to Beware Of (part 2: Vintage)
Vespa scooters are all over the internet and are popping up in shops
everywhere (including a few shops right here in Vermont). You'll
see some of the shiniest old scooters on Ebay and on websites, and
have no idea that these machines are Southeast Asian "Frankenscooters."
The dealer might even come right out and say "These are imported
from Italy" even though they are, in fact, Vietnamese bodge
jobs. Read this
article (complete with pretty pictures) to see what they look
like once the bling is stripped away. Most of these scooters come
from Vietnam, though many have also come out of Malaysia, Indonesia,
Thailand, India, Pakistan and the Philippines. They are considered
"flipped" machines, old scooters that have been beating
dirt roads since the Vietnam War, aquired cheaply and done-over
to be nice and shiny, then sold to a dealer or wholesaler to be
sprung upon new scooterists who have no idea what they are in for
(the dealers themselves might not even know). Most often these models
are Sprints, VBCs or VBBs (exported heavily to Southeast Asia),
or even chopped and accessorized to clumsily resemble (and be sold
as) older 1950's "handlebar" Vespas, and while not all
Vietnamese Vespas are rolling deathtraps (ScootRS
is the one exception that comes to mind) enough of them are so as
to be assumed unsafe.
comes in many categories. The most frequent offenders are scooters
that are a composite of two or more frames welded together, bearing
multiple holes and rust covered by bondo so thick you cannot stick
a magnet to the steel body, cracks in the body covered by chrome
accessories or paint, forks that are poorly welded together to accomodate
larger wheels, rusted and uneven brake drums, and engines rebuilt
with incorrect parts, bolts, or dangerous substitutions (brass inserts,
coffee cans, cola cans, gaskets made from beer 12-packs, etc). At
best, these machines will not run well (or even start up), at worst
the frame will fold in the middle from all the hidden rust while
you're zipping down a road full-throttle. Many serious accidents
have occured due to bodged scooter restos, and the scooter community
has been taking steps (such as this) to make the unwary public educated
in these matters.
there are many similarities in these bikes that are easy to spot.
Bear in mind that not all bikes with these characteristics are neccessarily
bad bikes, as much of the "bling" and other readily-available
parts asociated with these bikes have been adopted by American riders
(myself included), but if you don't know the dealer and have no
one who can vouch for them it's better to be safe than sorry. Not
all of these extra parts and window-dressing are bad in and of themselves
(some of them are actually quite nifty), but they are characteristic
of Viet scoots, and often used to hide bigger problems underneath.
thing I've started seeing a lot of is tricked-out motors... not
tricked out with greater functionality or with super fabulous performance
parts, tricked-out with nice chrome and nice paintjobs to match
the bike. Asian resto shops LOVE color-matching just about everything
on their bikes, and the motors are no exception. On the example
here you'll even notice a color-coordinated flywheel, which is very
typically an Asian maneuver. Also seen are chrome flywheel cover,
airbox, kickstarter and gear selector box.
variety we've been seeing a lot of is the copying of designs from
older handlebar bikes, most often applied to VBB scooters. In the
photo you'll notice the chrome handlebars with steel-wrapped cables,
rather than the painted handlebars and grey plastic-sleeved cables
that were actually used. The steel cable outers are from modern
motorcycles, the brake lever is probably also from the same. You
might also see in the lower right of the photo the chomed steering
column scallop. This is something else that Asian chop-shops do.
The scalloped colar is actually the shape of the collar on the fram
(rather than an extra piece fitted in) and thusly should be the
same color as the rest of the paint.
the two above photos you'll see more of the color-coordinating,
as well as some of the extra chome dressing common to Viet bodges
(and the pretty pearl pink is another giveaway). The chrome hubcap
is an Asian thing (though many U.S. scooter shops sell them as well,
but I'm guessing they are importing them from Vietnam), as well
as the thin chrome fender bumper. In the second photo take a look
at the plasic mat on the floor center, screwed down through the
center with four screws (which is incorrect and trash), as well
as the chrome edging along the outside edge of the floor. Originally
these chrome edges ran along the top and sides of the legshield
and down to the bottom, they didn't wrap all the way along the edge
of the floor istelf.
example has a lot of what I was talking about earlier. We can start
with the rather ugly two-tone paint job. Viet bodges are almost
always covered with the brightest, shiniest paint jobs imaginable
in order to make you WANT it, as well as to hide a wide variety
of structural problems. Not to mention, Vespa never built any two-tone
scooters. They look hot, but not for the purist. That big front
fender bumper chrome? Another common thing found on Asian restos,
as well as the over-sized chrome "wings" on the top of
the legshield (normally these bikes only have a small blue plastic
logo in that area). This scooter was marked as a VBB, which brings
up more problems. First of which being that the front fender is
not a VBB fender. VBBs have rounded cowls and fenders, you'll notice
this one is squared, and probably belonging to a Sprint model. The
handlebars were discussed earlier, but you can see how they are
applied to the incorrect scooter. Same goes for the headlight on
the fender. these lights were used on "fenderlight" models
in the late 40's and early 50's, and were discontinued for the same
reasons that make this an unsafe bike while riding at night. The
yellow rubber boots on the centerstand are also highly characteristic
of Vietnamese scooters.
are a lot of things to mention in this photo. You'll notice more
of those color-coordinated seat covers, as well as a chrome grab-rail
on the back of the rider's seat. This grab rail is a Vietnamese
design. The "Piaggio" tag on the back of the seat cover?
Another Vietnamese construct - the seat covers on these older Vespas
were built by Aquilia, and not Piaggio. The chrome gas cap
and the white rubber gasketing around the tank and glovebox, and
the chrome frame under the pillion seat are things to notice, and
while they are not terrible additions, they are very characteristically
Asian. The nylon floor mat is another dead giveaway, as is the fact
that there is a glovebox at all, considering that this is a VLB,
and those weren't manufactured with gloveboxes.
things to keep an eye out:
ever-so-common chrome exhaust extension (it's a thin steel pipe
about 6 inches long bolted onto the end of a stock muffler, not
to be confused with a performance exhaust). It looks nice, and keeps
the soot off your tires, but is an Asian mainstay.
hardtail-style springs on the rear of the rider's seat. This was
the standard seat shock absorber on 1940's and early-50's scooters,
and not on the late-60's models you'll find them on at an Asian
front tire is more that 2 or 3 inches from the ground when the scooter
is on its centerstand. This indicates that wrong parts were used
- either in the center stand, the wheels, or even the front fork.
you buy your classic Vespa do some research. Find out all you can
about the dealer, especially if you purchase the bike on the internet.
If the scooter is at a local dealer it doesn't neccessarily mean
that it's not the same deathtrap being flipped on Ebay, many dealers
buy shipping containers filled with these bodges without knowing
themselves what they are getting involved in. If you do buy such
a scooter you may well be in for more trouble than you know. The
lack of safety is a major issue of course, but should you take the
scooter to a repair shop you might very well be turned away, as
many mechanics don't want to take on the responsibility of a bad
scooter (or be sued by the owner when they assume the problems with
the bike are the fault of the mechanic). You'll also have difficulty
reseling the scooter to anyone who might have done their own research.
Besides, what kind of person would you be by selling off this dangerous
scooter to yet another unwary victim? You become part of the problem!
If you're not sure, ask some of the folks on ScooterBBS,
this site is a very useful tool for this kind of thing, and there
are a great deal of people who would be very willing to help you
Article by Kevin Montanaro