You may remember us having a quick peak at some of these creations after the mad-cap creator won a recent SLUK ‘Shed’ competition. Our man, Geoff went down to see the man behind them, Sean Robinson to delve a little deeper into The Garagistas.
“I have the most videoed back alley in existence” Sean Robinson, Poole, July 2016
Sean Robinson is the man behind the Garagistas Facebook page. It is a meeting point for garage dwellers and shed tinkerers of the world, intended to unite in their love of taking something like a humble motor scooter and mending, bending, adapting and adding to it until it resembles…well, err, another thing.
The page is a tribute to those hardy men with pipes, flat caps and overcoats who tinkered with oily bits in their sheds and workshops to produce hand built single-seater race cars powered by Lotus engines. Sed-built creations that went on to beat Enzo Ferraris stable of Italian stallions and dominate the racing scene of the late 50’s and early 60’s. Enzo Ferrari used the term “Garagistas” as a put down to these thoroughly British heroes’.
The most famous of these was the founder of Lotus cars, Colin Chapman. He described, in one simple quote exactly how a Garagista goes about beating a multi-million pound racing team: “Simplify, then add lightness”
As you can see by the following photos Sean has stuck to the simplification and lightness mantra whole-heartedly with all his creations, if by simplification and lightness you mean adding massively complicated heavy stuff…
Complicate then add ballast
With the Garagista page there is a never-ending supply of bits and bobs in various garages and sheds around the world, ripe to be swapped, dealt and bartered. Sean has sent and received stuff from Singapore, Malaysia, Croatia, France, the USA and Australia. There is a willing international community ready to welcome newbies, take the piss out of them a little, and drool over the latest weird metal sculpture.
Think of the Garagista versus Ferrari like the difference between a professional photographer and a rank amateur. One will have several cameras, lenses, lighting, filters and flashes and the other might ride fifty miles to take photos of some hand built scooters and forget to put the memory card in his camera and have to use his phone camera instead…twat.
Sean started his scootering career as a fresh faced 16-year-old in 1981 with his nice standard blue 50 special. In the very beginning he was a mod until he realised that the mod lifestyle meant keeping clean.
“I’d put on some nice gear, some white Levis and I’d look immaculate, by the time I got to the do two miles away on the scooter I’d be black and covered in oil. I went to Scarborough in 1981 from London on my Vespa 90 in a flasher mac with an open face helmet and woollen gloves, I froze my tits off. I got up there though and saw these ‘scooter boys’ with combats, denims and boots and thought it was a much better idea and I’ve never looked back”.
So, let’s get the kettle on and see what’s in the garage today…
Papa Lazarou’s Pandemonium Rocket
This creation was the first of Sean’s descent into Garagista madness. In his words “I didn’t start out thinking it would end up looking like this, it started off with the front apron and tank on a standard Vespa frame with the back end cut off and it just got bigger and bigger, I’ve always liked weird looking scooters”
Well; where to start? The front mudguard started out as a trailer he made by welding two Bajaj panels together, the front apron is the roof off an old Ford Popular, the rear tank is of unknown origin, it came from a scrappy, the rear spare wheel set up was born out of necessity as Sean would ground out the spare in the normal position due to the scoot sitting significantly lower than standard. The lowering being carried out by swapping the rear shock for an eight-inch solid bar, thus hardtailing the creation and putting off his long suffering wife Helen from riding pillion (can’t blame her really). The handlebars are original Piaggio Faro Basso – yes, Vespa purists, original Faro Basso! He has at least beefed up the braking with some adapted disc-brake forks.
So is it finished?
“I’m always thinking of doing something different with it but it’s my first and my favorite. Who knows though, never say never”
All the sheet metal work and welding is done by Sean although Sean prefers the term “sticking bits of metal together” rather than welding. I’m sure the professional welders out there would probably agree (no offence mate).
When Sean was working at a local car scrapyard they had a rusted 1950s Morris Oxford that came in. The only bits worth saving were the tops of the front wings, the boot, the bonnet and the tops of the rear wings. His bosses were well up for him liberating a bit of bodywork for a new creation, so he got to work with an industrial disk cutter and chopped all the panels off of it, chucked them in the boot of the car and waited for inspiration to take hold.
A friend then gifted him a rotten PX frame, which he chopped up, measured up by eye and in his words “welded it all together”. The project took him six months of Sundays and odd evenings. As with the rocket, the whole scoot has been dropped eight inches with the seat pan being cut out altogether. The dashboard utilises the leg shields that were cut off, the tank is a ten-litre Mustang that has been sunk into the bodywork and the brass auxiliary tank on the side was used to provide the fuel for a British Seagull outboard engine back in the sixties. Most of the other bits were recycled from various finds or items given to him by friends. The front grille for example is a cutdown mark one Ford Consul grille. True to the Garagista creed, the whole bike owes him around £350.
I’m sure the biggest question people will ask is how does it handle? Well, having ridden down to France with him a couple of months ago I can tell you it handles fine and gets along at a fair pace with its T5 172 engine. I can also attest to the amount of interest Sean’s creation gets from Joe Public. He can’t go anywhere without camera phones being whipped out and people asking him about it. One old boy said “He remembered those from the 1950’s” much to Sean’s amusement. Although you can see why the confusion might occur, it does look like something that the 1950’s British bubble car designers would have happily produced.
It’s got to be heavy though hasn’t it? After all the bodywork is all steel… Well after Sean took it for an MOT two days ago, and after they stopped laughing they commented on how light it was with the front end measured at only five kilos heavier than a P2. It sailed through the test as well with only and advisory for lighting. The silvereen is slowly disappearing from inside the headlight reflectors.
La Pulce (the Flea)
This started off as a build-off bike in competition with Adam from Scotland.
“Adam built a ‘Wee army bike’, a cracking little bike with a trailer and he challenged me to build one. His is tiny, smaller than this one but this measures a measly metre from end to end. He’s a great kid and even sent me down an engine and some forks for it. His is on the road all legit but I haven’t quite got round to finishing mine yet”
Sean’s taken it round the block so far and the handling is interesting. He says “It’s not bad” and pops along quite nicely with its standard PX125 engine. However, having sat on it his description that it’s “A bit cramped” sums it up quite nicely. Sean says that it will only ever be used for a bit of fun and I can see it certainly would be.
Tin Worm (the latest creation)
This bare metal behemoth came about with a friend of Sean’s wanting a motorcycle frame adapting to take a Vespa engine. He had been given a knackered Rally frame as part of the bits he’d collected for the project and said Sean could have it if he wanted. The frame was rotten so Sean made a plan to save what was salvageable and adapt the rest.
The frame was first cut in half, extended ten-inches in length and then raked. The precise angle of the rake was scientifically worked out by cutting through the stem, bending it backwards until it looked about right and welding it up again. Again this was all done by eye with the occasional glance at a spirit level and has it worked?
“It rolls down a hill true”, Sean explains. “Well the little bit of a slope outside my garage…”
Scientifically proven then, I trust you’ll agree…
Again the mantra of recycling and adapting has carried over to this beast with its Royal Enfield tank and 2CV headlamp. The forks have been extended six-inches and a foot gear change has been made and fitted, the panels are Vespa Sprint with one welded on and the engine side held on by a belt. I’m sure you will have noticed that the front of the seat is now the back of the bike and it looks like it was made to be there, which it was I suppose. Sean has no idea what the seat is from; it came from the local bike chap that does his MOT’s.
It’s cost him £120 quid so far and £40 of that was for the hugger mudguard. This is next on the list to get finished when Sean has time. His job as a self-employed driving instructor sees him working six days a week so stuff gets done when it gets done, even this job has its perks though with a recent trainee being asked if they wanted to drive a “bit further” on this lesson and get a free half-hours tuition so Sean could pick a Vespa frame up.
So can you really build one of these in a garage?
“Yes 100%. This is my standard garage, with no permanent electric, that comes from a sixty-foot extension lead that comes out of my toilet window. Anyone can build something like this. No one taught me to build these, I bought a little hobby welder years ago and a mate of mine showed me the very basics of welding and I took it from there. It’s not pretty but it’s not meant to be. Some of the Indonesian guys on the page make welders out of two car batteries lashed together so a garage is a luxury”
With scooter prices climbing ever higher and especially Lambrettas getting out of the reach of young scooterists is this the way forward?
“Well, it’s my way forward and I couldn’t give a monkeys what anyone else thinks. It’s my thing and this is how I do it. If there was a line of £10,000 restored Lambrettas, most people would walk right past them to look at something a bit different”
Do you get any snobbery about your scoots?
“Not really I just don’t listen to it. Although I enjoy telling people that Tin Worm was a mint Rally frame before I cut it up, just to wind them up. I hate that snobbery, there’s a lot of cheque book scootering going on these days with these mint restored SX200’s and that takes the fun out of it for me”
To be honest Sean’s way of looking at things takes me back to a simpler time when five or six mates would meet round your garage (or your parent’s garage) drink tea, talk shit and merrily bodge and cut up scooters to their hearts content and then go out for a ride. For Sean it’s all about the ride, the destination is secondary and it’s all about fun. I couldn’t count the times he referred to his bikes and his rides as just a bit of fun, good, cheap wholesome British Garagista fun. That, dear SLUK’er, is what it’s all about.
What’s next on the agenda for our Garagista?
“Well, I’m still working on Tin Worm, that should be finished soon, I’ve got a little cutdown I’m tinkering with and I’ve just bought a Durkopp Diana that I’ve got running this week. I’m going to ride that until the engine gives up then stick a crosser engine in it. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do with the Sprint, or the reverse Vespa trike in my other garage yet”
Hold on……. You’ve got another garage and a Vespa trike? You’d best put the kettle on again…
Words and photos: GeofPanic
Did somebody say ‘Back alley?’
And what you may well ask is the quote all about our young protagonists “back alley”? Well it turns out that outside Sean’s garage is the ‘test track’ for all his creations and videos of the first rides of his bikes have been shared far and wide.
Why? What were you thinking?
Leave your comments and let us know what you think about the Garagista style…