Wane’s Wheels: Bella Vespa

Greg Wane
RORY Flynn did the full “Christmas Tree” restor-ation on his 1971 Vespa scooter.
“It means you have to fit as many lights, mirrors and chrome bits as you can fit on it,” Rory said.
“I drove it like that for a while, but it looked a bit kinda crazy so I took some of the lights off and modified it more to the mod look of that era, but it still looks good.”
He bought the little scooter from a friend who found it deteriorating in a shed in outer Geelong.
The scooter remained untouched in Rory’s shed for a few years before restoration began in earnest.
“The restoration took almost three years to complete.
“I started by tracing the history of the scooter using VINs (Vehicle Identification Numbers) and discovered it was used by Australia Post as a mail delivery scooter.
“I wanted to restore it as an Australia Post Vespa but I couldn’t remember seeing any Australia Post scooters so I looked through heaps of old photos but couldn’t see any.”
Rory found out the bike was sold new in Italy and it was later exported to New Zealand, before coming to Australia as a mail delivery scooter.
“There wasn’t a lot of rust. It had been painted with a paintbrush with thick house paint which acted like a sealer so there was hardly any rust and it had preserved a lot of the panels. But there were a lot of dings in the panels.
“When I had it sandblasted most of the panels were really good, but I still had to replace a few of them and that was tricky because they are not easy to come by.
“Vespas are built in India now because Italy sold the presses to India and Indonesia. They still press the panels but you have to be wary of what you are buying. I ended up getting a genuine panel from the US, another from India, Europe, in fact the scooter has a part from almost every continent on the planet,” Rory laughed.
He said because his Vespa was so old and there had been dozens of newer models and shapes produced since 1971, which is why it was difficult to find parts.
The little 150cc engine had also given up long ago, so some lessons in mechanical restoration were necessary.
“I’d never picked up a screw driver before and had no mechanical knowledge of engines. But when I started fixing up the scooter I decided I needed to learn about engines.
“I got some help from a specialist in Melbourne at first and then I found a mechanic that used to work at the Paggio factory in Italy, his name is Roberto and he is passing on all his mechanical skills to me bit by bit.
“I am also a member of the Melbourne Crusaders. They’re a group of vintage Vespa riders and are a good source of knowledge.
“We get together once a month. I trailer the little Vespa up to Melbourne and we go hopping around cafes in the suburbs in a big group, probably 20-25 bikes.
“We did go around Tasmania two years ago and to do a trip like that you learn to pack light.”
The Vespa runs on two-stroke, an oil and unleaded fuel mix and despite having a 150cc engine and little wheels the scooter is very powerful.
“They have an amazing amount of torque. You can take two people on them and cruise at 80ks so they are really powerful for a little bike. It’s probably because there’s no drive train — it is an engine-direct drive wheel.
“A tank of fuel gets me at least 100-150 kilometres.”
The downside is the early scooters need to be nursed. Rory said they break down quite a bit and on the Tasmanian trip bits kept falling off the Vespas as they tripped around the island.
“Things kept dropping off them and we joked that after the trip we would have left almost an entire Vespa of parts behind.
But the big plus is the parking bonus.
“It is a fantastic benefit. The Vespa is a real joy to go shopping. You can simply go door to door and park it out the front. Of course on sunny days it’s great to go cruising.”
He explained that the earlier models, built in the late 60s and early 70s were becoming harder to find these days.
“In Italy, because of emission laws the Italians have been encouraged to trade in their old Vespas for a really good rebate on a new one so the older scooters are getting scrapped.
“These oldies are turning up in Indonesia and Thailand, where they get thrashed and bashed and they are later being sold with bent frames. But genuine vintage Italian-made scooters are rare.”
The scooters were designed for the people. With the poor state of the Italian roads, a conventional vehicle was out of the question.
The Vespa was born in 1946 and was an immediate hit with its brightly painted pressed steel underbody, which featured a complete cowling for the engine concealing the dirt and grease, and a flat floorboard to protect the feet and a front fairing for wind protection.
Enrico Praggio was originally an aircraft designer who also had a sense of humour. Each Vespa features a small aircraft icon on the front.
The Vespa shape has changed little since 1946 with only slight variations.
Rory, a Geelong graphic designer, said his Vespa epitomised the Italian style and design of the 70s.
“It was such an iconic time of design, the Vespa is a beautiful shape, it is flair and function. It is so Euro cool, with rounded and beautiful curves. They are such an iconic 1970s shape,” Rory said.
“So Eurovision!”