Heinkel Fest 2013

January 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Fellow scooter enthusiast Mike McWilliams sent me a postcard this week announcing Heinkel Fest on September 18 in Colorado Springs, CO. I have corresponded with Mike on and off for a few years. He’s a wealth of knowledge on Heinkel scooters, and at the center of the Heinkel universe in the US as far as I’m concerned. I’m betting the event will be fun. Details can be found here

I have two Heinkels in my stable and confess to having put both projects on the back burner. My 103 A2 remains in a preserved, non-running state and the 102 A0 awaits an engine overhaul. The latter has been repainted and the frame powder coated. There’s so little time available for me to work on any of my rides. I get a lot of satisfaction out of finishing a project. Lately, I cant get no satisfaction.  

Old Suzuki, young heart. A 1981 GS450L restoration project

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Being one of those people who bore easily, I have to shift my interests every now and then to something new. In the early Spring my attention turned to doing a light restoration on a well preserved, early 80’s Suzuki GS 850. That was so much fun that I wanted more.

My original plan was to pick up another Suzuki as a donor for a cafe or bobber project. All I needed was an engine and rolling frame. I thought I had found one on Craigslist, but after seeing it in person I didn’t have the heart to tear apart an all-original, low mileage ’81 GS450. It had been stored in a garage for nine years. Only 9k on the clock. When the owner’s first child was born, his wife insisted that his riding days were over. When I handed him the cash and loaded the bike into the back of my truck, it was obvious to me the guy was experiencing melancholia as the last bastion of his early, carefree life was about to disappear. He repeated, “I really loved that bike” several times. Before he changed his mind, I shook his hand, assuring him it would be well cared for and quickly left the scene. Growing up sure is awful, said Peter Pan.

It didn’t take long to get things sorted. I had it running in a couple of days. A couple of weeks later, new rubber. The tank was clean and carbs were surprisingly free of varnish. One scary thing was that there was very little oil in it. I wondered where it went and this began to concern me. It didnt take too long to figure out that the shift lever seal was bad. The lever was a little bent, so the bike probably fell on it’s side at some point in it’s life, damaging the seal. The missing oil mystery was solved. It was on the floor of the original owners garage, bleeding out one drip at a time for nine lonely years.

Other than the seal, remaining work on this old GS is fixing a crack in the left pipe and putting the front fender back on. The collector tags arrived a couple of weeks ago. These old twins from the 80’s sure are fun to ride. Much lighter and more agile than the GS 850, its easier to ride it like a jackass. I’ll never grow up! Jump on the wind’s back, and away we go to Never Land.

Selling Scooters Causes Anxiety

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Being neurotic and indecisive is probably the last thing anyone would accuse me of. But after months of hand wringing, I finally put two of my prized scooters up for sale. As mentioned many times before, I am simply out of room. I listed a Cezeta and a Li125 S1 Lambretta on eBay. These are both all-original. The Lammy is a rare frame breather model. It starts, runs, and shifts like butter. The Cezeta, extremely rare in the US, needs some work. It’s in excellent condition and not seized, but will not start. I haven’t had the time to figure out why.

Being a hoarder of bikes and hating the idea of selling them, my feelings of dread were confirmed when the ridiculous questions started to come in about my auctions. One guy asked if he could ride the Cezeta to work. Another asked for all the serial numbers. Yet another asked if I would ship to Indonesia.

The thought of someone buying one of my vintage treasures and painting it pink or chopping it up to build a rat bike gives me nightmares. I shouldn’t care but I do. Every one of the vintage rides in my stable was hand picked. A shrink would probably say my emotional attachment to these machines or the fear that someone may ruin them is not normal, but that’s how it is and I make no apologies.

I set a reserve on both auctions and of course neither was met, so they didn’t sell. Part of this is my fault. I didn’t provide enough photos. People that seemed to be serious bidders asked for more pics but the auctions were ending so I couldn’t get them done in time.

It’s a grey and rainy June weekend here in Mosstown. Now that riding or a round of golf is off the table, I will take some more photos and have another go at auctioning these two scooters.

1982 Suzuki GS850

May 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Hey, that’s not a scooter!

In my 20’s, I had a couple of ’80s Suzuki street bikes and always enjoyed riding them. But I never imagined having another one until recently. Back in the day, the GS was arguably the best performing street cruiser/sport bike on the road. These were relatively inexpensive, high performance rides most often purchased by young men who thrashed them for a while, grew up, got married and abandoned them. It’s fair to say that the 80’s Suzuki GS was the crotch rocket of that era.

My habit is to routinely scan Craigslist and eBay Motors for vintage scoots, but for a few months I have been trolling for a 60’s-70’s era Triumph Bonneville or BSA. That led me to this local, one-owner GS850 at an irresistable price. After seeing it in person, it was obvious this was a 30 year old, cosmetically perfect machine that had been treated extremely well. It’s hard to find any mass-produced performance motorcycle in decent shape three decades after it was built. Definitely a collectable.

I found a local shop that has a mechanic who knows something about the older GS series. The bike runs great except it wont idle right. I figure it’s an air leak or the carbs are dirty.  I am a two-stroker and haven’t had a big ride for a while… and wrenching on engines with valves and synchronizing four carburators is something I haven’t done for years. I no longer have the proper tools to do that. An expert opinion is mandated.

The ’82 GS850 has all the right stuff for a sport touring bike — upright riding position, easy to handle, classic looks, and comfortable.  This Suzuki is a terrific addition to my stable. A fun machine to ride with lots of power. They were also known for being low maintenance. It can keep up well enough with a modern sport bike and it’s weight (nearly 600 lbs) makes it feel solid and stable on the freeway. The definitve 80’s lines and mag rims seem fitting for a vintage collection.

It’s going to be a terrific summer.

A few words about the specs: An air cooled 843cc engine with a top speed of 123 miles per hour (198 km/h) provides a whopping 77.6 horsepower (57.1 kW) at 9,000 rpm and 65 pounds (6.6 kg) of torque at 7,500 rpm. Shaft drive.

Ruminations on collecting classic scooters

November 27, 2011 § 7 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.

2011: The year that had no Spring

June 2, 2011 § 2 Comments

In spite of my prayers and sacrificing a few neighborhood cats to the rain Gods, it’s now June and the weather continues to suck. I have hardly ridden at all. An interesting fact I heard today is that we have already exceeded our annual rainfall here in Mosstown, and it has been the coolest Spring since the late 1940’s. Great.

I have a garage full of old scooters who think I have abandoned them. Over the winter, I began piling stuff up in the garage to get it out of the house and to the casual observer it might seem that I am one of those hoarders from TV. Nothing could be further from the truth because unlike those crazy people who just cant throw anything away, I despise clutter. Every time I open the garage it puts me in a bad mood. So I have decided to do something about it. The best plans never have more than three steps. Here they are:

  1. Eliminate the junk. Order a dumpster. Everything I havent touched in 12 months or more must go. For example, the sleeping bag I haven’t used for ten years.
  2. Sell project scooters and parts I will never use. Two of them must go. I’m thinking the Heinkel and Cezeta. Rare, but also extremely time consuming to restore. I dont have that kind of time anymore.
  3. Organize the garage and make it well lighted and clean.  Once the crap is gone, get the walls and floor painted,then install some proper storage. A clean and organized workshop is a happy shop. I may also add a refrigerator.

I’ll probably have to rent a storage container for a week or two to hold the bikes, parts, and non-scooter garage stuff while the new man-cave is being readied. I have a few weeks to plan. The work begins in July, right after Independence Day. Photos will follow.

Vittorio Tessera’s Lambretta Restoration Guide

May 15, 2011 § 2 Comments

Vittorio Tessera’s book is definitely worth owning if you have a Lambretta. Note that I didn’t say classic Lambretta, because basically they are all classics. The company is long gone. Every small detail of the specs are covered in Vittorios Restoration Guide from the color down to the variations within a specific model from the first to the end of production. It’s particularly useful if you are into doing nit-picky restorations that aim to put the scooter back to the way it was when it rolled out of the factory.

The Vespa equivalent, titled Vespa Technica, is quite good but it does have some inaccuracies and the hardbound set is a tad expensive. The other difference between Vespa Technica and Vittorio’s guide is that the Vespa set lacks soul. What the does that mean? Vittorio is a collector and his affection for the Lambretta marque shows in his books. He is a Master in the truest sense and makes a living through his expertise. Here’s a link to some photos of Vittorio’s Museum near Milan, courtesy of Alan Dollar, who is an avid scooter collector. I haven’t met Alan personally but his collection was featured in Scoot! Quarterly some time ago and it’s pretty impressive.

There are a lot of others with a real passion for Lambrettas and I don’t mean to sell them short… shop owners around the world, collectors, and enthusiasts of all kinds are keeping the Lambretta alive. You have to give the shop owners a lot of credit for having the nads to be in a business that serves such a small market, for a product made by a company that closed it’s doors 30 years ago. It’s easier to make money selling coffee or fast food than scooter parts and service. I’m glad all these people chose the latter.

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