In the mid-80s Jeremy Howlett’s Dazzle set the bar for other custom scooters to follow.
That very point has been discussed over many a pint, at many a rally, but I’ve rarely heard much dissent.
Admittedly the bar was eventually raised by other custom scooters, most notably Howlett’s later creations Spirit Walker, Wake and Nike Air Racer. However, in terms of a complete over-the-top work of art that you could only see in the muddy gallery of a scooter rally campsite, Dazzle was the original that rocked the boat.
Dazzle also told a tale about the eclecticism of that era’s scooter scene. It is not yet another regurgitated tribute to Quadrophenia. Important as that film surely is, how many more custom scooters will be dedicated to it before some sort of fixed penalty system is introduced for lack of imagination?
Instead, in 1983, here was a custom scooter about Siouxsie Sioux, of the Banshees and later The Creatures. The subject is a striking, controversial woman with absolutely no connection to the scooter scene at all. As excellent as some of her music is, very little of it is danceable in a conventional sense, and as such it is rarely played on the rallies.
Siouxsie then, was perfect as a subject for a 1980s custom scooter. Howlett’s creations back then were at the heart of all good art, because they made you think. They made you think about stuff outside the norm. They were signposts to other areas of culture beyond the obvious and the played-out. Howlett wasn’t the only one doing this: many custom scooters from that era pointed you in strange directions beyond mod/skinhead/soul and soldiers. You didn’t have to like the chosen subject – in fact some themes were chosen to deliberately shock – but the best art at least prompts a reaction. Ambivalence is the greatest criticism you can make to any custom build.
Dazzle had two phases, or rather three now. Originally it was blue, but after a spill Jeremy had it resprayed. It morphed into ‘green’ Dazzle which became more famous on the rallies and featured in the important scooter magazines of the era. Countless tons of Blu Tack will have been used to stick those pictures to teenage bedroom walls. I’m sure Dazzle featured on mine, even if I preferred Howlett’s later creations.
With Spirit Walker, Jeremy and painter Paul Karslake kept pushing the boundaries. Wake – aesthetically my favourite – pushed beyond them. As a non-runner it was highly controversial. Howlett then set about building Nike Air Racer – his take on the ultimate Lambretta Street Racer – before drifting out of the scooter scene. By this stage Dazzle had been completely superseded.
Dazzle was never truly forgotten though. Like a first teenage love affair it is a memory that can never be erased for many an 80s scooterboy. Dizzy from the A41 Eagles is just such a man. He’s already built two handsome show Lambrettas of his own: fantasy-themed full-frame Majestic Realms and herb-inspired chopper Mellow Daze. He also owns one of few original Rossa 350 Lambrettas.
Dizzy was on Facebook in 2011 when rumours surfaced that Jeremy had found Dazzle in one of his dad’s old garages. Many people denied it was the right scooter, saying that it had either been converted into another custom or cut-down at some stage.
Shortly afterwards Howlett’s old custom scooter parts started to appear on eBay and Dizzy was on the ball. The original Indian GP frame for Dazzle was listed for £1,600 with no bids. You can look at that price in two ways: a lot of money for a bare Indian Lambretta frame, or good value for a piece of history. After placing a bid Dizzy couldn’t stand the tension of the auction but soon enough Jeremy was on the phone to talk about it.
“It was like he was vetting me,” recalls Dizzy, “but he wanted Dazzle to go to a good home. He agreed to cancel the auction and sell it to me. I was up there that night with the money in my pocket. Once he knew I was genuine he said, ‘I don’t want £1,600, just give me a thousand for it.’ Even better!
“This was December 2011, just before Christmas. When he opened the garage doors there was a rusty old frame sitting there. Only the painted stripes on the back of the frame let me know that it was the real deal.
“The scooter is an Indian GP from 1983 that Jeremy originally purchased from Kegra Racing. He took it home, stripped it and sold most of it back to Kegra because he only wanted the frame and the panelwork.
“Jeremy had it painted by Karslake in Regal blue but after a year or so of using it he dropped it and broke the headset. The next thing everyone saw was Dazzle redone in green and black. He really ramped it up for 1985. Karslake had changed and upgraded the murals to later images and added a lot more chrome. I first saw it at Clacton but I think he did six rallies on it that year including Dunbar on which he blew the engine up. I believe he managed to get it patched up and rode it back home again. If I remember right he changed it again slightly for 1986 but I never saw the bike again after the riot at Isle of Wight…
“Of all four of his scooters I actually preferred Spirit Walker. With the cut-away engine casing he took Lambrettas to a new level and it made me want to do something similar. With Spirit Walker everyone kind of forgot about Dazzle and moved on.
“At the time when I started building my customs it was taking me three months to get stuff chromed but Jeremy was turning a whole full-blown custom around in six months.
Cities in dust
So, which bits of original Dazzle did Dizzy actually get?
“I got the frame and with it was the front mudguard which was grotty and rusty. It had been kicked around the garage for years. Six months later he found some other bits of Dazzle in a box and gave me the headset top which I wanted to use but it was too damaged. Like the mudguard it was in such a state that if I reused it then the murals would have to be replaced, so there was no point. Better to simply use them in my display at shows.
“A while later I got contacted by a friend of Howlett’s, also called Jeremy, who had some other original damaged parts of Dazzle that he was willing to sell to me. I got those, had them repaired and they are on this third version of the scooter. These are the engraved head and flywheel cowlings, the chaincase and the original rear hub. The hub was cracked and needed welding and skimming, but I managed to save 35% of the original build.
“Later I managed to track down a few other bits of Dazzle but the owners either didn’t want to sell them to me or asked stupid money. One guy was asking £300 for a set of cutdown rear footboards that were damaged and disfigured. I told him to keep them and made my own ones for about six quid…
“Later on I got offered the original forks by Denbigh Mudge from Bristol, but they’d been re-used after Dazzle in Dave Oakley’s controversial ‘Sieg Heil’ and still had those words engraved over the Dazzle engraving. I decided to give them a miss and use new.
So if Dizzy managed to save 35% of the original engraving, who did he use for the rest?
“I started out using Adi Clark, and he made some good contributions. In the end I went back to using Don Blocksidge; the 84-year-old man who engraved both the previous incarnations of Dazzle and numerous custom scooters from around the world. His turnaround was unbelievable – like 10 days to get something back in the post.
“In the meantime I got back in touch with Jason Lock – who I wanted at the start but couldn’t get hold of. He offered to engrave some bits if I got them polished in advance so I started to look for polishers.
“I tried a couple of firms in London who did some bits and told me that was the best they could do, but I know it’s possible to do better. Then I found John Walklate of JL Polishing and contacted him. I’ve been messed around before, so I asked him to do a couple of test pieces. Within one week I had them back and it was some of the best polishing I’ve ever seen. I offered him the job if he could do the same standard on the rest of it. He replied; “you don’t get it back until I’m happy and you don’t pay for it until you are happy.” I couldn’t ask for better than that.
“Next was chroming. I only intend to build Dazzle once and I don’t want any bullshit flecked chrome coming through. I had some chroming done in London, which was good but the owner started to creep the prices up. I got a quote at the outset but by the end of three years process he was asking for more money. A deal is a deal, so I took my bits somewhere else.
“I checked out 10 chroming companies off the net and the best website was Marque Restore in Coventry. They do a lot of high-end cars like Bentley and Ferrari. When I phoned the receptionist – Julie – they told me they were on a 10 week turnaround. I told her my story, that I was rebuilding a piece of history, and they sent my test bits back in six weeks. They were gorgeous but I still left them outside for a week to see what was going to happen in the weather. Marque Restore have a pre-paid queue service that works really well and all the stuff comes back properly packed and fully insured. In the past I’ve had stuff sent back from other firms in a Jiffy bag and it arrives all dented. After all the love it’s been given in polishing and engraving, it makes you think ‘what the f##k!’
“It was the same deal trying to get a Dave Webster DJ exhaust. I managed to get an original one with a dent in it but nobody wanted to cut and repair it for me. I phoned MSC to see if they’d make me one and they laughed at me and told me to get a replica from Vietnam. The replicas are stainless but I wanted something for engraving and chroming…
“I ended up putting out an A.P.B, and a mate from Watford told me about an old boy who makes exhausts. I’ve heard all that before, but we went round there and he offered to get straight on it…
“A year later the old fella phoned to say he’d finished it, but he had to make a couple of modifications. Oh no…here we go…
“I went back with my mate and there was the original DJ I took him all cut completely into pieces! Then from out of the back of his workshop he brought me this brand spanking new DJ replica exhaust that he’d made from scratch. He apologised for taking a year over it, explaining that he’d been ill, but then again he only charged me £100 cash to make it! After that I had to weld the brackets on, send it to John for polishing and then to the engraver who spent countless hours engraving it. He said he had a money bag of swarf left over in his bedroom.
“Throughout this process I’ve been to the smaller people and it’s paid off. My old mate Guy Rackley sold me a disc brake cheap because he was privileged to be part of the project.
“The seat top is thick leather and it was engraved via Smart Rrrs in York. It’s great but the cover was supposed to be in beige like the original, so Lee at Viking Vinyls is going to make me a new one.
Of course all of these elements are simply window-dressing to the main feature; which is undoubtedly the paintjob. At the time of Howlett’s original there was a choice of airbrush artists for recognisable faces. You picked between Paul Karslake and John Spurgeon.
Jeremy Howlett poured scorn on the idea of using anyone other than Karslake; just as Dizzy did for this third incarnation.
“There were lots of up and coming painters who offered to do it for me, but I told them that there’s only one bloke who is going to paint Dazzle and that’s Paul Karslake. I went to see him as soon as I got the frame and he said he’d be honoured to paint it again and he promised to make it special.
“I took it back around in primer after a full dry build. I made sure all the shut-gaps we perfect and nothing was going to rub. I didn’t want it looking grotty after six months. I could only find 10 later pictures of Souxsie from the 90s in her prime. Karslake told me to leave them and he’d get on with it. It took over a year in the end after some family problems, but it turned out special just like he promised. There are little details like the reflections in her eyes on one panel being the ear-rings from the other side.”
Dizzy is unreasonably coy about the parts he did himself; including completely hiding the wiring loom; which runs within the frame. He also made the twisted sidestand which includes two little pig-tail curls. Dizzy originally wanted to tie a knot in the metal but couldn’t get it hot and flexible enough to turn back in on itself.
There is a point to this detail though. The curls in the stand legs act as hoops to be used when chaining the scooter up. All of a sudden it makes perfect sense…
Perhaps the most interesting part of this episode was seeing Jeremy Howlett’s reaction to the rebirth of his first baby. As we stood in the custom show and stared at the massive Souxsie mural on the flywheel-side panel, Jeremy simply shook his head and said, “it’s better than my original. Karslake has just got better.”
That’s clearly not the last we’ll hear of Jeremy Howlett, as he reveals in our video. Wake is also being restored from a rotting wreck to its former glory by a new owner. Jeremy has been invited to the big reveal at a forthcoming gig by ‘Goth legends’ The Mission, who are depicted in the murals. Chalk that one up as another obscure cultural signpost from the 1980s.
More than that though, I get the impression that Jeremy is not completely finished with the scooter scene yet and he may have another card up his sleeve. If that is the case then Dazzle was the first card in a suit and this one could be Howlett’s joker…
Words, images and video: Sticky
Paul Karslake filming: Emperor Ming
Owners name: Paul Dizzy.
Town: Sidcup, Kent.
Club: A41 Eagles Middlesex & Herts.
Scooter name: Dazzle.
Engine details: 225cc Stage 5 Dave Webster (RIP) barrel (purchased in 1986).
Top speed: 70+.
Power output: Unknown.
Paintwork: Paul Karslake Fine Arts.
One-off parts: Exhaust, centre stand, battery box, seat (Smart Rrrs).
Fabrication: All cables in frame, no visible electrics, twisted centre stand, kickstart, brake pedal, battery box, seat grab rail, speedo face… all designed and made by myself. Frame straightened by Mike Phoenix Scooters. Welding and turning by Dartford Steve. Engine and machine work by Mark Broadhurst.
Coatings & finishes: Polishing by John Walklate. Chrome by London Chroming and Marque Restore Chroming. Engine casing repaired by MB Developments. Engraving by Jason Lock, Don Blocksidge and Adi Clarke.
Acquisition? 28th Nov 2011 (bare frame).
Inspiration? From when I first saw the scooter in 1985 it has always been my favourite Lambretta, so when the frame came available to buy on eBay I snapped it straight up. It is now part of my collection of 10 Lambrettas.
Alteration? 12v electrics, 34 Amal carb, one-off handmade DJ exhaust pipe, custom speedo & face, rear boards, one-off designed seat.
Perspiration? Waiting for the parcels to arrive.
Aggravation? Stick with it, budget yourself correctly, notepad handy at all times, do your homework, ask for advice or a second opinion and use reliable recommended quality craftsman… and stick with them to help build your repertoire.
Recommendation? Paul Karslake Fine Arts, JL Polishing (highly recommended due to the quality of workmanship), Marque Restore Chrome Plating Ltd, Jason Lock, Adi Clarke and Don Blocksidge Engravers.
Celebration? John Walklate for short notice work, Paul Karslake, Adi Clarke, Jason Lock for quick turnaround work and special thanks to master craftsman Don Blocksidge and Guy Rackley for the disc hub.
Social Media link: Dazzling on Facebook