Today is June the 20th and as you read this I’ll be setting off to Hull for the overnight party boat to Rotterdam. Will my little lilac Vespa Douglas 152L2 make the trip?
There’s nothing better than a deadline to help focus the mind and with a ruined scooter to bring back to life (and a ferry to catch) the last few weeks have been pretty frantic. I’m sick of seeing the inside of a garage; my once pristine refuge is strewn with scattered tools, unusable fasteners and various scooter parts. My writer’s hands are ruined.
Let’s summarise the last week or so of garage based activity…
Thursday June 12th
I got the engine back; I’d put it back together a day or two before and found the crank was way too tight. Dial-a-mechanic, Shaun, took over at this point and found the crank pin was sitting slightly proud when he stripped the engine. He sorted that out, welded the pin and balanced the crank. He also banded my Cosa clutch whilst he was at it.
The delay meant my final couple of parts had arrived though, a SIP Road XL exhaust and a new-fangled Liztor race gear selector box. Designed to give you an extra few millimetres lean angle it’s just the kind of £260 exotica you need on a road scooter.
Like a kid at Christmas I couldn’t wait to get the engine in, although I was also a little nervous just in case what I’d been told wasn’t true and that the engine wouldn’t fit the frame. For one heart-stopping moment I really thought I was going to struggle but after a little jiggery pokery it swung clear of the curvy frame and looked like it might just go in.
It’s a tight fit but it does go in without any modification to the frame, engine or shock mounts. Result. Another few hours of cabling up, fitting the new exhaust (which went on easily and fitted perfectly), cowlings and the Liztor and it was almost ready to stick some pre-mixed fuel in and kick her up. At this stage I’d not shortened the throttle cable or fitted the under-seat choke so was trying to kick the scooter up whilst simultaneously pulling the choke and throttle cables.
It wouldn’t fire, or at least it wouldn’t unless I squirted carb cleaner into the inlet. Something was amiss but it would have to wait until Saturday. Work occasionally gets in the way of even the most demanding projects.
One of the distinguishing features of this scooter, other than it’s original garish lilac paintwork was its two-tone seat. Now 2-tone isn’t all about black and white checked socks and a pork pie hat you know. This is about the cream and rusty red. I really wanted to save the original seat cover if at all possible but the ancient fabric was way too brittle. There was only one man who could recreate it for me, that’s Keith Reynolds at Ken’s Customs. Keith is a scooterist, as you can see from his photo and he’s also a custom upholsterer and sells scooters from his unit in Moira, near Ashby De-La Zouch.
Needless to say I was over the moon when I collected the revamped seat, Keith had worked his magic to not only recreate the seat but he’d carefully aged it and reused the original metal edging and badges. Top job and comfortable as well.
Saturday 14th June
Shaun was booked in to finish off the wiring now the scooter was in one piece and to help with any problems. He’d also made a rear light bulb holder and mended the original broken fuel lever.
His first job was to get the scooter running, it was obviously a fuel problem (although we’ll find out later just how much of a fuel problem) and he quickly diagnosed a blocked carb; despite me having stripped it, soaked it and cleaned it. We swapped the jets over out of another carb and after a few kicks the old girl fired up. It lives.
The engine sounded fairly crisp as well and the SIP XL is quiet enough not to offend anybody. Just as well really because the scooter had plenty of time ticking over and being revved that day.
The rest of the day was spent finishing electrics off, shortening cables, fitting switches, the headlight and rear light. Shaun had built a custom loom for the scooter with 12v dc power, it runs through a latched relay so the power doesn’t dip initially when you start the scooter. We used an alarm battery rather than a dedicated scooter battery; mainly because it’s smaller and lighter. That was fitted to a plastic battery tray made by our SLUK screen man. It also has a USB point for charging a phone/sat nav. All the electrics are self-contained within the left hand panel toolbox.
I didn’t want to lose the original switch so that was rewired and the original Vespa-emblazoned rear brake pedal had a lug alloy welded on to it to work the brake switch Shaun had also fitted. Anyway, the good news is that everything worked perfectly.
Shaun also cut the extended stand down to the correct length once the Vespa was back on two wheels. It took two minutes with an angle grinder, if I’d have done it it’d have been an hour and the scooter would be like a wonky donkey afterwards.
A good productive day but still lots to do and Shaun talked himself into a bit more work. We’d not really thought about the fuel tap. The tank itself was remarkably clean on the inside and originally I’d planned to run a standard engine but with the 172 kit, fitting a fast flow fuel tap seemed like a good idea. Especially as the one used was made decades before ethanol was added to fuel. The fuel tap would have to wait until Monday though.
Sunday 15th June
I spent a few hours sorting those little jobs out that should take five minutes but in reality you can lose half a day. 7pm and I’d still not ridden the scooter but with the scooter 95% finished I needed to see if it was roadworthy or not. A few laps of the drive made me realise I’d not quite got the gears set up properly, first was very hard to select so a couple of adjustments and it was perfect. The Liztor isn’t any harder to fit or set up than a conventional selector but it selects very smoothly. You can read about Vespa gear selector issues here.
One thing I’d been wondering about was where the oil would go to, we all know a PX engine ends up with oil inside the selector box, or quite often under it and with this fancy extending selector I was worried it’d just end up on the back wheel. Luckily those clever French boffins had thought about this and included a circular oil reservoir around the selector arm.
I’m usually itching to get out and ride a scooter as soon as its rebuilt but I was a little nervous about this one. After all it started out as a rotten floored machine, it’s had a complete new floor, a different untried kitted engine and a set of heavily machined forks fabricated and fitted. If it rode horribly, wasn’t straight or the engine needed work I would be screwed for Germany.
Tentatively, I took it for a spin, mindful to ride somewhere fairly flat just in case I needed to do the push of shame home. Amazingly it rode very nicely. The front suspension, the whole feel of the front end in fact felt very good. There was hardly any vibration to worry about and despite looking like it had just been dug-up it seemed to go quite well too. I was happy and starting to feel a little more confident.
Monday 16th June – MOT day
Having checked everything once again and made sure it started ok I booked the scooter in at Midland Scooter Centre for an MOT and rode it there (expecting bits to drop off) to get some running-in miles done.
On the day I’d originally taken the sorry looking scooter away from MSC after its rescue the mechanic, Andy said “That’ll never be back on the road, the frame’s rotten for a start…” Quite fittingly it was Andy who did the MOT. He was pleasantly surprised when he saw it and agreed to eat his words. After entering it on the DVLA computer he noted that the 1961 machine had never (or at least since computer records began) had an MOT.
Like an expectant father, I watched as he prodded, poked, honked and braked his way through the test. Thankfully it passed, with no advisories. Another huge confidence booster for the trip.
Straight from MSC to Shaun’s, it’s Monday evening after a full day at his ‘proper’ job and he’s adding a bit more to his custom electrics, (just because something had been troubling him) whilst I took the tank out and nodded (in hopefully) the right places as he started baffling me with electric-nonsense.
As is usually the case when working with scooters, nothing goes to plan and Shaun’s standard Vespa fuel tap tool (the long one that needs to reach inside the tank) was way too big for the much smaller imperial nut on this old fuel tank. In true scooterist fashion he made a tool to do the job and soon had the tap out. The second issue was that the smaller nut meant that the hole in the tank was too small for the fast flow tap to go into, so he had to drill it out. A one-shot job as the bottom of the tank isn’t flat, get it wrong and its new tank time. Thankfully it went well and the tap was fitted and back in before bedtime.
Tuesday 17th June
With an MOT in place I could finally tax the scooter, £18 online and I was quite surprised to find that the scooter hadn’t had a tax disc since 1981. It had been off the road for at least 36 years. That’s it; the scooter is roadworthy and legal. Now all I needed to do was get some miles in to bed the engine in and hope for no major disasters in the mean time. This is a modified classic scooter though so going smoothly was never an option really.
Wednesday 18th June
Photo shoot day, I added a SLUK screen to the scooter (we cover most Vespa models in the SLUK shop). I’d already sprayed it to match the scooter and fitted a black cockpit to it. I’d also had a sat nav mount made for it, this was to hold a TomTom Vio for the trip. It fits inside the cockpit perfectly. A few photos and a blast around Leicester with Sticky put another few miles on the clock and things were starting to look promising. Although it tried to cut out as I rode back…
Sunday 18th June
An afternoon of tinkering with both mine and the other half’s scooters. Luggage rack fitted, a few other tweaks and we’re ready for a last little ride around the block and fill them up ready for Tuesday morning. It’s scorching hot, not nice being trussed up in jeans, jacket, gloves and a lid. After trying unsuccessfully to kick mine up I was sweating like a pig. Carb top off, fuel pipe off and there’s no fuel getting through. I blew through the tank and got some fuel to the carb, fired it up and went off to the fuel station. The scooter cut out five times on the one mile ride. Not good. I limped it to the garage, filled up and it ran fine so I did another lap of the block, no problems.
This was both good and bad, it meant that fuel wasn’t getting through as the level dropped. The T5 engine sits slightly higher than the original engine and those few millimetres can make all the difference. This is late on Sunday evening and it looks like we have some fairly major surgery to do tomorrow…
Monday 19th June
I spoke to Shaun, he suggests getting some plumbing supplies and going to his after work tonight. I already run a fuel pump on my PX210 so know what’s involved, drilling a hole in the casing is a major part of that job. We haven’t got the time to strip the engine down to do it properly, after all, drilling through an engine casing is going to cause alloy swarf. Shaun’s plan is that he’ll drill between the crank webs and any alloy will get sucked straight out of the exhaust port. I’m a little nervous but have no choice.
Taking the guesswork out of scooter surgery
4pm and I’ve ridden over to Shaun’s its 32º, hotter than the Bahamas and we’re sweating our nads off.
Whilst I’m busy taking the tank out Shaun gets the drill ready and picks a spot to drill the hole ready to tap a thread for the vacuum feed for the pump. He’s not guessing but even so it’s a gamble. He’s not a gambler and this time he lost. The hole is slightly too high and breaks through in a less than ideal point. This isn’t good. Our first thought it just to either chemical metal it or tap a hole and put a bolt in, scooter bodgery. Shaun decides it’s not the best plan, at 17:30 we start stripping the engine.
With the engine split it means we can drill without guessing, we can also clean any swarf out properly and make sure the original wrong hole is sealed. it still gets the chemical metal treatment but is done properly (or at least for now, it’ll be split and alloy welded after the trip). In my optimistic world this is a positive to come out of a bad situation.
Two and a half hours later and we’re putting the last few bits and pieces back together. The pump is fitted under the seat, complete with quick-release fuel coupler. The scooter starts first kick and I think we both give a sigh of relief. A quick blast around the block with a litre of fuel in the tank and it’s running well, fingers crossed the fuelling issue is resolved. I rode it home, it’s 15 miles from Shaun’s and the scooter ran fine.
I’m typing this at 23:15, I’ve just got the packing to do, work to finish and maybe a bit of sleep before we leave in the morning. Against all the odds and running right up to the wire the scooter is built, roadworthy and ready for it’s first big trip to Vespa World Days. Will we make it? Who knows but I’m fairly confident and will let you know next week either way.
Tuesday 20th June
It’s D-Day, our trip to Vespa World Days begins here. Myself and my other half, Linsey are riding up to Hull today. This project has taken some serious time, called on the skills of some talented people and cost a few quid as well. If the old Douglas makes it I’ll be over the moon, if it doesn’t well that’ll be a whole new adventure. With no breakdown cover abroad I’ll be winging it one way or another.
Midland Scooter Centre for allowing me to acquire the scooter and bring it back to life. Also thanks to SSR Fabrications, Nathan at Disco Dez’s Scooters, SIP, VE (UK), Wessex Scooters, Steve at Vintage Scooter Services, Stefan Manoli, Robin Quartermain, Nigel, Keith and of course the long-suffering Shaun Newman and my other half.
Words and photos: Iggy, location shots, Sticky
The project gets a move on
Buying from the SLUK shops helps to fund further bodgery