Lower Class – Insane Vespa | CUSTOM
Working Class; certainly. Top Class; undoubtably. Lower Class; maybe, but in this case ‘lower’ as in more slammed than a bar full of shot-glasses.
The English are usually reserved when it comes to the building of a custom scooter. We tend to opt for subtle styling and nice paintwork, whilst those jolly foreigners like to cut, chop and fabricate. As such it may come as a surprise to find out that this lowdown and mean looking Vespa was created in a shed in the midlands, for an English scooter casual.
Mark Graham hails from the north east; Hartlepool to be precise but has relocated in the last few years to Mansfield, Notts. He’s no stranger to outstanding custom scooters though. His last well-known scooter was themed on popular Brit flick – The Business; a story of 1980s Sergio Tacchini & Fila sportswear, as much as it was about the gangsters it portrayed.
Doing the business
Mark ended up selling The Business around three years ago and the new owner inexplicably sold it off in bits on eBay, right down to the last ‘Business’ nut and bolt, which was a shame. Strangely enough the frame ended up going to Germany as far as we know, maybe it’s been turned into a tasty German street racer; an ironic turn of events. If you happen to know its whereabouts we’d be interested to see it.
Just to set the scene, The Business was all about the artwork, it was a stunning multi-show winning full-custom Vespa but Mark wanted a new head-turning machine where the fabrication was as important, if not more so than the paint. Although to be fair he was planning something much less in-yer-face than he actually ended up with.
All Mark asked for was a rear light frenching-in to the Spanish Vespa he’d bought. Oh, and a set of drops. He got a little more than he bargained for though.
When you enlist the skills of Ferdy from Insane Innovations, a job can often run away with itself…
It’s not often Ferdy does ‘mild’ and his over-active imagination needs constant dampening to stop it running riot. His thought processes aren’t like those of us mere mortals. He thinks in angles – most of them upside down and back to front. Bletchley Park couldn’t crack the code within his head.
Ferdy can create things from seemingly nothing, as long as he has his staple tools to hand, an angle grinder, welder and his tube bender. He’s also very elusive. Even if you can manage to get hold of him it’s not easy to get him to build you a scooter.
He doesn’t do this for a living, he builds for friends and pleasure not profit. You have to be a good friend to even be considered.
It’s like getting Banksy to decorate your living room. It ain’t happening for just anybody.
Fabricating for Ferdy is like a Stanley blade to a self-harmer, sawing and hacking relieves the voices in his head. Grinding something in a shower of sparks is much better than cutting your own arms repeatedly. Luckily for Mark the voices were calling and Ferdy needed to create something a little bit different.
The recessed rear lights Mark wanted was child’s play compared to what Ferdy had in mind. When he spoke to Mark and said “I want to chop the back end off” you know that there’s no turning back. This project just got serious. Before the conversation had ended, the shed of doom was filled with sparks and the smell of molten Vespa.
The back end was lying in a sea of swarf on the shed floor before Mark knew what he’d just signed himself up for.
That rear end and the panels would end up being welded into a single piece, ready to be hinged and fitted with hydraulic struts and a Renault Clio bonnet catch. It lifts as one but fits perfectly. It closes with the kind of satisfying clunk you’d expect from a luxury car, rather than something created in a shed in Ashby-de-la-Zouch. Smooth.
Although the rear end lifts as one Ferdy would never be content with ‘just’ having that as his creative signature. He likes to tinker about with suspension as well. Piaggio knew nothing when they designed those lopsided machines back in the day. A centrally mounted rear shocker makes much more aesthetic sense than something just fixing to one side of an engine. If it only takes the creation of a rear sub frame, twin supporting bars, lots of calculations and plenty of effort then it’ll be done. And so it was.
The rear lifting section wasn’t going to be trick enough as it was either, so the angle grinder went through again, to leave part of the frame loop in place when the rear body was lifted. This part alone caused plenty of headaches during the final build but it’s this attention to detail that makes a machine stand out from the crowd.
How low can you go?
Talking of standing out, Mark wanted it to have a Lambretta front end but Ferdy wanted it to sit as low as inhumanly possible. Not only did he fit a set of Lammy front forks but he lopped about four inches off the top, took a section of legshields out and sunk the scooter lower than any small frame Vespa.
It’s not cramped though, the one-off seat is set far enough back to make the scooter as comfortable as possible for the rider.
Although comfort wasn’t high on the list of priorities to be fair.
Look around the scooter and you notice small details here, there and everywhere. Underneath the floor and behind the front mudguard there are bolt-on hatches. Ferdy put them in to help when cables need threading. There’s the twin fuel tanks and the crazy side-stand that comes up and over the runner boards, tucking away behind some panel work Ferdy has adapted to suit. Then there’s the front mudguard, at first glance it could be an adapted bike mudguard or spoiler but look closely and you’ll realise it’s actually a heavily reworked PX mudguard.
There’s also those laser-cut alloy footplates and if you know where to look there are hidden messages welded into certain parts of the frame. Messages Mark didn’t even know about until Harry at H-bomb had the engine out and saw the ‘Fuck 1%ers’ welded into the frame. A dig at hairy bike builders.
Special parts list
On many ‘ordinary’ custom scooters, a hydraulic rear brake would figure as something fairly special, but on Lower Class it’s just something to add to a very long list of special, or one-off parts. Incidentally it’s a SIP item and Mark says it works pretty well with the billet rear pedal. He’s also used a SIP front master cylinder conversion, a neat solution that slots into the handlebar recess where your front lever would usually sit on the bars. Much better looking than most welded on options. Check out the very special one-off K2 Customs flywheel cover, VIN plate and seat knob as well.
The Lammy front forks were treated to a PM front wheel, disc and hub plus a set of Targaline dampers. Coupled with Ferdy’s relocation of the rear shock (he’s also relocated the height of the main engine bolt so the scooter sits lower) this scooter doesn’t just look good but it rides sweetly as well.
Riding Dirty Customs
The paintwork was done in just four weeks by Richard Coveney at Riding Dirty Customs. It’s a stunning House of Colour yellow pearl – which appears orange in some lights – with a contrasting accent colour in grey. Sign writing and logos are shout-outs to some of the people involved in the project, as well as brands Mark associates with and his scooter club logo. Rich certainly provided a stunning finish.
Drop de bomb
Amongst all the details it would be easy to neglect the engine. It’s a full on Malossi motor with tuning by the two Harry Barlow’s, that’s Harry from Pro Porting and Harry from H-Bomb Scooters. You can read the full engine spec later on. Some performance was sacrificed for vanity though, Ferdy took a right hand side JL exhaust, cut it up, turned it upside down, fitted a PM muffler and mounted it on the left hand side, as you do. It strangles the engine by around four bhp but looks the part and sounds pretty mean. He couldn’t help but weld some cryptic message about fighter jets onto that as well.
The end result is one of the most unusual British Vespas we’ve seen in a long time. The attention to detail, fabrication and imagination that have gone into it are outstanding.
If you want to see it up close you’ll get your first chance at the Southport pre-season rally later this month. For now though just take time to appreciate the details, watch our video and immerse yourself in Lower Class. It’s certainly been built with a touch of class and scooters don’t come much lower.
Scooter name: Lower Class
Model: 1980 Vespa Douglas
Engine details: P200, Malossi 210, 28mm Dellorto, Pro Porting polished competition crank, re-profiled Malossi head, T5 fourth gear, Cosa clutch, Pro Porting reed valve, vacuum fuel pump, HP4 flywheel, engine ported by Pro Porting, Leicester. Engine build by H-Bomb Harry Barlow, north west.
Top speed: Dyno 82mph
Power output: 21.8bhp
Paintwork: Soda blasted, then all paintwork by Rich at Riding Dirty Customs in House of Kolor, yellow pearl and galaxy grey.
One-off parts: Flywheel cover, body release knob and name plate by Keith Newman, K2 Customs.
Fabrication: Cutdown PX mudguard, legshields trimmed at top to allow original frame to be cut to drop the front end. Subframe and central shock, petrol tank, seat, panels welded to rear frame, exhaust is a right hand side JL turned upside down and a PM end can fitted. Rear swinging arm, floor plates, leg shield carrier… the list is endless. All by Ferdy at Insane Innovations.
Coatings & finishes: Anodising by Matt Tomlinson, Bolton. Exhaust ceramic coated by Romax, Stockton.
Acquisition? February 2012
Inspiration? Always been interested in a good custom scooter and wanted to do a different take on one. My last custom was The Business, which was more about the artwork. I wanted something about the engineering this time, with good finished and paint. I was probably spurred on by seeing European street racers.
Alteration? SIP rear disc brake with MMC pedal, PM Tuning front disc brake with anti-dive, SIP master cylinder cut into the headset, Rally headset, clear headlight. Rear shock is mounted centrally, petrol tap and horn relocated under the panels, GS horncast, single LED rear light, Lambretta forks, MB for links and internals, Modified PX front mudguard.
Perspiration? Sweating at what Ferdy might create.
Aggravation? Me wanting it finished quicker than was possible, as I’ve been told good things come to those who wait. Getting the colour right to suit the overall appearance, it was never going to be pink though.
Celebration? Ferdy at Insane for creating this for me, I only wanted drops and the rear light frenched-in but he persuaded me in about 30 seconds that this would be better. Rich at Riding Dirty Customs for doing a top job in the time he committed to – four weeks from bare metal to paint. Harry Barlow at H-Bomb Scooters for making it go and giving it the power it needed.
Also thanks to: Snooty, Wigan Tim, Mike Phoenix and his dad, Matt Tomlinson, Romax, Camcoat, Keith Newman and Daz Turner.
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