Putting the Polish back into a Vespa T5 | FEATURE
This particular story begins with me purchasing a Mark 1 Vespa T5 from a friend who had owned it for around 20 years. The orange scooter had been resprayed but sat in its new paint for a few years before I bought it. Like many projects, it got in the way for a year or so as it waited patiently for me to get around to doing something with it. Then I ‘borrowed’ the engine to stick in my little lilac Vespa 152L2 and I decided it was time to sell the rest of the T5 last autumn.
I’d kind of lost interest and the scooter had lost it’s all-important engine so it seemed a shame to hang on to it. That’s where Marcin joins the story, I’d mentioned in a Facebook thread that I had an engine-less T5 I was willing to sell. Marcin got in touch and after a few messages, he agreed to buy it. The scooter was collected by a couple of non-English speaking Polish gents in a van and was to be taken back to Poland to its new owner. That’s where I expected the story to end, but three months later I get a Facebook message with a couple of photos from Marcin. He’d transformed it into a thing of beauty, resplendent in its new Ferrari yellow paintwork and gleaming once again. A case of putting the polish and the Polish into a neglected machine. Here’s Marcin’s story as he helps to introduce a few rare two-stroke Italian scooters to his once socialist run homeland.
My name is Marcin, I live in Lublin, Poland and have been engrossed in Italy since I can remember. I love the Italian culture, architecture, history and, obviously, motorization. During every trip, I’ve made to Italy hundreds of Vespas in each town and city streets were taking my breath away.
What appealed to me most was the fact that I could see all kinds of Italians riding Vespas regardless of their age, status or profession… no matter whether they were wearing fashionable suits or shorts and flip-flops!”
I could see urban car parks packed with Vespas tightly placed in rows, one by one, in huge numbers spread across extremely small parking spaces. It was their striking beauty, simplicity and style that preoccupied my thoughts. Though most of them showed clear traces of use, I could spot how battered they were, how scratched or peeling their paintwork was or how worn out their saddles were – I was just wondering how magnificent and breathtaking they must have been in their prime.
That was the moment the idea of buying one for myself, just to feel a bit of the Italian style in Poland, was brought to life. It was like hitting the bullseye! I bought a 1999 Vespa ET4 and started riding it around the city. I simply forgot how it felt to be stuck in a traffic jam. Instead, I gained freedom and felt the wind ruffle my hair. But that still was not the end. For me, Vespa had always been associated with metal, two-stroke scooters and the desire that I had been accompanied with then was to have something much older and far more classic.
Unfortunately, an obstacle not to be jumped over arose then, namely the fact that there virtually were no Vespas of that kind in Poland. We had been affected by the socialist system for about 50 years before, vehicle imports from Western Europe had practically been non-existent and hence the abstract image of Vespa as such in the Polish society back then.
It has only been a few years since the true lovers started to bring Vespas to Poland. Also the official distributor of the brand has eventually appeared. However, the only versions provided in the offer are the new models of scooters that, in fact, do not have much in common with the Italian spirit that the good, old Vespas are enchanted with.
Thanks to my occupation (transport between Poland and England) I have had the opportunity to familiarise myself with the English scooter market and I was truly astounded with its incredible potential, as well as its vibrant scooter sector. A substantial majority of offers concerned those Vespas in rather poor visual and technical condition, requiring restoration or rebuilding.
As I had always been into mechanics and my childhood dream was to run a classic vehicles repair and rebuild garage, I took the risk and bought my first Vespa T5, as well as 12 other scooters. Including five Vespas PX (first line), two more T5s, Primavera ET3 (1977), Gran Turismo 125 (1967), 50 Special (1979), Vespa V90 (1978), and, finally, a Vespa Bravo Moped. Then, I commenced multiple restoration works. That is how Vespa Stazione came into being.
Luckily enough, a friend of mine offered me rental of a very intriguing object – an old railway station building. Since then, it has been adapted to my needs and I now feel excellent here thanks to its unique and exceptional vintage look. So, there is no surprise that such icons of Italian style are brought back to life in this place!
Soon enough I have learned that, in my area, I can indeed find some excellent experts, crazy enthusiasts and perfectionists similar to me who I can effectively cooperate with. Sandblasting, glass blasting, body and paint job or metalworking – all of those performed easily, at the highest level of skill and quality.
The situation is somewhat different and I would say worse in the case of the engines. Regardless of its rather simple design, a Vespa requires substantial knowledge and experience in this respect. However, to my greatest happiness, I managed to establish a really good contact and cooperation with the best specialist in the Vespa engines field in Poland (and also maybe in this part of Europe) – Szymon Szyndlar from Cracow. He has been into Vespas for many years now and is specialised in reconstruction and modernisation of the Vespa scooter drivetrains. Dozens of Vespas with reconstructed drivetrains from the 1950s to 1990s, as well as modernised engines, are ridden on the roads of almost every European country.
The very first renovation (Iggy’s scooter), a T5 in radiant yellow, turned out to be a test as to whether I was really able to meet the challenge and get the job perfectly right at a high level of performance. See and judge the final result for yourself! Though in my view the most critical element that went really well was the heart of it, the sense of purpose and the grounds for my passion to be transformed into a way of life and business. Therefore, I am going to reconstruct Vespas for both, my personal collection and the execution of other collectors or users orders.
The whole course of Vespa T5 (1985) reconstruction
The scooter was bought as an unfinished project. The frame and other steel elements of construction turned out to have been painted multiple times. I also received a few containers filled with parts and bits. The engine was bought by me separately, also in many parts.
The next step was sandblasting of the frame and other parts of the body. Indeed, there was a lot to be sandblasted! I counted up 5 layers) Wheel rims and the fuel tank were powder coated black satin. After sandblasting it became clear that the floor was in really poor condition and it required being replaced with a new one as well as some other details.
The panel beater did his job perfectly and after applying a proper base coat and the whole general preparation the parts were transported to the painter. The choice of the colour was not an easy task but finally, I went for vibrant yellow 2000M 102 from the Ferrari colour palette. That choice proved to be really successful. The fork, drums and the shield anchor were painted using the Max Meyer Alluminio 983 colour originally used in the Vespa production.
Patience & preparation
The preparation stage and the paint job itself proved to be extremely stressful for me, I could not wait to see the results. I spent my whole spare time collecting all the necessary parts and reconditioning those which could be re-used. The wiring loom was also reconditioned and all the connectors replaced with new ones. No cost cutting. In the whole course of the reconstruction, I used only original parts or top quality substitutes, only if the authentic components were unavailable or their extremely poor condition made the effective reconditioning impossible.
Thanks to high-quality products I managed to restore the appearance of the original grips, plastic parts and floor mats. They were not new, but they looked brand-new and that was all that mattered! However, I obviously allowed myself to make some modern alterations to the project. I mounted a set of Pinasco shock absorbers and a saddle from Streamline Seats. At the same time in Cracow, Szymon was working on the engine. He restored it back to life and fully mastered its technical specifications.
The engine cases, cylinder and the head were glass blasted. All the bearings, seals, fasteners and screws were replaced. The factory-production cylinder with nikasil lining and the piston turned out to be in outstanding condition. After all, the time had come for the final assembly. Thanks to meticulous preparations the whole operation lasted circa 30 hours. I took full advantage of Szymon’s knowledge and assistance – he came from Cracow to my place, especially for that purpose. Now I must say that the final result exceeded my wildest expectations! After the full assembly, the compression also proved to be as good as original and now the engine starts eagerly, vigorously, almost by itself! My first Vespa restoration was finished, hopefully, there will be many more to come…
Words and photos: Marcin
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