it again became very clear that South Africans, young and old, are fascinated by cars. An undoubted highlight was another Ford - the dramatic Skyliner with its folding hard-top. It's great to see that our motoring history is being protected and enjoyed.

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