ScooterLab.UK discovers find of century: Holy Grail of vintage Vespa racing excavated in Germany. Experts verify authenticity of Vespa Hoffmann Ufficiale prototype.
This is what a news cast about a legendary barn find could have sounded like. So is this just a hoax? No! Well, at least in an alternative space-time continuum it isn’t. Because this is the scooter the German Hoffmann Works should have built. More than 60 years later wide body enthusiast Andreas Nagy demonstrates why.
But let’s start from the beginning. The Hoffmann Works in Lintorf on the outskirts of Düsseldorf were the first licensees to manufacture Vespas outside the Italian Piaggio factory in Pontadera. With the production starting in 1949 ‘the poor man’s car’ soon mobilised post war Germany and became a symbol of the Wirtschaftswunder.
Nonetheless, in autumn 1953 Jacob Oswald Hoffmann presented his first own model, the Königin (Queen), at the International Bicycle and Motorcycle Show in Cologne. This was, basically, a Vespa Faro Basso with a new frame, an additional headlight on the handle bars, chrome accessories and a German 125 cc ILO engine producing 0,5 bhp more than the Italian original. Enrico Piaggio was not impressed at all about Hoffmann’s solo attempt and, following a legal dispute, withdrew the license in 1954. Incidentally, from 1955 Vespa production in Germany was continued by Messerschmidt in Regensburg.
The irony of the story is that Hoffmann did a brilliant job in establishing the Vespa brand and designing a technically superior model. One of his favoured marketing tools – as it was for many scooter and motorcycle manufacturers of the time too – was to display the reliability and performance of his products in racing. So in 1951 he used Piaggio’s works racer Circuito for sporting competitions like hill climbing at the Feldberg road track in southern Germany. By the way, riding one of these required balls of tungsten; the damping at the front was operated by a single spring and at rear via a rubber buffer.
But how would Hoffmann himself have designed a racing scooter? This question leads back to the beginning of this story and at the same time propels us forward by six decades because it is one that Andreas had sleepless nights over. However, two years ago he set about answer it: ‘I wanted to mold a racing scooter based on this German Vespa like it could have been built in 1953 keeping in with contemporary technology and mechanical knowledge of its era.’
Since there were only 40,000 genuine Hoffmann models built Andreas purchased an Italian 1960 GS 150 frame. Rotten sections were replaced, the legshield widened, the rear end lowered and sloped. With the headlight on the mudguard, the 10 inch wheels, the wide panels and the outer cables at his stage the result looked similar to a Faro Basso from 1951.
The rims were adapted from an Ape three-wheeler because they still fit the 4-hole hubs yet are wider. Front damping now works with Andreas’ own set up consisting of a friction damper, as it was used on the 1950 Circuito, combined with a spring he had especially made. The rear shock was also uprated with a bespoke spring; the advantage of these is they are cylindrical rather than in the original bulge shape and work progressively thus increasing stiffness by around 30% which does a lot for the handling.
Needless to say that the eight inch drum brake at the front is totally inadequate but since there was no alternative at the time Andreas did his best to improve it. The contact surface of the brake shoes was increased by filing them down and slightly repositioning them on the cam. Also a self-fabricated scoop now helps with the air flow and cools the drum down a little more.
The inspiration for the handle bars came from oval track bike racing, where the bars curve farther back to enable a more upright seating position suiting the project quite nicely. Andreas used a seamless tube, filled it with sand and bent it around a self-made jig to the desired radius. Instead of simply clamping it to the forks he welded a short tube to the middle of the bars and used the original mounting system. He also made the instrument holder that doesn’t hold a speedo but an authentic Kienzle 8-day clock as it was used for endurance racing in the day – the concept of time and speed certainly was different half a century ago. The actual speedo sits inside the legshield just like on the standard model.
Andreas used a GS 150 VS5 engine which incorporates many parts that were researched, developed and machined from scratch and is a piece of art. The components include a hi-comp cylinder head, a high gear kit and the complete crankshaft! The genuine piston ported barrel has been modified and treated to an old Dell’Orto UB 23 downdraught carb with shortened manifold and open bell mouth as first used on the Sei Giorni sports model from 1952. The whole engine technology provides a story in itself that we will return to at some later stage. However, to give you an impression of its performance; it now produces 14 BHP at the wheel which is roughly three times the genuine power output and it proves to be to be absolutely reliable so far.
Since the racing carb now sits higher, the fuel pressure was not sufficient enough to feed it at low filling level. The solution for this problem was to pressurise the tank with exhaust gases as originally invented for the German Maicoletta in the 1950s. A hose is connected to a small pipe on top of the exhaust box leading into the tank. The system produces around three PSI of pressure which is enough to fill the float chamber, even at high revs. ‘This makes for interesting situations at petrol stations when I open the tank lid and smoke escapes. Sometimes people take cover because they think everything will blow up. I have to calm them down and explain that’s normal and there is nothing to worry about,’ Andreas remarks with a smirk.
Once the final build was completed the scooter went to paint sprayer Tim Tailor to receive various coats of Hoffmann Red as it would have been applied in the factory back then – INCLUDING the patina of the 60 years that it missed out on. The result was a truly peculiar custom paint job that takes rat rod and rust style a step further. Even the freshly chromed parts were not polished but brushed to an extent that the copper shines through to give it that worn look. Now, since the bike is used almost every day the elements have done their bit and natural wear blends in so perfectly that one could not tell the difference anymore.
Andreas christened his baby Ufficiale as Piaggio designated this nomenclature to the works racers that were sold to privateers – a kind of early factory race replicas for the rich boys. If we all lived in a parallel universe and the real Hoffmann Ufficiale prototype was auctioned off at Sotheby’s only the very, very rich boys could afford it nowadays. However, I am sure Andreas couldn’t care less; money couldn’t buy him the joy he gets out of his creation.
Photos: Sticky & Andreas
A matter of interest:
Andreas has made a name for himself in the world of preparing and tuning early Vespas. He has worked together with crankshaft specialists Kingwelle and also with Pinasco on various upgrade projects for pre-1960 models that make them more practical for use in modern traffic conditions.
Andreas specialises in rebuilding engines, mechanical assembly groups like gear selectors etc. or complete suspension units. He also tunes engines up to 1957, all using his own components and years of experience. For more check out Nagy-Blechroller.
Owners name: Andreas Nagy
Town: Grevenbroich (near Düsseldorf), Germany
Scooter name: Hoffmann Ufficiale
Model: Vespa GS 150 frame and engine extensively modified
Engine details: GS150 VS5 engine, CNC machined cylinder head, long stroke crank custom made by Kingwelle, standard barrel ported and skimmed, matched cases, gearbox electronic ignition, PX 125/150 clutch, open bellmouth with mesh
Top speed: 70 mph (by GPS)
Power output: 14 BHP
Paintwork: Hoffmann Red
Accessories: Kienzle 8 day clock as used in endurance racing
Coatings & finishes: Paint job/patina style airbrush by Tim Tailor
Acquisition? Only a few years ago.
Inspiration? I wanted to build my vision on an official Hoffmann factory racer.
Alteration? No modifications, all self-made.
Perspiration? Steering mods, handlebar, metal works.
Aggravation? Getting the engine components developed and produced
Recommendation? Kingwelle cranks, TimTailors cutom painter
Celebration? Cramer brothers from Kingwelle, Chris Boltze (TimTailor), Peter Witzel for his help with handlebar Hoffmann Ufficiale