Dave Taylor, Sideburn event DJ, regular show-booth operative and quirky vehicle enthusiast explains his attraction to leftfield scooters from the IWL Troll to the Honda Spacy via post-punk icons Devo.
The motor scooter. A form of two-wheeled motorised transportation that divides opinion with the motorcycling community. Derided by many motorcyclists (who have never ridden one) based on their own pre-conceived stereotyping: It’s a girls bike, it’s a hairdryer, it’s a puff chariot, I wouldn’t ride one...couldn’t afford the elastic bands, etc. The scooterist who has ridden one and has probably done so over many unimaginable (by the motorcyclist) miles, can take all the insults and put downs on the chin because, if you know, you know.
The two main players in the motor scooter game were (are) undoubtedly Piaggio and Innocenti. Piaggio, based in Pontedera, founded in 1884, we’re predominantly an aeronautical manufacturer, who found themselves needing a new product to help mobilise the masses post WW2, the Vespa was born in 1946.
Innocenti, based in Milan, founded in 1920, as predominantly a steel tubing manufacturer, followed a similar route to Piaggio and produced their first motor scooter, the Lambretta, in 1947.
Fast forward to the United Kingdom Late 70s/early 80s. I, like editor, Gary Inman became aware of the scooter scene. It has been documented many times before (including a few occasions on this very blog). It’s a tricky beast to nail down, suffice to say, it won’t get pigeonholed into one subculture box, it certainly was a collective of many tribes.
The author is kneeling, all black clothing, with the Lincoln Violators SC, Scarborough Scooter Run, 1986 or '87. 'That is my Vepsa Mk1 T5 to the right, it would have been either brand new or maybe a year old....cut out side panels, Yankee seat, Driver/Alien headset fairing.'
Moody scooterdad in the 1990s. Note Gearhead magazine sticker on the sidepanel. The exact same sticker Dave Skooter Farm had on his Rotax framer when Sideburn's editor first met him.
But why did we subconsciously lean towards Piaggio/Innocenti (Vespa/Lambretta) for our chosen forms of transportation? There were many other scooter manufacturers that came along in the post-war period, but the scooterboys ignored these (I am generalising here and there was a few oddball characters attending British National Scooter Rallies on the lesser known marques like Zundapp, Maico, Heinkel).
Was there an unwritten rule that the lineage of a scooter as a fashion/lifestyle choice meant that 60s Mods and 70s Northern Soulies had chosen the two big Italian brands and therefore by default had set the seeds of cool for the next generation to naturally follow their predecessors choice of scooter?
At the time (mid-80s) all the oddity scooter marques were totally off my radar. No internet research facilities available remember. A Maico, Zundapp, DKR, Durkopp, Heinkel we’re not considered ‘scene scooters’, so it would be a brave/stupid purchase. In hindsight, there must have been so many of these scooters going cheap in the 80s purely because they were not cool. I was immersed in all things Vespa, rode, modified and restored many models over the next decade and half....and then, poof ! I lost my scooter mojo. In my eyes the scene had lost its way and many of its characters. Where? To rave culture? To the VW/Hotrod scene? To different motorcycle scenes? Back to football casual/terrace lifestyle? To family life? All of that. I still liked scooters, but not many of the people that rode them anymore.
I started dabbling with motorcycles, vintage British, Japanese, East German. I found the stimulus of learning about the engineering, doing my own servicing, which I found very therapeutic through some tough times. My downfall, I wasn’t a confident motorcycle rider, I could ride, but not well and I knew my limitations. Whereas I was comfortable riding a scooter with some proficiency.
My BSA BS31 Plunger
And the 1967 Honda CL77. I didn't have it long.
Ready for the Distinguished Gentlemans Ride on one of a couple of MZs I've owned
I remember one day having a cuppa with an old British biker buddy of mine, a bunch of new generation/born-again scooterists rode past. My friend asked, ‘Do you think you’ll ever get another one?’ My reply, Not a chance, look at those wankers, it’s not for me anymore.’
Life changes, Circumstances change, new love appears. I have a 1953 BSA B31 and a 1978 Honda 550/4 in the garage, but I still dressed very vintage Soulboy/Suedehead. My new partner takes me to task on this, saying ‘You should get another scooter.’ The stubborn old bastard in me thinks ‘Yes, maybe, but I cannot be like them.’ With the cogs whirring I set about the research. It has to be stylish, it has to be unique, it has to confuse people, it has to make the savvy and sussed scooter rider stop and ask questions, it has to be different. To be seen and NOT scene.
With the aid of the internet, a trip to the National Bubblecar Museum and a tip-off from the proprietor I find myself stood in the garage of an elderly scooter collector in northern Lincolnshire, cash stuffed in my back pocket, looking at a 1959 Durkopp Diana Sport 200cc. The old guy knew his stuff and this scooter was not being sold to any old Tomas, Dirk or Hans... I had to prove my worth to take on ownership of this rare German scooter. Did I have a suitable garage ? Did I have mechanical aptitude? I had to show the guy how I would set the carb on his scooter. I had to allow him to deliver the scooter to my house, so he could see where it was going to live! Owning a non-scene scooter was a whole new thing and the brotherhood that cherished these things were a whole new (but elderly) breed.
I was granted ownership of the scooter and began the love/hate relationship with owning such a rare beast. A feeling of smugness arose from owning such a weird scooter. All of the aforementioned expectations occurred and that was boxes ticked for me. Not one rider of a modded up LML (Indian Vespa clone) knew what my Durkopp was. Smart arse mission accomplished.
My thirst for egotistical elitism continued. What’s next ? Here we go again… It’s 6am on a Saturday morning, in a borrowed car/trailer and I’m heading north to see a man with a 1965 Heinkel Tourist 175cc for sale.
My Heinkel, complete with 1970s Nuclear Power, Nein Danke sticker
Arriving in semi-detached suburban Warrington, I am led through the house to a very equipped restoration shop containing half a dozen unusual Brit and German scooters having work done.
Deal done, I’m now the proud and slightly sceptical owner of a Heinkel scooter. As the guy digs out the paperwork from a very well organised filing cabinet in his workshop, I ask, how many scooters do you have? The reply, ‘175, no hang on, you just bought one, 174.’m He asks if I’d like to see his secret stash... We head out by car to an old brick Victorian barn, door open... and there indeed is 150+ scooters...Jawa, Maico, Manet, Peugeot, Zundapp, Triumph, BSA, Velocette etc... AND His wife has no idea this collection exists!
Back home with the Heinkel, time to learn the intricacies of a single cylinder, four-stroke German engine (original Vespas and Lambrettas are all two-stroke, remember) and the workings of the mighty scooter.
Now I had TWO pieces of German scootering history in my garage...Ha, that will stick it to the heathens of the local scooter community.
Let’s consider this for a moment, all the other manufacturers of scooters came late to the party. Most were established engineering companies or motorcycle manufacturers that dismissed Piaggio/Innocenti products as a passing fad. They were wrong and had to play catch up. Most used a power plant they already had, housing it in a suitable eye catching enclosed bodywork style, unfortunately without the finesse of the Italian originators.
Both my steeds were late-comers and what they screwed up in mechanical superiority they made up for with German over-engineering to lure potential buyers. My 1959 Durkopp had electric start, a foot gear change, a back up kickstarter pedal that if prodded in any gear, took the gearbox back to neutral. The 1965 Heinkel also had electric start, but so confident in this system, they didn’t even fit a kickstart, factory-fitted indicators, a thermal spacer on the carb manifold. Compare these specs to the equivalent British motorcycle manufacturers at the time in the lightweight market.Butm the payoff for all this fanfare of trickery...the Durkopp handled like it was stuck in a tram rail and the gear change on the Heinkel necessitated a left arm like Popeye.
Umm, maybe there was a reason they didn’t sell in great numbers. How is this lying with me, Mr.Holier than Thou unique scooter owner? Not so great… The idea of owning unique was biting me on the arse and suggesting wind your neck in and just buy another bloody Vespa. It was hard work sourcing parts for both of these machines, they were unreliable, they were more often in the workshop than on the road. Maybe it was time to re-assess why I wanted to distance myself from Joe Normal scooterists. I’d scratched my itch, but I had to admit, it hadn’t delivered the exclusivity I thought it might deliver. Both scooters promptly sold to a dealer on the south coast!
Five years later, and nine days into Covid-19 lockdown, I get curious for more oddity scooters, something to wind up the squares, man. I dig out the book My Cool Scooter, and there on page 37, the Honda Spacy 125! Resplendent in a metallic champagne, full digital dashboard and a POP-UP HEADLIGHT! This is the DeLorean of scooters, it just screams EIGHTIES! Honda even got Devo, Grace Jones and Adam Ant to do the TV adverts! It is so f’ugly only its mother could love it. And I know for damn sure it would cause mass confusion among my local scooter fraternity. I need one, I want one, I cannot find one for sale. Balls! On the back burner for a while.
April 2020, I sit here and look at my selection of rides: a 1985 MotoVespa (Spanish, not Italian) PX200EFL. But why didn’t you just buy a normal Italian one? Too easy.
A 1985 Vespa P125ETS, one year only model that bombed for Piaggio. But why not just buy a run of the mill Vespa small frame? Too easy. A 2006 Honda MD90 Cub, a decommissioned Tokyo Postal service Delivery Bike... But why not just buy a normal Honda C90? Too easy.
I know what you’re thinking, dream garage, but the one that got away, is an IWL (MZ division) Troll. Yes, Troll. It runs the MZ ES150 two-Stroke motorcycle engine. I nearly bought it, but I wasn’t brave enough. The Troll name came from the words Touring and Roller (German for scooter). IWL also made a model called the Pity. Yes, really.
IWL Troll, patiently waiting to be let into the Design Museum
I’m sure a physiologist would be able to answer the root cause of this need to not just take the easy route. Even now, with these three scooters the differences between them and a standard available model are quite subtle, but I want that one person with a bit of knowledge to spot that subtle difference and give me the ‘I get it mate’ nod. Egotistical? The need to feel one-upmanship? A feeling of superiority? Searching for a missing trait of rare comradeship? I dunno, I just know if being like them is right, I’d rather be wrong.
Further reading:Dave's excellent post on his cultural awakening in the 1970s