ITALIAN EXOTICA has a habit of attracting hefty price tags and we’re not just talking about the four-wheeled, prancing horse badged variety. Classic Italian scooters have a huge following, and within the massed ranks of scooterists you’ll find a hundred sub groups, all searching for their perfect machine – mods, scooter boys, fashionistas, style gurus, even beardy restorers…
The upshot of this is that scooter prices have continued to spiral upwards. Since the Fifties, the scooter has been a smart way to get mobile for those on a budget. The Hire Purchase boom of the late Fifties and Sixties meant they were even within the reach of teenagers with parents willing to guarantee the repayments. The Italian Vespas and Lambrettas were usually at the forefront in both the style and sales stakes, and enough were sold that even by the time the scooter boy arrived on the scene in the mid Eighties, there will still plenty of classic machines hidden away in sheds waiting to be snapped up for pocket money prices and resurrected.
By the Nineties, if the latest offerings from Piaggio – Vespa’s parent company – didn’t appeal, the supply of original, British registered machines was getting thin. Some enterprising soul hit on the idea of going over to the land of the scooter’s birth and having a dig around there. It took a few years to empty the sheds and garages of Italy, but even this source was not inexhaustible. The odd batch still finds its way to the UK, but it’s certainly not the torrent it once was.
It was time to cast the net further. To the uninitiated, India might be the last place to look for Italian classics in any great numbers, that is, until you realise that India should also be recognised as the birthplace of recycling. As the Europeans chased new technologies, enterprising Indian business men were happy to import obsolete plant and machinery. Both Vespas and Lambrettas were built, under a variety of arrangements – satellite factories, licensing agreements and ultimately as independent companies.
Scooters which had been designed and built in Italy in the Sixties, were still merrily rolling off the lines in India as the new millenium arrived. In fact, LML have just restarted production of the Star – basically a Vespa PX – first launched by Piaggio in 1978…
Good news for those now searching for a classic scooter on a budget, not least because the spares industry in India never slowed down either, meaning that all the parts you need are there as well.
The Lambretta GP was the last of the line for the Italian manufacturer. Styled by Bertone, its production run was relatively short – January 1969 to April 1971. By 1975, the tooling was in India. It would be produced with only detail changes and under a variety of names for more than a decade.
If you decide to take on an Indian scooter as a project there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First off, these scoots are coming from a country where nothing is wasted so they don’t let anything go until they’ve squeezed every last bit of life out of it.
Secondly, if you’ve ever seen pictures of bikes and scooters cruising the streets of New Delhi or Hyderabad, you’ll notice that they’re just as likely to be carrying the whole family as a single rider. They work their machines hard. Add the two together and you’ll realise that you’ll need to check your prospective purchase over carefully if you don‘t want your bargain buy to quickly turn into a money pit.
After spotting an advert in Scootering Magazine, a quick visit to Resurrection Scooters turned into one of those ‘what-have-I-done?’ purchasing experiences. Bossman Bruce was friendly and helpful, gave us the guided tour of the workshop, spares department and finally showed us a line of tin ‘coffins’ which actually housed a fresh consignment of scooters. To keep shipping costs down, the headset and forks are removed and packed alongside the rest which represents a real space saving over trying to ship complete machines.
A new wiring loom, front and rear lights, speedo, cable set, legshield and panel rubbers, headset bearings and a new front mudguard are also included with these restoration projects.
Most of the GP clones coming into the country are Vijay Supers made by Scooters India Limited (SIL), but one case contained an earlier Allwyn Pushpak. Nothing particularly special, but interesting enough to peak my interest and swing the deal. Minutes later, with a bruised credit card, I was folding the seats down in the back of my estate and loading up with a motley selection of scooter parts.
This isn’t my first scooter by a long way – and I know it’s not going to be my last – but this machine would still provide a few surprises, which you’ll hear about in the coming months.
For this project, I wanted to enjoy the current spares situation and replace as much as possible with new components. At the same time, I wanted to retain the essence of the original scooter – it would be too easy to throw any slightly suspect panel in the skip and lose any trace of patina. I wanted the finished item to look good, but I still wanted it to be the scooter I started with.
First job was to strip the bike down to its bare bones, and for that, every picture says a thousand words. Second, – and I’d recommend this step to anyone thinking of restoring a Lambretta, first timer or seasoned veteran – was to get hold of a copy of Martin Round’s Complete Spanner’s Workshop Manual For Lambretta Slimstyle Scooters. Best 20 quid you will ever spend.
A Clean Slate
Stripping a Lambretta can be done easily in a day, and that’s even if you’re new to it and you’re taking your time, labelling and photographing everything as you strip it off. It’s worth hanging onto the stuff you strip off, if only for reference when ordering replacements. Again, be aware of the Indian recycling mentality – you’ll find parts like switches and brackets may have been sourced from elsewhere and modified to fit.
On our scooter, the simple, bolted-on hook-shaped plates which secure the stand had been replaced with welded-on heavy duty hoops which look like they’d started life as concrete reinforcing wires. Nice touch.
Once you’re down to the bare frame, it’s worth consulting the manual and checking the measurements of the frame. You’re looking for the fork tube to be square and true – if it’s not, there’s a good chance it’s been thrown down the road at some point. Frames can be jigged and straightened, but it’s an expense you’ll probably want to avoid. The floor-board supports tend to get bent about a bit, and they’ll stand a little ‘adjustment’. If they’re damaged, replacements can be bought and welded on.
Sandblasting was one of those processes I‘d read about a thousand times but never got round to using on my own projects. The arguments against are numerous – messy, destructive in the hands of the wrong operator, time consuming if your job has to fit in with other contract work, etc. But with the scooter’s frame, I though I’d give it a try.
The main tube and its attached seat bridge are made from heavy gauge steel, so there’s little chance of distortion even if the blaster is none too gentle. The thought of scraping and sanding 30 years work of crud off that intricate shape had me reaching for the Yellow Pages.
Any exposed threads were taped up and the frame was dropped off to a local firm. What can I say? Yes, definitely. The frame and forks came back as clean as a whistle, ready for priming. One tedious and time consuming job neatly side stepped.
The Dating Game
It may be a long way off, but you’re going to need to register the scooter for road use. For this, you’ll need a dating letter which you can get from one of the big clubs – in this case, the Lambretta Club of Great Britain. For a fee, they’ll use their records to track the scooter’s frame number and provide you with a letter for submission to the DVLA when the time comes.
Our frame number showed that the scooter was indeed an Allwyn Pushpak manufactured in 1978. Which was nice.
Words and Photos Gerard Hughes