Despite current trends you can’t manufacture ‘real’ patina. You can’t just make rust appear and look authentic just because you want it there and you certainly can’t recreate 64 years worth of natural character out of a tin.
Original is original, some love it, some hate it but when original looks like Peter Green’s Rod model Vespa it’s a beautiful thing and a scooter is only ever original once, destroy it and there’s no going back.
Peter rescued this 1952 scooter from its place of rest on a farm in the midlands, it had lain there since 1955. That’s a lot of time to be sat gathering dust and rust. Thankfully it was dry stored so the corrosion was only skin deep.
The years had left the scooter with a well-worn look, as opposed to rusted away as you’d perhaps expect from a British vintage barn find. It looks more like an original condition scooter you’d expect to see being ridden in the warmer climes of Italy.
Ironically this Douglas built Vespa is as English as a Sunday roast and its first British scooter event took place just a couple of miles away from the factory where it was built in Bristol all those years ago.
Peter tells the story of his Rod Model better than we can so we’ll leave him to give us the lowdown…
Words: Iggy, photos and video: Sticky
Wily old git
I’d seen the shape of the very early Vespas and admired the Steampunk and Iron Horse scooters, I wanted to try to get something similar but on a budget. After a bit of searching I found two Faro Basso frames on eBay and believe it or not they were in the UK at Barnard Castle, not more than 30 miles from me in the North East of England. As you do I mulled it over and went to bed. The following morning I’d decided both frames were to be mine but it was not to be. They had been sold the previous evening and when I contacted the seller he explained they were going to Hong Kong.
Several months later I shared the tale with my long-time scootering mate Andy Hamilton. He said he had seen a similar scoot in the classifieds that week! Wow here we go, game on. I contacted the guy and asked for photos and more details. “I’m not all that up on using t’interweb ‘n phones for taking photos on” he said. Ok I’ll come and view it I said, where are you? They were on a farm somewhere near Alton Towers. Looking forward to a 400ish mile round trip in a hire van and with the asking price in my pocket I set off to meet the seller.
When I met the guy he was a proper old time farmer, game on I thought. But my thoughts of getting a bargain were shattered. “I ‘av a guy waiting ta give me a cheque” he said. “Here’s all the history of the Rod Model (downloaded off the web, so much for not been tech savvy) I know what it’s worth and what I will get for it. I’ve got people queuing up to buy it”. Having travelled 200 miles and hired a van he knew I wasn’t going home empty handed. My thoughts of getting a bargain were shattered and the asking price was paid. This was for a complete scooter though. Into the van it went and home it came. But what exactly did I have? Maybe it’s me but who else buys something then only really looks at it properly when they get it home?
It turned out the scoot was totally original and all external parts were in place, including the original tax discs from 1954 and 1955 with no water damage. This was a 1952 totally original and complete in every detail 1952 Douglas Rod. That was the good news but the bad news was the engine was seized, the electronics were missing and the air-filter for the carb was missing. All this was beyond my limited capabilities to fix.
Having checked around and this being pre-Britex with the Euro at 1.4 to the pound I chose to entrust the refurbishment to Maske in Holland. They were chosen for their expertise and experience dealing with classic scooters Visit: Maskes Scooters or Maskes Vespa for more information.
Their remit was to keep everything as original as possible whilst delivering a scooter I could ride about on. To get the scooter to and from Holland I used an online bidding transport web site and was more than pleased with the cost compared to me taking it over and bringing it back again.
The first task was to strip the engine down to see the extent of the rebuild required, this ended up with the full kickstart internals being replaced. Most of the electrics were also missing and had to be replaced. The option to move up to 12 volt was considered but to keep as it was was my primary aim so we resisted and kept to the 6-volt system. As the wiring was deteriorated the full wiring loom was changed. On the body we replaced all the inner cables but kept the original outers as they were in perfect condition. All the rubber parts were showing their age but I chose not to replace them as this would detract from the ‘just found in a barn’ look I wanted to maintain.
The body itself, whilst having surface rust was solid enpugh so we treated the rust and sealed it in with Owatrol. I kept the original front tyre and mounted that as the spare. The saddle required a little stitching. the Smiths speedo was serviced and it was at this stage we realised there were less than 500 miles on the clock. The front legshield has evidence of a fall so it seems that the scoot was dropped and put in the shed early in its life. This could explain why so much of it remains original, with even the fuel filter and two stroke measuring cup still being in the fuel tank. My guess given the dent on the front panel and low mileage was that it was dropped early in its life and the owner lost confidence or interest and parked it up in a dry shed or garage with the farmer making a fortune on the find.
The refurbishment took longer than I had hoped and resulted in me spending a small fortune on Ebay buying embellishments that I didn’t need, nor did they fit. Although some of the embellishments worked. Side panel guards, back luggage rack, petrol can, oil can and leather straps.
Although I had dating certificates issued by Bill drake at VVCB and two of the original tax discs, photos of both front and rear painted on number plates from first registration I was to be left frustrated by the DVLA and had to go for age related plates. Ok lets try this another way I thought, I asked if they could issue this reg as the age related number only to be told someone may claim it in the future. I told them I was trying to claim it with all the evidence and you won’t let me. I eventually had to settle on an age related plate having left the originals in situ and just put the new plates on for riding on the road, then remove it when I get to a rally.
Vespa World Days
As I was to do the Vespa world days in St Tropez on my P200E in June this gave me the opportunity to visit Maske on my return leg to inspect the rebuild and get a progress check. I was very impressed with the progress and must say that Maske is well worth a visit the next time you’re in Holland. On my return I arranged for the Rod to be delivered to Bristol for the VCB rally for me to collect on the first night of the rally. Unfortunately the delivery lorry broke down in Exeter. Ok after 300 miles and a 10 hour drive what’s another 200 mile round trip?
Scoot collected and a fantastic weekend spent on the campsite at the VCB rally in Bristol showing off my pride and joy. Culminating in winning the best-unrestored scooter prize sponsored by HM Forces Scooter Club. First day out and first prize, well happy.
Run the Rod
Working away from home meant that I had only one day to check out the Rod before going away. I only had a two hour window to try her out but what a riding experience and one to be recommended. On my return home the first real run out (if you can call a 20 mile ride a run out?) was to my home clubs first ever rally. The Billingham A19’s Ride the Runway. Credit to this much respected North East club, they organised a fantastic and very well received sell out event and one that is planned to roll out again next year. Unfortunately for me (and respect to the A19s) we forbid our own club members from entering into any prize-winning events so I couldn’t enter in to the show.
Being a member of both the VCB and the VVC I attended the Lakes 100 rally last Friday on my P200E and returned home Saturday afternoon, rather wet to say the least. This was so that I could take the rod to the Petrol’s & Pistons race event at Croft race circuit. What a fantastic day out and one to be recommended. I placed my 1952 Douglas Vespa Rod model alongside some fantastic Lambrettas. Wow two from two I won the SLUKer award thank you!
History of the Rod
The historic Douglas factory in Birmingham was to become the home of the Rod Model. The first British built Rod Models went on sale in March 1951. Based on the 1949 Vespa 125 it took two years for Douglas to get their fingers out and start producing enough scooters to satisfy the demands of Piaggio. By that time the Rod Model was already based on outdated technology before it arrived in UK dealers, although the Italians supplied a few in the mean time. The Vespa factory in Pontedera had already ditched the rod gear linkage system that gave the scooter its name and had swapped to the two cable method we’re all familiar with today. The’d also moved over to a hydraulic front shock absorber and altered the body design to give a rounder shape.
Unlike later ‘Knock down kits’ – simply assembled in Bristol, the Rod Model was actually manufactured in Britain with pressed steel coming from Birmingham and other familiar names like Amal, Lucas, Smiths and Milvertons making parts for the scooters. Douglas continued making, or building scooters in Bristol until the mid 1960s.
The 1952 Rod Model
There were a few changes on the 1952 model, the paint colour changed to 6002M for starters and the now familiar Vespa Scroll badge became firmly fixed to the leg shields. Other changes included painted kickstart and rear brake pedals (as opposed to chrome), a newer type of rear light was fitted and the engine number was moved to just below the gear selector.
The following year, 1953 was the last for the Rod model and ways to spot a 1953 model include a transfer badge (to replace the plastic badge) on the horncasting and the end caps on the runner board strips were ditched, replaced by a pinched end.
Saviour of Douglas?
The Vespa marque may not have ultimately saved the Douglas factory but it gave the British manufacturer a new lease of life and kept many employees going during the scooter boom. Like most British manufacturers though it was only a matter of time before the Douglas factory gates would close for the final time.
Owners name: Peter Green
Club: A19’s Billingham/Vespa Club of Great Britain
Scooter make: Vespa Douglas
Model: Rod Model 125
Engine details: 125cc
Accessories: Castrol oil can, rear carrier, original spare wheel
Acquisition? Bought in 2016
Inspiration? Steampunk and Iron Horse Vespas
Alteration? Nothing other than mechanical and electrical
Perspiration? Haggling with the farmer
Aggravation? Shipping it over to Holland to be put back into service
Recommendation? Maskes Vespas Holland
Celebration? Winning the first two trophies