THE FIRST part of our scooter project has stirred up a fair bit of interest, and it’s mostly been with those who haven’t owned a bike before. It’s amazing how many people there are who have always quite liked the idea of a scooter. It’s those Italian good looks that do it.
If you’re up to speed with the story (if not, click here), you’ll know our Indian Lambretta GP clone arrived just after its last legs got up and stumbled out the door. Knackered is another word for it.
It was stripped and the frame was sent off to be sand blasted. The next job was to work out how much of the panel work that came with the scooter could be reused. I’d really wanted to preserve the fabric of the original, rather than just chuck anything that was even slightly suspect in the skip and buy new parts. Yes, everything you could want for a GP is still available thanks to the thriving Indian market, but it just didn’t seem right. Plus, I was meant to be sticking to a reasonable budget, so even though the thought of armfuls of brand new bits and a severely thrashed credit card looked attractive at certain points, I tried desperately to stick to the original plan.
Most notable are on the vertical edges of the leg shields and the side panels near the cut outs for the kick start and the running boards. Ignore these at your peril. Even if the tiny cracks cover with paint, if there’s any damage whatsoever, as soon as ride the scooter, they’ll come straight through. Result – cracks in the new paint and rusty marks quite soon after.
With this in mind, and much as it pained me to do it, the leg shields were deemed beyond repair. A new mudguard comes with the bike as a matter of course, and all the other components I decided I’d stick with – even the very sick looking side panels.
These make or break the look of a Lambretta, they’re just so bloody obvious. A previous owner had decided that the aluminium trim more usually found down the side of 70s coaches would be a good thing to protect them from the rigours of life in India.
The resulting holes which had been drilled every couple of inches were not too welcome, and would have to be welded. The panels were also cracked in a couple of places. It’s a case of having to grind the cracks out carefully, weld them up and then grind them flat. There’s no guarantee that this is a permanent fix, but working them after with a hammer and dolly usually does the trick.
When you take on a project scooter, it‘s really easy to kid yourself that this is the easy option. It is, after all, just a scooter. And that’s exactly why eBay is littered with part finished scooter projects because when it comes to sorting out the panel work, there’s a lot of work to do. And unlike a car, most panels are going to have to be painted to an acceptable standard on both sides.
If you’ve never studied a Lambretta in any great detail before, have a look at the pics on this page (click on them for a closer look). We’ve labelled up all the panels – 12 individual parts plus the frame with its seat bridge. All to be painted in body colour. Lift off the side panel, and there’s another seven metal parts which will need to be stripped, repaired and painted. Finally, there’s the hubs, forks, and wheel rims to be sorted. All relatively small parts – the leg shields are the largest and most obvious single panel – but there’s a lot of man hours in getting it all done.
You’ve probably gathered by now, most of our Lambretta was pretty tired. A common problem is that years of use, road shocks and vibration running through the machine can cause stress cracks at certain points in the panel work.
The most obvious dents were worked out with a hammer and dolly, and then the panels were rubbed down. Working with a block, cutting through the countless layers of paint resulted in a leopard spot effect, and made it quite obvious that although the right side panel could be salvaged with a light skim of filler here and there, the left side really was beyond redemption. Being a bit more realistic at the start could have saved hours of work.
With this in mind, the remaining body panels were re-examined. On the next trip to Resurrection Scooters, new leg shields, a left hand side panel and running board were bought. Pick your new panels carefully – which means a visit to the shop is a better idea than buying via mail order.
The panels are still rolling off the presses in India, but they’re not being made with the concours market in mind, rather to keep hardworking machines on the road. Don’t be surprised to find the odd mark, but as they’re not too careful packing them at the factory, they can also pick up a dent or two. Examine them carefully before you part with your cash.
The garden shed was to be my temporary paint booth which meant completely sheeting it out with polythene, removing as much dust and dirt as was humanly possible, and dampening down the floor. I’ve done bits of spraying before, but have always used borrowed equipment. Browsing eBay and I inevitably stumbled over a home spray kit – small (but incredibly noisy) direct feed compressor, suction fed gun and hose. In theory, everything you need.
Now, a wise man once said, “Buy cheap, buy twice.” I should have taken heed. The compressor had enough puff but the noise really wasn’t acceptable, even though I have the most understanding neighbours in the world. The coiled plastic hose just got in the way and doesn’t give you enough free play to comfortably get round even the smallest job. And the spray gun wasn’t even worth bothering with.
The local tool shop supplied a five metre straight heavy duty hose and good quality gravity feed spray gun. Top tips. Sort out the run of the air hose before you start spraying so it doesn’t catch any freshly painted panels – sounds obvious, but once you get stuck into the job, it’s easy to forget it. Second, make sure there’s a filter/moisture trap between the compressor and the gun. And thirdly, keep the spray gun scrupulously clean. It’s a real pain stripping and cleaning the gun, but you only have to have a few specks of dirt come through the gun and onto a freshly painted panel once to realise that it’s well worth the effort.
The engine and under panel tinware was all in good shape but filthy and a bit rusty round the edges. It was degreased with Gunk and then completely stripped back to bare metal using an abrasive wheel in a power drill.
These wheels – which appear to be made from a plastic mesh impregnated with some kind of carbide – are superb. It’s easy to get really scabby parts right back to bright metal with very little effort. You can buy them from Frost, or occasionally at shows. Pick a few up if you get the chance.
With all the panels in reasonable shape, it was time for a dry build. Take your time over this, especially if you’re fitting new panels. Don’t forget to use all the rubbers and vibration rubbers which fit between the frame and the leg shields/running boards. These make quite a difference to how things go together. It’s a lot of messing about, but well worth it. You don’t want to get all the bodywork into the finished top coats only to find nothing will fit.
It’s a really satisfying feeling to have all the panel work hooking onto the frame. It’s even better when the paint starts to go on.
I’d decided to use cellulose paints – I’m comfortable using them. This highlighted another problem with the new Indian parts. They come painted, but with what, God only knows. The delightful baby’s nappy green is revolting, but I’d guess it’s an oil based paint because it crocodiles up and peels off the minute cellulose thinners touches it. I’d recommend removing every last trace of this paint before you start – it wipes off easily enough with a thinners soaked rag.
As a belt and braces approach, I also gave the new panels a quick coat of Barcoat. This is great stuff which you can buy from your paint supplier and completely isolates whatever lies underneath it. Use neat, just pour it into the gun and spray it on.
In the next installment: Making sense of the oily bits.