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Column: Vespa memories

2010-07-26 10:26

Dave Fall

Well, you’ve got to start somewhere
I’ve just been reading a leaflet about the virtues of scooter ownership and the merits of why I should own a Vespa to keep up with this fast-moving world of ours. I decided to read on, while recalling the years when I possessed a very early example.
About 50 years ago, in the early 60s, times were a lot tougher than they are now. Jobs were probably just as hard to find, but to be lucky enough to get an apprenticeship was probably the second prize in the lottery of life. (The first, according to Rudyard Kipling, was being born with a British passport...)
Turning 16 years of age I managed to get a lucky break to enter the printing trade as a compositor. My journeyman (read boss) ran a customised BSA Road Rocket, but advised me to master something a little smaller - and he just happened to have a friend who had a friend... You know the kind of patter.

The Vespa machine I bought cost all of £5 - two week’s wages, in fact - so long as I didn’t give mum anything for board and lodging and dad was kept in the dark over the actual procurement details of the green and red hand-painted Vespa 125 scooter that blocked our front path.
No, it didn’t actually run but the owner assured me all it needed was a little tender love and attention. Yeh, right, welcome to the real world, Dave!

A prod on the kickstart revealed all sorts of strange noises from beneath the pregnant-looking side bubbles.
Unfazed, Len, a mate of mine who knew everything worth knowing about bikes, told me the clutch had simply gone.

A Saturday morning’s work made it appear again and the 125cc scooter burst into life, carrying us both to the top of our cul-de-sac before what sounded to me like a death rattle told us the clutch had again taken leave of absence.
Never one to be outsmarted, Len came up with the brilliant idea of having the circlip that secures all the friction and drive plates “spot-welded” in place and all would be hunky-dory. By now it was Sunday afternoon and we were ready to cruise the suburbs to check out the girls in the neighbourhood.

Help needed
Nope, nothing doing.

Again the circular clutch mechanism had come apart and it was dawning on me fast why the previous owner had wanted shot of the Vespa, and why that strange smile on his face when we had first met. Expert help was needed by now, but dad would do!
“Sounds like a bent crankshaft to me,” he said. “To get it out means a complete engine stripdown. We’ll tackle it one evening this week on the dining room table when your mother’s out giving lessons!”  (Mom was a driving school instructor.) Good old dad. After helping him fix the family Jowett Javelin gearbox a couple of weeks before, it really was my turn to tinker with something I was to enjoy doing for ever and a day.
Suffice to say, his diagnosis was spot on. A trip to the London Vespa agent in Hampstead to exchange cranks, and handing over £8 for the done deal, enabled me to finally travel all over the UK with the trusty Vespa.

Total expenses getting the bike back on the road: £13 for the above-mentioned repairs plus an annual bill of £6 to cover tax and insurance. Such was the cost of two-wheel ownership back then.
Fast forward 50 years. I looked down at the brochure again, curious to find out what a 125 cc machine would cost me now, should I be interested.
Apparently the Italian word “Vespa” translates to the English word sting. With the current ticket price for the 125 cc being around R45 000, just who is being stung, you might ask!


Bullet: Name, set and match!

2012-04-16 16:47

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