Colin Bunn: World’s biggest Lambretta collection? | FEATURE
If you were involved with scooters in the early 1980s then you will probably know Colin Bunn, even if you don’t know the name.
Colin is an icon of the UK Mod scene. Whether he likes it or not. Such is the power of advertising.
Colin’s claim to fame was that he starred in a 1982 advert for BASF Chromedioxid II cassette tapes – which dates the story to the era of the first recordable media that everyone owned.
The campaign showed Colin on his fully plated Lambretta – with additional fake accessories added for the shoot – complete with the tag line “Chrome by Colin”. This was followed by a picture of a cassette tape and the words “Chrome by B.A.S.F”
The advert – which caught the zeitgeist of the Mod revival – appeared everywhere; billboards, high-end magazines and in the music press. The image helped to cement revival Mod as a cultural phenomenon at the start of the 1980s.
How it all began
The clever idea to use a chromed Mod scooter to promote BASF’s Chrome tapes was dreamed up in a London advertising agency. They despatched a couple of scouts to Scarborough rally in 1982 where they found Colin and his Magpie-baiting uber-mod-mobile. He was there with club-mates from the Brum Runners SC. Colin was most surprised to be approached to have his scooter star in an advert.
Beneath all the glitz was actually a Jet 200 that Colin bought new from Criterion Scooters in Dudley for his 18th birthday. Progressively, Colin added more and more chrome until he’d amassed a total of 86 lights and 36 mirrors. This was not only a magnet for magpies but also the constabulary who’d regularly stop him and check the function and position of all his latest accessories met with the letter of the law. This harassment was only curtailed when his father and bosses complained to the local police station.
After initially agreeing to rent his scooter for the advert shoot in London, the agency decided that Colin would do a better job of sitting on the scooter than the model that they’d originally selected. In order to prepare him for the role a tailor-made 3-button mod suit was prepared overnight by Dave Wax (of Quadrophenia fame). The scooter was also ‘window-dressed’ with additional megaphone exhausts made from chromed card and placed in front of an intricately-painted backdrop of Brighton seafront.
Ironically the timing of this advert coincided with a natural subsidence in the mod scene and the birth of the scooterboy cult. Like many of his peers Colin soon stripped-off the chrome from his Jet and eventually sold it to a fellow club-mate. Not wanting to leave the lime-light his next project was a GP-based custom scooter called Lusty Lady.
Colin carried on rallying with the Brum Runners through the 1980s, but eventually his life moved in a different direction and he moved to Spain.
Vida Del Pescador
To meet Colin then, in the next millennium, is something of a pleasant surprise. Far from the arrogant, foppish figure portrayed in the image, Colin is softly spoken for a Brummie, polite and good company.
If Colin seems relaxed then that is because he has gone fishing. Permanently.
The one solid clue about his personality from the BASF advert is that Colin does not do things by half. His fishing tours business based in the lake-side Spanish village of Mequinenza is called Catmaster Tours. Colin is the man fishermen go to see if they want to catch catfish the size of a small horse. When the Ebro River was dammed this non-native species was introduced in 1974 by a German for recreational fishing. Since then, these ferocious eating machines have multiplied and grown into a sporting challenge for anyone who thinks they are strong enough to tow a fridge out of the water using a bendy stick and a reel.
Mequinenza may have the weather, wine and some of the best fishing in the world, but it was still missing something for Colin. It was a long way from his rebellious youth travelling all over Britain to scooter rallies with the Brum Runners.
Colin thought life might be more interesting if he got another Lambretta in Spain. It took the Spanish a little while to understand that he meant Lambretta – not Vespa – but eventually he managed to track one down.
True Mod mentality does not allow for half-measures. This lifestyle fans the fires of compulsion. Pretty soon Colin had amassed 24 Lambrettas. One of his fishing clients asked why he would want that many scooters. That was a very good point. Why stop at 24? Why not try to collect every model of Lambretta ever built in Spain and Italy?
Colin soon expanded his collection to models from other Lambretta-producing countries: France, India and Pakistan. By 2016 Colin had gathered together 120 Lambrettas from all over the world, all housed in a massive unit near his home in Spain.
In May last year I was due to ride past Colin’s place on my Twin Town Courier tour. How could I pass possibly the biggest collection of Lambrettas in the world and not stop in for a look?
My jaw slid open, much like the door to the huge warehouse that stores Colin’s collection…
Even when I visited the SIL factory in Lucknow I never saw this many Lambrettas together. Admittedly most of Colin’s scooters are in ‘as found’ condition, but that condition varies enormously from bike to bike.
Those in decent original condition are left that way while others who’ve had a harder life are being sent to the UK at a rate of around four a year to Pip from Indecipherables Lambretta Collective for a full restoration.
It was originally Colin’s intention to gather every model and derivative of Spanish and Italian Lambretta made, starting with the Model A and working from there. There are a few museums around the world, most notably Vittorio Tessera’s scooter museum in Milan, which has a complete range of Italian Lambrettas but never before have I seen so many of the rare and unusual branches of Innocenti’s family tree.
Unsurprisingly, given Colin’s location and his early experiences with Basque-built ‘brettas, his current collection contains quite a few Spanish maidens. The old Conqustador fascination with gold clearly never wore off. Certainly not from the amount of Eibar/Servetas lined up with their distinctive pale golden colour scheme.
From my perspective the more interesting scooters were actually ones he’d obtained from further afield. One particular example that came via India in veritable shit-heap condition is a Lambretta slimstyle, supposedly built in Pakistan around an Italian SX frame. The oddity of its construction is that the bodywork is made almost entirely from fibreglass. Presumably this construction method was easier for the Pakistanis than pressing steel.
The collection includes Indian oddities like the Kelvinator Avanti (named and indeed styled after a fridge) and its even odder ’70s predecessor the ASV Aravali 150. That’s another Lambretta based on SIL-supplied parts but with totally unique legshields that are smooth at the front instead of using a separate horncasting.
We’ll delve further into Colin’s oddities in the future.
Collecting itself is something of an art-form; requiring an odd mix of patience and impulsiveness. Patience in the form of waiting for scooters bought and paid for to arrive from India; which sometimes took up to two years. At the time of my visit Colin was still trying, after a couple of years to arrange the shipment of a brand new, zero mileage 1989 Serveta from the Canary Islands. The problem with a brand new scooter from 1989 is that it is a vehicle in the eyes of the authorities, but equally because it has never been registered it has no documents. Without documents it can’t be shipped because computer says ‘no’. Catch 22.
The other attribute of impulsiveness is required to respond to bargain finds at the drop of a hat. Bargains like a TV175 for €3,000 which require 15-hours driving straight from Spain to Genova in Italy only to find that there was an international communication breakdown and it was actually less of a bargain at €13,000.
Colin is broadly an optimist though and every cloud has a silver lining, such as discovering a Model D hanging in a car-park on the very same trip.
On top of all this, Colin has also been amassing a collection of Lambretta signs, accessories and memorabilia from all over the world. Much of this is very rare has been used to decorate the walls of the massive building in which all these scooters are stored.
The building…ah there’s the problem.
Just recently the Spanish owner of the building which housed the collection has passed away and as a result Colin needs to move everything out. Mequenenza is not a big place and there is nowhere else suitable in the vicinity in which to store the collection, so regrettably Colin is being forced to sell off everything except a few scooters that he wants to keep for his own use.
Words and images: Sticky