• Hillbilly Nilsson

    By Kenneth Olausson

    World and Swedish MX Champion with Wild West flair. He was only 22 years of age when Bill Nilsson in 1955 led the Swedish team to a fantastic victory in the world championship event for nations. The Swedish fighter had just had an international breakthrough at 21 when he among others beat the Belgian European champion August Mingels on the famous Saxtorp sand-track on home turf. Bill became world champion twice, the first time on a self-trimmed machine and the second as a factory rider for Husqvarna, This was back in 1960.

    Once upon a time... always the start of any beautiful fairytale...

    It was a week before Christmas back in 1932. Another son was born to the Nilsson family in Hallstavik, a blue-eyed little boy with tousled hair. The family stood around the crib watching this beloved little newcomer and pondered on what to call him. The oldest son Ove was reading Wild West stories at the time and he was reading about Buffalo Bill when his little brother was born. "He should be named Bill,” said Ove - and so it was. Later he was giving the nickname “Buffalo” because of his distinct riding style and this made him very happy.

    It may have initially been a shiny new BSA that substituted for the mustang, but few people realized that young Bill was destined to become a cowboy virtuoso in the saddle of a motocross bike. This rider was right at home in the mud, waterholes and on the hills of tracks like Saxtorp, Pampas (in Stockholm) and Skillingaryd. But nothing came easy for him because he already had his sights firmly set on a title that was still far away.

    Bill was short for a rider. He looked even smaller in the big leather pants he preferred. He wore his size-two helmet, a touch to small for him, a little to the side. But as soon as he was on the bike he was quick to show his rivals the rear wheel of his bike and in this he showed no mercy. What Bill lacked in experience and routine, he made up for with a will to win that has rarely been seen on the motocross track. Other riders would say of him: "Well it lasts while it lasts..."

    Bill on the other hand just kept on going, and soon he had built up an enviable reputation among both his strongest competitors and worst enemies. Sharp-eyed onlookers could easily see that this was a rider with unusual measures of talent and who rode his bike with the grace and skill of a dancer.

    The wild rider from Roslagen, north of Stockholm, had started as a talented daredevil riding shotgun with a helmet that was too tight and motocross pants a little too wide. He also had the temper of an untamed animal and the awe with which both rivals and knowledgeable spectators viewed him was proof of his performance. That he should end up as a double world champion was at this stage still written in the stars.

    Bill became immensely popular as a motocross rider and it’s no exaggeration to say that he helped to make the sport popular even to the man in the street. Riding in the mud in true Wild West style was enough to vault Bill into the public arena and the show seemed to go on forever. Suddenly "Buffalo Bill" was as much in the limelight as contemporary sporting heroes are today.

    Buffalo Bill Nilsson was destined to become Sweden's first motocross champion and indeed the first official world champion in the sport. Bill rode a 420-motor from an AJS 7R, which he had oversized from a 350-engine. The motor had a single overhead camshaft and was very effective. But it was Bill's own stamina and drive that helped him to win this important world championship title.

    From his earliest years it looked like Bill Nilsson was meant to be a speedway rider, but he soon realized that motocross would be his future. He applied for his riding license back in 1950 and made his debut in Gimo where his bike went up in flames. This did nothing to dampen his ambitions. Then in 1954 Bill was second both in the European championship and in the Swedish Nationals.

    Ahead of the 1960 season "Buffalo Bill" had joined the Husqvarna factory team. It proved to be a wise move and led to Bill becoming, once again, Swedish National Champion and World Champion in the same year. But it was a close call because Bill’s closest rival was Sten Lundin who finished second in the 500cc class. Five of the six top riders in 1960 came from Sweden, a totally overwhelming result for the nation in the north of Europe.

    Then in 1961 the tables turned and it was Sten who won the title with Husky-Bill coming second. After a grueling season there were only two points separating the Swedish sporting heroes. In the Motocross of Nations the same year, Bill again proved to be the fastest and anchored the Swedish team to victory on Dutch ground.

    In the legendary year of 1962 Bill was one of four in the Swedish team that won the Nations title and they crossed the finish line holding hands as the checkered flag was waved. This memorable event happened in Wohlen, Switzerland. It has never occurred again and probably never will.

    Such was the greatness of Bill Nilsson who unfortunately passed away on August 25th in 2013, 80 years young.