Vespa Douglas 152L2 – broken and burnt #4 | FEATURE
Building a scooter at the last minute and not having chance to cover more than 60-miles on it before an eight-day European adventure was always fraught with risk. The fact that we had to split the engine, fit a fuel pump and rebuild the scooter the night before we left for the ferry didn’t bode well either. Nevertheless I don’t mind a challenge, so myself and the other half set off for the 90-mile ride to Hull to catch the overnight ferry to Rotterdam.
Although the scooter was running well it wasn’t 100% sorted. It wouldn’t run, or start with a top on the standard carb and the Polini venturi and foam filter I’d ordered hadn’t arrived in time. In an ideal world I’d have had another week to sort any issues before leaving and to get it on a Dyno. This isn’t an ideal world. As long as it was running though I was going to do my best to get to Celle in Germany, a 425-mile journey with no back up van or breakdown cover.
It’s nigh on impossible to get breakdown cover on vintage machines unless you’re with a certain insurance company – who to be honest are more likely to scrap a scooter than get it recovered if they can get away with it. A friend on this trip was flown home by his insurance company after breaking down in Holland and was later told his scooter would be scrapped.
Missed the story so far?
A bridge too far?
The ride up to Hull was uneventful until we stopped at the Humber Bridge for a few photos. I tried to start the little lilac lovely and it wouldn’t kick up. I ended up bumping the scooter to get it going. That was the first of many mishaps that would soon see the scooter being renamed ‘The Purple Bastard’.
Before leaving I’d had a special SLUK screen made especially for the 152L2 headset. It’s the smallest Vespa headlight diameter and because the headlight is so small it gives it much less surface area for the screen to fix to and was very wobbly, even the screen man advised me against using it. To add to the wobbliness I’d also had a sat nav bracket made to house my TomTom Vio, Linsey also had one fitted to her Vespa Sprint screen. Hers was very stable, even with the extra weight of the TomTom. Mine wasn’t.
Before leaving home I made a support to try and take some of the vibration away, my support ejected itself on the bumpy road near the bridge and before I knew it my screen had broken away, leaving just its stainless fastener and the rim in place. Not wanting to carry a knackered screen around Europe, or stop the Vespa and risk it not starting again the screen was given a respectful funeral in the nearest wheelie bin before we rode on towards the ferry.
Wednesday – Rotterdam
Wednesday morning and I’m amongst around 80 other scooters and a load of motorbikes as we wait to disembark the ferry. My scooter wouldn’t kick up, not only did I face the push of shame but I was also forced to sit near to the ferry door until all the other bikes and scooters had ridden past me to disembark. Then I was allowed to freewheel it down the ramp, thankfully it was downhill and the scooter bump started after about 200 metres. The rest of the day I had no problems with it and we met up with the rest of our travelling companions in a town a few miles away before heading to Deventer for our first night of the holiday.
Thursday – Deventer
After a night in the lovely hotel we were all set to leave, it’s a hot morning and we have the benefit of an excitable Dutchman asking lots of questions and taking photos of our eight-scooter group. Of course mine refuses to start, or to be more accurate it starts for about two seconds then dies repeatedly. I come to the conclusion it’s over-fuelling and flooding the engine. The plug is wet through and I’m getting lots of fuel spitting back from the carb. We resort to bumping the scooter again along the cobbled streets and eventually it fires, in a cloud of two stroke that was potent enough to see shop owners closing their doors and looking at me in disgust.
That wasn’t the end of my problems though; I started suffering with gear selection issues. The scooter would jump out of first and second. It got worse and worse until I was having to short-shift into third every time I pulled away. Later in the day it got so bad that I could hardly select any gears, despite having the tools out a few times trying to adjust the cables.
To make matters worse I had Sticky’s words stuck in my head, he’d seen the badly cut and frayed gear cables before I left home and called me a “Heinous bodger” but what does he know? It’s not like he’s written a best selling scooter manual or anything. Even so, those frayed cables were causing issues and I couldn’t adjust them as I’d like to. We’d already crossed into Germany by this time and as I went through a small town I couldn’t select any gears. The heat was intense, we’d seen a roadside sign reading 38º but it would soon be getting even hotter.
Scooter on fire
I pulled over into a shaded area and decided to change the cables. I’d fitted the Lizztor gear selector box before leaving home and the outer gear cable fed through easily, five minutes and that one was done. Trying to fit the rear cable was a different matter altogether, I just couldn’t get it to slide behind and into the cable groove in the selector, although at home I’d not had any problems. I tried all sorts, we were all hot and bothered and eventually I decided to take the selector off to allow it to feed through. You could see straight away that the arm of the selector had been blocking the route of the cable. With the selector off the cable was soon in and the selector quickly back in place. I crammed all the tools and spares back into the sidepanel toolbox and kicked the scooter up to go for a test ride. As it started there was a bang and smoke was visibly billowing out of the sidepanel.
Panic stations. I opened the side panel door and flames shot out, my tools were in a canvas bag with a plastic bag around it, and the spares were in a separate plastic zip-up bag, I frantically tried to pull them out. They were wedged in and melting quickly. At the same time as this the others were trying to unstrap the five litres of fuel on my luggage rack and Julie was busy doing some weird stomping dance trying to put out the flames as we got the burning stuff out. Thankfully I got everything out in time and blew the rest of the flames out (in hindsight I should have put my gloves on rather than burning my fingers). It turned out the tools had shorted the battery and caused an electrical fire; it’d melted the wiring, gone through a bottle of engine oil, melted the spares bag and set fire to anything else that was flammable. Luckily I got away with it, a few seconds later and the scooter would have been toast. With the fire out I went for a quick test ride, my gears were still playing up. Not as bad but still not good enough to ride. I decided to swap the selector box for a standard one I’d taken as a spare, by this time we’d been at the side of the road for two hours and my companions were still happily taking the piss out of the situation as they melted in the heat.
At this point, whilst I finished a quickly melting ice-lolly that Phil had fetched for us all, Taff decided to finish the job off, remarking “Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes are good.” With everything back together and the gears seemingly selecting we tidied up and had to bump my scooter to get it going. Without wishing to further inconvenience my friends we set off for the last 15 miles to the hotel. I quickly realised that something wasn’t quite right. I could get first, second and third but no fourth. To make things slightly more interesting the gears were also in reverse, so first was where fourth should be. Thanks for those ‘Fresh eyes’ Taff. I didn’t bother telling anybody but thrashed the tits off the scooter in third on the open road and rode the gears in reverse through towns but we got there. Hot, sweaty, smelling of fire, covered in oil, oh and to make matters worse the selector box was pissing oil. Safe to say we all consumed a few well-earned German beers that night.
Friday – Celle
I got up early and went down to the hotel garage before breakfast to swap the gear cables around. I made sure all four gears were selecting and cleaned up the oil that had leaked overnight.
Feeling confident we all got ready after breakfast then waited for an hour for the hapless Taff to ‘find’ his sat nav. Four people searched his room, luggage was emptied, pockets checked. It was finally found in the rear map pocket of his jacket. Just the small matter of getting my scooter going now. Luckily the hotel had a ramp leading to the car park so I was able to bump it downhill, or at least try to. It took about 10 minutes and two ‘helpers’ to get me going (plus the other half laughing and videoing it) but we were on our way to Celle at last. Just 80 miles to ride today.
Up until this point the scooter had been starting ok once it was warm but even at fuel stops it needed to be bumped today. To make matters worse I had no electrics, the fire had killed them all so there were no lights and I was still leaking a lot of oil when the scooter was running. To top it all off, the gear selection wasn’t 100% either, by now it was obviously nothing to do with the actual selector box/boxes, or cables. Something was amiss internally.
Limped into town
To say I limped it in to Celle is a massive understatement. For the last few miles gear selection at slow speeds was almost non-existent and getting worse, I was scared to turn the scooter off because it wouldn’t start and leaving it running meant more gearbox oil was leaking from the original selector box. It was beginning to feel like I’d got the booby prize in a Top Gear style challenge.
As we got into Celle Phil’s T5 started playing up, meaning he had to strip the carb. I sat there for five minutes with my scooter running, oil spewing everywhere, before deciding I’d better ride on and try and find the hotel. I left the others and wheelied and crunched off (thanks to the gearbox). I got lost and did a five mile circuit of town, I honestly thought I’d have to push it there as I couldn’t select any gears, just managing to crunch it into third once I got it moving. Thankfully I found the hotel before it blew up, cut out or wheelied me into oncoming traffic.
Relieved of an extortionate €35 at the Vespa Village for a bottle of gearbox oil (my spare bottle was melted in the fire) and a gasket set I spent half an hour changing back to the Lizztor selector box, I also tightened the gear selector rod in case that was loose and adjusted the cables. If nothing else I’d cured the oil leak.
After a great weekend at Vespa World Days it was time to hopefully get back on the road. I’d been offered scooter space in a friend’s van if the worst came to the worst but I was almost confident I’d be ok. With the help of a friend, Daz (who proved to be very unfit, never choose the fat bloke when you want a push start) we started the regular bump start procedure on a side road adjacent to the hotel. I didn’t really want the added hassle of 60 or so Vespa fans watching me try to start the ill-fated scooter.
It fired a couple of times but died as soon as I tried to get going, on one occasion I accidentally stamped on the brake pedal as it fired up and almost went over the handlebars as I tried to board it one handed. Eventually, just before Daz had a heart attack it started and I rode through the lights and past the hotel. I did a mile or so to get it warmed up properly, first and second were still a bit hit and miss. Then my headlight dropped out and as I rode along trying to hold it in place, the scooter died on me. I’d run out of fuel. A minute or so of despondency ensued before I remembered I’d got five litres strapped on the back, I was saved… Or I would have been if the scooter would start again. It wouldn’t.
Whilst I was trying to start it a couple of foreign trailer loads of Vespa GTS’ drove past. Oh the irony. Here’s me trying to ride back to England at all costs and they can’t even ride a perfectly good GTS home. I ended up pushing the scooter half a mile back to the hotel. I arrived sweating, with my headlight hanging out, my side panel door was swinging open and I was pushing the fire-damaged scooter to the amusement of all around. It felt like one of those clown cars in the circus, bits dropping off everywhere. I decided this was an omen, maybe I wasn’t meant to ride the Purple Bastard home. Luckily Bob (and Mags) with the van were just placating a couple of Italians after accidentally loading their small frame into his van (after mistaking it for the raffle-prize scooter that another Brit had won). Bob agreed to take mine home with him. Hopefully now my troubles would be over.
Two into one
This left us with the dilemma of riding home on one scooter, so I set about taking the single seat off Linsey’s Sprint, and her little back rack, putting the double seat off my 152L2 on to the Sprint and bodging the carrier on to it. Then we had to get three days worth of essential items of clothing and wash stuff into one bag to put on the back before waving Bob off to Dunkirk. We were heading to a town called Lingen, 130 miles in the opposite direction to him. It was nice to finally be riding a scooter with four easily selectable gears, a nice screen with sat nav, lights and no stench of melted electrics.
That feeling lasted for about 70 miles; everything was good, aside from the rain. Then I felt a misfire, I hoped I’d imagined a blip but it happened again. Then as I rounded a corner the scooter died on me, I tried to let it bump start as it rolled to a standstill but there was nothing. It felt like it had run out of fuel but after checking we ruled that out. Then I checked the carb, all seemed ok but it wouldn’t start. Finally I checked for a spark. We couldn’t see one and I resorted to sticking my fingers on the plug before tentatively turning the engine over, nothing. No spark. I changed the CDI, HT lead and cap, nothing. It looked like a stator plate failure. This was bad news. We’re 70 miles away from our destination in a different country, in the middle of nowhere, it’s Sunday and it’s raining. Double damn. Our only hope was that Bob might save us. A quick call and we found out he was at least two hours away heading in the opposite direction but agreed to divert and ruin his plans to get home that night. Thank the scooter gods for Bob and Mags.
Time for a picnic
Whilst we were waiting we dismantled Linsey’s scooter, nothing visually wrong with the stator but it was hopefully the only answer. Julie and Ali rode off to try and get us some food. They arrived back with freshly made rolls from the nearest town. A lovely picnic. As usual we spent the next two and a half hours taking the piss, as scooterists do. At times like these there’s no point getting upset. Finally the van arrived, we were saved…
We quickly took my Vespa out of Bob’s van and raped it for the stator plate. As I removed it I suddenly remembered my scooter was running a DC system, Linsey’s was AC, so the stator plate had been modified to suit. I’m no electrician but Phil is and said it would work fine but I’d have no lights. The stator and flywheel were fitted in less than 10 minutes and I had a spark. Bingo. The Vespa fired up first kick. Bob rearranged his plans and decided to come with us to the hotel instead of going home. Numerous drinks were consumed over dinner, including five bottles of red wine at €47 a bottle. The waiter neglected to tell us the price until his boss got worried we’d kick off and refuse to pay.
After enjoying a trouble free (if somewhat boring) couple of days riding the scooters back towards the port we spent the last night on the boat before riding home from Hull. Just to finish the trip off in style we had torrential rain for the whole journey, near zero visibility and of course we had no lights. Luckily we had high-viz with us.
The final problem
To add insult to injury we suffered a puncture just as the M18/M1 meets. Even sheltering under a bridge didn’t keep the rain and mud at bay and Linsey really pushed her luck by taking photos from various angles as I struggled to change the wheel. No real harm done though and at least she got her own back at last after I set fire to her pannier accidentally many years ago and stood taking photos as her pants smouldered.
Tuesday 4th July
The scootering world is great. Bob and Mags went out of their way to help us at our time of need. A couple of weeks before this episode Mags had broken down on her scooter at EuroLambretta in Italy. A fellow scooterist had taken her stricken Li back to England for her, as it happens I know the bloke, Carl and he only lives about 25 miles away from me. Mags was already planning to drive up there to collect her Lammy, she lives in London. To save her a bit of time I nipped up and collected the Lammy for her, then she came up with my Vespa and we swapped over.
The Purple Bastard returns
The Purple Bastard has returned. It doesn’t look quite as pretty as it did two weeks ago as we set off on that arduous journey but it’ll be stripped down to find out what was causing the gearbox issue. I fitted a new cruciform when I built it so I’m a bit unsure at the minute, maybe a shimming issue? We needed to strip the engine anyway to alloy weld the wrongly drilled vacuum hole (as mentioned in part three) so it’s kind of done us a favour. Shaun will also be redoing the burnt wiring and we’ll sort out the starting/over fuelling issue. The Pink Bastard will live again, stronger than before.
Words and photos: Iggy
Additional breakdown shots and videos: Linsey and Phil
Breakdowns, misery and banter
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