Ruminations on collecting classic scooters
November 27, 2011 § 6 Comments
It’s almost 2012 and it’s become a regular activity for me to consider thinning out my collection. I have what feels like an overwhelming number of project bikes and I have no idea when I can get around to doing something with them. Laying in wait are a couple of Vespa VM2 faro basso’s, a ’52 Allstate, a VL3, GS 150 VS5, a VB1, and four Lambretta LD’s – an early Mk1, a ’54 French LD and two Mk3′s. Then there’s two Series 1 Li150s, two Heinkel Tourists, a Cezeta, and two Zundapp Bellas. To complete them all, this easily represents two years of work.
And that’s not all. A 1952 V33 faro basso was my first restoration project and I want to correct some of this small things about it that bother me. My second, pristine VB1 will need an engine rebuild if I want it to run reliably. Among the others I have finished are three LDs (one of each series), a VM1 and VM2, and a ’56 Allstate. An early Li125 Lambretta frame breather and Mk1 LD are among my completed ‘preservation’ efforts. Preservation, in other words, means keeping these scooters all original.
I’m conflicted. You can only ride one at a time and I find myself limited by time, job responsibilities, and the nine months of gloomy Pacific Northwest drizzle. Then again, scooters have never been about riding, clubs, and rallys for me. I like the work of restoring. Some people in the scootering community are repelled by this. That’s a valid point of view. These machines were made to ride, not to put on display. This thing of mine defines me more as a curator than a scooterist. So be it. I do love to ride, but restoring and admiring these works of moving art is what really makes me happy.
It’s easy to see that the queue of projects I’ve accumulated has become a bit overwhelming. In most cases each were acquired with a specific reason in mind… filling gaps in a collection that represents the classic scooters of the 1950′s. That makes it tough to let one go. The deeper I got into collecting, the more I realized the constraints of time and space. Not in Einstein’s terms though. I mean storage space and the time it takes to complete a project. And there’s the cost issue. At what point does a hobby become too expensive?
The sheer quantity of scooters manufactured in the 1950′s is surprising. The big two, Vespa and Lambretta, were the well known brands in the day. There are so many more I never heard of when this all began. The lesser known turned out to be the most interesting to me as a collector. Among the Italians, these are the all-aluminum Rumi and the Piatti, which looks like a big Twinkie with handlebars and a seat. German scooters such as the Heinkel, Durkopp, Goggo, Zundapp, NSU, and TWN are unique aesthetically, mechanically solid, and are great touring bikes. Classic French scooters have the most unusual designs and features. It’s almost as if they were intended to make a statement instead of being practical and reliable. The communists… IWL, Cezeta and Vyatka, are built like tanks. The Japanese Rabbit and Silver Pigeon had innovative designs. Spain had the Serveta. From Argentina came the Siambretta version of the Lambretta. France, Great Britain, and Germany also licensed manufacturing rights for the Vespa and Lambretta, each with their own minor variations over those made in Italy. Then there’s the Indian-made Lambretta’s and Vespas. This is only scratching the surface. The list could go on and on.
There are a surprising number of people who collect scooters. Their interests and reasons for having them vary. Some are riding enthusiasts and club members that have a lot of bikes. Others, a smaller group, are more into scooters as antiques. Some dedicated themselves to a particular marque and others don’t. Over the past few years, I have made contact with a handful of collectors in Europe and the US. In many cases the size and diversity of their collections has been humbling. The largest among them have included an amazing array of scooter memorabilia as well. Posters, advertisments, manufacturer’s promotional items, specialized tools, photos, etc. A lot of these collectibles are worth more than the scooters themselves.
No rambling diatribe about scooter collecting would be complete without mentioning Cushman. America’s contribution to the scooter world. The Cushman has a long history, pre-dating the Vespa and Lambretta. Legend is that the inspiration for the Vespa came to Enrico Piaggio after seeing the American soldiers riding Cushman’s during the occupation at the end of WWII. There’s a rich history surrounding Cushman, but that’s a story for another time. I don’t have any of these (yet), but in the US, Cushman scooter enthusiasts and collectors far outnumber the European enthusiasts. They aren’t as elegant as their Italian counterparts, but the utilitarian design and ruggedness of Cushman scooters have their own, uniquely American characteristics.
To paraphrase the American humorist Will Rogers, I never met a scooter I didn’t like. My New Year resolution is to get my collection of scooters organized and make some decisions about what I will keep and what I will sell. Invariably, more will be added to the stable, but I’ve realized at long last that you can’t have them all.