Saturday, December 13, 2008

The fruits of summer

It's been ages since I've published anything on this blog. Partly it's because I've been busy but also because I start writing something, then things change and I go back and start re-editing. This time however I'm just going to publish and correct the out of date stuff with another post. Here goes:

The Troll
After sourcing most of the parts I needed I set about trying to carry out some of the repairs myself. As I reported last time, this had somewhat mixed results. At the end of the day I couldn't complete the rewiring, fix the accelerator or remove the rear brake cable (which had rusted right into the brake housing. Ivo and Roberto from the Vespa Shop had agreed to look the Troll over for me and assist so I ended up dropping it off to them. After they'd had an opportunity to give it the once over we caught up to discuss the next steps. I'd originally intended to just undertake the basic repairs on the Troll, to get it roadworthy but not restore it. After a lengthy discussion though we agreed that it will pretty much be a basic restoration, including a complete repaint. I'm quite excited. One of the things that prompted me to do this now was finding this German website detailing the restoration of a Troll and Berlin. I'm expecting my Troll to look just like this:

I've also been in contact with a guy - James - in the UK who is repairing a Troll. His site is:

Due to the Christmas and New Year breaks, when many businesses shut down for weeks, the Troll probably won't be ready before March 2009. I can hardly wait.

The Heinkel
The Heinkel is now resident in my new shed. I really didn't have room to store any of my scooters. The Vespa was always parked on the veranda at the front of the house - not an entirely secure location while the Heinkel and Troll were both wrapped up under tarps on my back porch, much to the delight of my wife. So, in the interests of domestic harmony it was essential that they be found an appropriate home. We had a small 2.5 by 2.5 metre shed in the corner of the garden. That had to go. As did a rather scrappy small tree. We now have a 4.3 metre long shed that can happily accommodate all three scooters and my kayak. Hurrah! That all said, unfortunately, I just haven't had the time yet to do anything with the Heinkel, but I am planning on starting work on it shortly.

The Vespa
I hadn't ridden the Vespa much in the past couple of months, but after getting back from Melbourne in mid November I've taken it on a run every weekend. I took it into Fremantle a couple of Sundays ago and she rode like a dream. It felt great to finally get to use the scooter as I intended. Unfortunately, not having used it much over the preceding months I'd neglected to check exactly how much petrol was in the tank. I mean, hey, it's not like I'd used it much so it's gotta be pretty full, doesn't it? Funnily enough I was almost home when this thought crossed my mind and I thought perhaps I should take this opportunity to swing by the nearest petrol station. And with that thought the engine suddenly went "pop!" and I was dead in the water. Oops! I was only about a kilometre from home so it wasn't a biggie. Just a little embarrassing.

More embarrassing however was that I had to push the Vespa past a group of young ladies who were sitting on their front lawn, overlooking the river, and having a few drinks. They'd waved when I drove past them on my way to Freo so I felt a little humiliated now having to walk the bike past them. Sure enough they laughed and called out but were surprisingly sympathetic. "Looks like you could use a drink!", one of them called, and indeed I could. And I did. I ended up joining their little soiree for a few bottles of champagne so it didn't end too badly after all! But I now know exactly how far I can drive on one tank of petrol.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Long time coming...

It's been several months now since I've updated the blog. This is partly an indication of the progress to date and partly because I've just been busy. So a quick summary is in order.

During June and July I received a steady flow of the parts I had ordered. There were some errors however. I was shipped a cigar form Berlin exhaust instead of the Troll exhaust I'd ordered. I had to do alot of searching to find a Troll exhaust, but found one here: They were very prompt with the purchase and delivery.

I am still struggling to find brake shoes for the Troll. Many vendors seem to offer them but are unresponsive to my enquiries. I have found this the greatest difficulty ordering from German vendors. Although many do reply to my queries in English, they never seem to follow up on the enquiry. I have an order outstanding with for brake shoes, a new carburetor and petrol tap but haven't responded to my queries yet.

My ambition to take care of the rewiring myself didn't really come to fruition. The wiring set certainly appeared to contain everything required to completely rewire the Troll. The problem however was that the wires are not labeled and the schematic is very theoretical, like a subway map. Without electrical experience it simply proved too complicated for me. As one of my motorcycle owning friends commented, "why would you do it yourself when any little mistake will completely stuff it up." So I decided to enlist professional help. That proved easier said than done. I tried several motorcycle electricians but no one was interested.

Then my Vespa broke down. Again.

I'd mentioned earlier that the Vespa's wiring had failed after its last service. Sam the mechanic wasn't really interested in rewiring the electrics so I started work on it myself. All was going well for a while. I was able to trace the fault to a single wire in the headstock and then the engine failed. In desperation I tried to find a new mechanic and came across Ivo from The Vespa Shop. Initially the main attraction of the The Vespa Shop was that it was relatively close to my house. Ivo was very helpful and even arranged to pick up the Vespa from my house. One day later the bike was fixed and I could pick it up. Ivo and Roberto run a small operation and don't really advertise, but I highly recommend their work (phone -08-93315501, email -

After picking up the Vespa, I had some discussions with Ivo and he agreed to assist with the Troll. This was good news to me. He'll be picking it up (along with all the spares) sometime in October when he'd back from Italy.

More Heinkels
I haven't really done much with the Heinkel but now that I can see the end of the Troll project, I've got to restart work on the Heinkel. I'll need to audit all the parts I have to determine what I need to buy / replace.

I just happened to be looking on ebay the other day and Klaus Wolfe was selling another Heinkel Tourist. This time an 103A2 from 1961. It was in a very similar condition to mine. Ironically, the price paid after eight bids was A$670 - exactly the same price I paid after two bids. Here is a photo.

Unfortunately the buyers ID is private so I can't contact them. I'd like to follow the progress of their project too.
Speaking of rare and unusual scooters on the market, Joe D'Ercole of Scootersales in Queensland is selling a number of very interesting scooters, including:
1956 Triumph Tessy
1959 Velocette Viceroy
1956 Maico Maicoletta
1958 NZeta (Cezeta built under license in NZ)
1959 Manurhin Hobby (French built DKW)
1953 NSU Prima (German built Lambretta)
1958 Puch Stier
1956 Triumph Tigress
1959 Terrot
1961 Cezeta
Most are running but some are restoration jobs. I must admit I saw the 61 Cezeta advertised on Ebay a year or so back but it failed to meet reserve. I had even sent a query after the auction but never heard back.

Monday, June 30, 2008

The Work Begins

I haven't had much opportunity to work on the bikes over the past couple of weeks so I haven't really had much to report.

The Heinkel
While I'm concentrating on the Troll, I haven't really done very much with the Heinkel. It is currently wrapped and boxed up on my veranda. I have however been busily scouring the Internet for parts, which is both challenging and interesting.

Last week my membership to the Heinkel Club Deutschland came through. Membership costs E60 per annum and members are allowed to purchase spare parts directly through the club. Link:

The Troll
The Troll has been my priority since it arrived and I must admit I'm quite enamored with it. I'm amazed at the amount of spare parts available on the Internet. Here's a summary of all the parts I've sourced so far:

Sausewind supply a wide range of parts for old East German vehicles. There website does not cater easily for non-European orders, however, I contacted them directly by email and they were prepared to ship parts overseas, although they did take quite a long time to respond, but more on that later. They are shipping:
1 set of ox-eye indicators (for handlebar ends)
A full set of brake, clutch and accelerator bowden cables, etc;
A set of hood rubber piping (new).
Total cost = E93

TKM Racing supply a wide range of new and old scooter and motorcycle parts, including East German vehicles. They are shipping:
1 full set of electrical cabling for a Troll (they have kits for all IWL models)
Total cost = E45

From MT Superbikes (aka EMWService) @
Selling a variety of East German new and used bike parts through German eBay. They are shipping:
1 x set of ox-eye indicators (a spare set)
1 x throttle kit
Total cost = E36

I've also managed to source several other parts, such as keys and lock mechanism for the glove box (currently broken).

None of the German vendors I've dealt with appear to get very much overseas business. Only one business accepted credit card for payment, which has meant it's a little difficult to send them the money. I'm currently sending it electronically direct to their bank accounts (seems a preferred method in Germany). So far the process has not been too difficult or expensive, but I've only transferred funds this way twice so far.
The general response to date to my queries has been incredulity. People just don't believe that there are IWL vehicles overseas - at least not in Australia. On one occasion the vendor refused to believe there were any Trolls in Australia, so I sent him a picture (not that he would be able to tell it was in Australia). This got me thinking - how many Trolls were in Australia? I spoke to Klaus and he knew of at least six. He owns two, he's sold two (one to me) and there were two imported in Adelaide. Although it's not conclusive, it certainly seems that the Troll is a rare machine in Australia. One of the sellers on eBay I had contacted asked me whether I'd bought the bike from him as he'd sold one to an Australian and he was very interested to find out how she was going.

Fun with Petrol
When I bought the Troll Klaus had warned that the petrol tank and carburetor needed to be thoroughly cleaned. On Saturday I added a little petrol tank and opened the petrol tap and sure enough nothing moved. So I removed and dismantled the fuel tap. It seemed every space within it was encrusted with lead and sludge.

After a damned good soaking I finally cleared the petrol tap. Underneath the tap (pictured above) is a rubber seal with three nipples through which the petrol flows. When I first viewed the seal I thought it was simply a flat seal as the nipples were completely filled with very solid black aggregate. I had to lever out the gunk with a very small screwdriver - carefully so as not to damage the rubber, which was in surprisingly good condition. The tap is now cleaned and fully functional. The Saturday I'll see if we can actually get the petrol to flow into the carburetor.

I installed the battery and tested the flow through the wiring. Despite the dodgy appearance of the wiring almost everything electrical seems to work, except of course the indicators, because they've been removed. The brake light too had been severed. All this wiring will be replaced when the wiring kit arrives.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Arrival

I don't place much stock in omens, but it was absolutely pouring down with rain when I got the call the from Matthew the Truckie that he would be dropping the bikes off today. It was Monday, 9th of June at about 8am and I was on the bus to work, so I jumped off at the next stop into a veritable thunderstorm, got absolutely drenched and caught the next bus home. Matthew said he would be there at 10am and he damn well arrived spot on the dot. It was big rig and the bikes were packed in the middle so it took a lot of shuffling and reshuffling by his packing crew to unload the bikes. Well, not exactly bikes, more boxes of bits and things really. One of the guys asked me, "what the hell are you gonna do with all this junk?" (sounds a lot like something my wife would say). "I'm planning on restoring them.", I replied. He looked dubious. I guess I looked dubious too.

The Heinkel and boxes - rain-spatted and fresh from the truck assembled on the porch

The Heinkel came in 8 boxes (including the chassis and panels). Of course I knew what I was getting when I bought it, but it was still a bit of a shock to see it right there in pieces on my front lawn. The Troll was shipped whole of course, and Matthew hopped on it and coasted it down the ramp. I was really excited as I wheeled it down the driveway but it wasn't long before the full realization of what was ahead caught up with me. A quick once over of the Troll revealed numerous "challenges" to be resolved before it has any chance of getting on the road. While parts of the body are in very good nick, other parts are very badly worn. It needs a damn good panel beating. The body however is the least of the bike's problems. The throttle was broken, it's missing its indicators, the front brake is partly seized I think and new cables are required. I suddenly felt completely daunted by the prospect of all the work ahead.

Fortunately, the thunderstorm had passed just long enough to unload the bikes. The Heinkel boxes were packed under my porch and the Troll was parked in the driveway. I took a couple of photos and then I headed off to work. My wife messaged me on the way to hear how it all went. I sent her a couple of photos. I was expecting Shelly to be extremely dubious, but she said the Troll looked really cool - whether it was running or not. That was a relief.

After the rush was over I began to think clearly again began planning out all the activities that I needed to do. I had originally hoped to have the Heinkel ready by November - six months! Clearly that was unrealistic. I now don't expect to have the Heinkel ready before the middle of 2009. The Troll will be priority for now.

Unfortunately rain and work commitments during the week prevented me from carrying out a proper appraisal of the Troll, nevertheless, I spent the rest of the week searching the internet for IWL parts. There seems to be is a surprising amount of spares available from German scooter/motorcycle retailers. I ordered a complete set of new cables, new wiring, indicators and rubber seals (the seals on the engine covers are perished in several places. It will be two or three weeks before they arrive.

Saturday turned out to be a stunning autumn day - sunshine, blue skies and pleasant warm humidity so I began my first official survey of the bikes. Firstly the Troll:- apart from the problems with the front end, the vehicle seems to be in fairly good condition. The engine seems clean (not really a gauge of how well it runs I know). Some of the wiring looks a bit old and frayed, but I'm going to get all that replaced.

I unpacked all of the Heinkel boxes and - just to get a picture of what is and isn't there - did a bit of a dry reassemble on the lawn. When the Heinkel was delivered I was surprised not to see any wheels. There was only one single wheel packed among the boxes and that turned out to be the Troll's spare. I couldn't see how the Heinkel's wheels could have fitted into the boxes. But they did. Two 8inch wheels and four tyres. They look so diminutive and it immediately made me wonder. Was this really a 103A?? Turns out no. It's actually a 102A-1, confirmed by the ID plate - chassis no 134084 built in Stuttgart in 1955. 17,500 102A-1's were built between 1953 and 1955. Mine was obviously built towards the end of the run. The main difference between the 102 and 103 was the move to 10inch wheels to improve road handling.

As promised, there were two engines in the boxes, both dismantled. Some of the parts looked quite new, others were frighteningly bad condition - the clutch for example. There is a lot of work to do. Things I've identified as missing so far - exhaust, rear shock absorbers, suspension, axle and mudguard, gear change and throttle controls and probably a lot more. After the review I packed all the boxes up again and have stored the Heinkel for now. I've sent my membership off to the Heinkel Club Deutschland and am awaiting the parts and price list. Once I have that I'll begin sourcing the parts.

It's clear the old Heinkel has had quite a varied life. It was originally black but was hand-painted it's current gaudy red and blue. Its original seat has gone and been replaced by a sheet foam glued to marine ply. That'll need to go too.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Ups Downs and Roundabouts

Well, it has been an interesting week.

We finally came to an arrangement over the transport and the Heinkel and Troll have finally been shipped as of Friday 22 May. It will take approximately two weeks for them to arrive. I'm very excited.

So that was the good news. But on all other fronts it's been a terrible week. Firstly - and of course this has nothing to do with scooters - but work has been a real mess. There is a pall of gloom hanging over my work at the moment as the main project I am on continues to descend in disaster. Political forces are preventing me and my co-project manager taking the steps we need to resolve the problems and get back on track. It's all very disheartening.

To add to my woes I dropped my bike during a lesson for my motorcycle license. How embarrasing! As soon as we hit the road it started to belt down with rain - the first time I'd even ridden in the wet and as we came to a roundabout I locked the front wheel and stacked it big time. Fortunately the most damage was done to my pride. I walked away with a scrape on the knee. The bike was okay too. But it shook my confidence a little driving on the wet roads. Oh well, could have been much worse.

And to add to my sense of gloom - the Vespa is f-cked again. The indicators haven't worked since I got the bike back from Sam. Following his advice I replaced the dodgy old battery and replaced all the globes - three were broken. But as soon as the bulbs were fitted, suddenly the wiring went. Only the right hand turn signals would work and they did not pulsate at all. Occasionally when I turned the handlebars hard left the left lights would come on which indicates to me the wiring was compromised when the front end was replaced. Sam and I had had a conversation about that after I picked up the bike and he'd indicated quite clearly this was not a job he was keen to take on so I'd already been planning to do it myself. Today (Sunday) I began taking apart the indicator switch and looking at the wiring. To be frank, it's pretty f-cking rubbish. As soon as the wires disappear inside the tubing the nice new wiring is superceded by what is clearly worn out old sh-t wiring, amateurishly twisted together. It'll undoubtedly all have to be replaced.

But that's the least of my worries.... no sooner had I started work today than the bloody engine failed. I don't know what's wrong with it now. It seems to be the same problem as before. It simply won't turnover. Given that the bike has done only one very short trip to the petrol station and back since I got it and has been turned over every three or four days while I tried to track down the wiring fault, you can understand I'm not very happy.

The German bikes were always intended to replace the Vespa eventually. The question is, what the hell am I going to do with the bike? The electrics are just an inconvenience. I can fix that myself, but if the engine is going to break down every couple of months I'm never going to be able to sell it. You live and learn maybe.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hey Hey, they're on their way

There was movement at the station for the word had passed around that the Heinkel and the Troll were on their way.

At last, the transport is arranged. Or is it? It's been back and forth this week. Klaus dropped of bikes with Pack and Send in Preston, just around the corner from his office. But then there was a problem with the fuel. The Troll was still fueled up and couldn't be transported until it got drained. Now both bikes are boxed up, but there's a problem with the quote. There's a debate whether to price the transport according to weigh, size or volume and each method results in a wildly varying price. I'm a little surprised as Klaus has used Pack and Send fairly regularly so it isn't like this is new to anyone. I've left the debate in their hands for the moment. If things get ridiculous it'll be back to the drawing board. I certainly hope it doesn't come to that. Trusting that all goes well (crossed fingers!) the bikes will arrive in approx two weeks.
Today I also received the original owners manual for the Heinkel. In the end that info was no more than you can download from the US & UK Heinkel owners website, except for several high level diagrams of the engine, which is slightly different between the A-0 and A-1 models. I'll scan a copy and publish it here along with the other owner and technical guides.
It also included an interesting flyer from the German Heinkel club, which shows the evolution of the models. The prototype Heinkel looks exactly like an old Vespa (there you go - plagiarism again) from the front, but the back is distinctively Heinkel. It's only a poor quality photocopy but I'll scan a picture to this site as I think it's worth sharing.
I've been spending every spare moment of my time on the internet searching for parts. Even though I haven't seen either bike in the flesh (or metal), I do have a preliminary lists of missing parts I need to source.
For the Troll:
Battery - done
Indicators - I have some on order
Mirrors -there is a single mirror, but it's set on the wrong side for Australian roads. I'll need to find something more useful. The Vespa's mirrors, while original, are virtually useless when driving. They shake too much and have a tiny field of vision.
For the Heinkel:
2 x batteries - on order
An exhaust
Indicators (front and back) - I have sourced some
I know these are all rather trivial items in the scheme of things, but if I can source them now, I will.
PS. I finally told my wife about the scooters. I'd been dreading this moment for while and the longer it went on the more and more difficult it seemed. But with the bikes almost on their way there was no putting it off. I was expecting a much more negative response but Shelly took the news well. I think she's probably reserving judgment until they arrive.

IWL History

The range of IWL scooters - Pitty, Wiesel, Berlin and Troll (and in the rear, a Campi trailer)

VEB Industriewerke of Ludwigsfeld (IWL) was established on the southern outskirts of Berlin in 1936 by the Daimler-Benz company to build aircraft engines. Being a military industry, the factory was severely bombed during the Second World War and, as part of reparations the Soviets dismantled and removed everything that could be salvaged from the damaged factory. IWL's 11 empty assembly halls lay in ruins until 1950 when the nationalized automobile conglomerate, VEB, approved their reconstruction. As in the west, the government desperately needed to re-industrialize and provide jobs for a destitute workforce. After six months reconstruction the IWL factory began to function again, first producing machine tools, pots and pans, wheelbarrows and farm machinery and eventually Soviet aircraft engines under license.

East Germany had the same desperate need for transport as West Germany and few functioning factories. VEB began to reorganize factory capacity and in 1954 VEB approved the manufacture of scooters as cheap mass transport. None of the existing companies had any experience with scooters, so the contract was allocated to IWL.

The Pitty

The Pitty was IWL's first scooter and began rolling off the production line at the beginning of 1955. There was nothing original in its design. IWL had developed three different prototype bodies, all based on contemporary western designs, but eventually settled on a design  modeled on the Goggo. IWL was responsible only for the body and assembly. Parts and fittings were sourced from a number of different state owned companies, while the engine was supplied by East German motorcycle concern, MZ (Motorrad Zchopau); formerly DKW's pre-war motorcycle plant. This arrangement would later prove very useful to a later generation of IWL restorers, as interchangeable MZ and Simson parts are still widely available.

The Pitty's engine was MZ's 123cc two-stroke engine, formerly employed in the IFA RT125 motorcycle. This is the same engine used in the British Bantam.  The engine delivered a maximum of 5 horsepower with a reputed top speed of 70 kph. That claim however was never likely to be achieved by the Pitty, weighed down with so much excessive bodywork. Nevertheless, the use of twelve inch wheels gave a certain degree of stability, despite its solid suspension. The Pitty came in three colours - green, red/brown and black. Production ceased in April 1956 after 11,293 Pitty's had rolled off the production line.

The Wiesel SR56
The East German motoring authority had been disappointed by the Pitty. There were numerous complaints from customers about the scooters slow speed and poor handling. The placement of the exhausts came in for specific criticism as it was easy for the pillion passenger to burn their leg. A series of improvements were presented to IWL for action.

In 1956 IWL released the Wiesel as an improvement over the Pitty. Gone was the fixed nose faring that had made the Pitty look so slow and sluggish, replaced by the more traditional moving fender. But apart from a small change to the rear suspension, the Wiesel was otherwise mechanically identical to its predecessor. The motoring authority was outraged that their suggested improvements had been effectively ignored. Nevertheless, 56,000 were built before production ceased in 1959. The Wiesel came in three colours - red, grey and black.

Introduced at the same time as the Wiesel was the Campi single wheeled trailer. Fixing to a connection on the rear spare wheel, the Campi significantly improved the scooter's utility and carrying capacity.

The Berlin SR59

With the Berlin Statroller (city scooter) IWL finally hit its stride. In appearance and styling, the Berlin was similar to the Wiesel, but the engine 123cc had been bored out a 145cc,giving the scooter a top speed of 82kph. The Berlin also had a 4 speed gearbox and rider comfort was improved by the addition of a rear shock absorber, longer front arm suspension and sprung seats. It also had a number of advanced features, such as seven starting settings, with cold and hot starting in summer and winter. It also featured an anti-theft lock, something that customers had vocally complained about since the Pitty. The placement of the exhaust was still problematic however.

Styling was also enhanced by a new two-toned paint scheme, with the combinations of green/white, orange/white, light blue/white and black/white. The Berlin was IWL's best selling and best loved scooter. 113,943 Berlins were built between 1959 and 1962. Many thousands are still on the roads today in Germany and elsewhere around the world.

The Troll TR1

With the Troll, or 'Touring Scooter', IWL took the lessons from the Berlin to the next level. The engine was still the same but the body was restyled, becoming squarer, longer and larger. The higher seating made for a more comfortable ride, as did the new shock absorbers on the the front wheel and the improved seats. With a top speed of 90kph, IWL delivered a cruising scooter that was solid, mechanically reliable and capable of comfortable driving over long distances. The troublesome exhaust was now placed under the footplate where there was no risk of passenger or rider burning themselves. However, by increasing the size of the scooter, a new problem was created. The large, slab sides made the scooter highly susceptible to cross winds.

The Troll never matched the success of the Berlin and only 56,531 Trolls were built between January 1963 and December 1964. At the end of the production run IWL stopped manufacturing scooters and concentrated on trucks. The Troll came with a two tone paint scheme like the Berlin - red/white, light blue/white and black/white.

VEB transferred IWL's scooter production to the motorcycle manufacturer, MZ. MZ were already building a similar spec motorcycle, the ET150, which shared many components and styling with the Troll. After reviewing the Troll's design, MZ decided to discontinue production.

Today there is a dedicated following for IWL scooters in Germany and many thousands are still on the roads today. The Berlin remains the most popular. The unfortunate Pitty is the rarest, most having been junked years ago. The use of MZ engines and running gear has made restoring and maintaining IWL scooters very easy as there is abundant supplies of all spare parts. There are also many remanufacturers of fittings supplying the Ostalgia market. Of all IWL products, probably the most desirable is the Campi trailer, which fetch prices around 2000 euro.

Ludwigsfeld Museum
Here's a link to the museum in Ludwigsfeld. It's all in German but it does have some interesting photos, especially those showing the war damaged factories being cleaned up in 1948. There are also some photos of IWL-IFA trucks that were manufactured between 1964 and 1990.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Vespa is Back!

After some six weeks in the shop the Vespa is back in action. I picked it up from the Scooter Centre on Monday and took it for a spin around the neighborhood. It was great to drive it again after for so long. I must admit I was just a little apprehensive after the accident. I've been constantly picturing all the things that might go wrong out on the road, how the brakes might not bite as quickly as I would like (always a problem with vintage bikes), how the accelerator might lock up again.... It doesn't bear thinking about. I took it for a very slow circuit around the block to get the feeling back, to get my confidence back. Sam has done an excellent job with the steering. I've always said had I not had the accident that day I would have called that week anyway to look at the steering. Perhaps it was an omen.

So what did he find? The initial diagnosis was a sheered shock absorber arm and slightly bent front mudguard. Troubling, but scarcely catastrophic. So the mudguard came off and the shock absorber replaced, then the problems really began. With each repair another problem would be revealed. Eventually the whole steering column and front fork needed to replaced. Some of the damage was from the accident of course, but it was compounded by use of old, worn and often ill fitting parts. And yes, he did come across the oft reported tin can shims used to fill spaces around the steering column, a likely cause of the vibration I'd felt when traveling at only 50 kph.

Disappointingly the battery has now failed - obviously another second hand piece of junk cleaned up in Indonesia - so I'm off to Battery World in Saturday. They have a replacement in stock. They also have 3 x 6volt batteries on order for me for the Heinkel and Troll.

A final word on Vietnamese made reproduction accessories - beware. A lot of scooter vendors on eBay, regardless of where they are situated, simply move Vietnamese made repro parts. Whilst not all are poor quality, you can end up with something less than you expected.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A potted scooter history

Scooter evolution from the 1930s to the 1960s.

When many people think of scooters, they think of Vespa. And why wouldn't they? They are rightly famous and almost single-handledly made the motor scooter 'cool' and 'sexy.' It could even be argued that Piaggio's Vespa saved scooters from obscurity and oblivion.

Scooters had, of course, been around for quite a while. From the moment the internal combustion engine was invented people started bolting them to bicycles and push scooters. The motorcycle immediately took off, but the motor scooter wobbled as unsteadily as the bizarre contraptions they often were - small, unstable, underpowered, without suspension or any attempt at rider comfort. It was only in post-depression America that a niche market for scooters opened up among the upper middle classes, eager for the particular combination of novelty and mobility that scooters offered.
ABC Scootavia from the 1920's

It was the Second World War, specifically the invasion of Europe, that lifted the fortunes of the scooter industry. Their small size and mechanical simplicity made them appear to be the perfect support for mechanized infantry. The America manufacturer, Cushman, dominated the market during the 1940s, producing 300 scooters a day for both military and civilian use. After the war, Cushman and other manufacturers, such as Salsbury, planned a mass transport revolution with stylish and innovative scooter designs. Salsbury's flagship, the 1947 Super Scooter Model 85, was certainly stylish and space age, but was a commercial failure. The War had made America an industrial giant and its citizens were the wealthiest in the world. American consumers weren't interested in the scooter companies visions of cheap mass transport; they wanted cars and they could now afford them. America's post war prosperity was the death knell of the American scooter industry.

The 1947 Salsbury Super Scooter (Vintage Motor Museum, Whiteman Park)

In the UK, sidecar manufacturer Swallow had observed Cushman scooters being used by at RAF around their airfields and saw an opportunity to produce a budget vehicle that would be suitable for the English 'everyman.' Clearly based on the Cushman and powered by a 125cc Villiers engine, the 1946 Gadabout was spartan vehicle, without either suspension or styling. It proved to be a mediocre seller and was soon to be overtake by events on the continent.
A 1946 model Gadabout in Australia (owned by G Wilkie). Only about 2000 were built and many were exported to Australia and the colonies. I now regret not buying one when I had a chance.

In Europe it was a totally different story. Most European cities had been destroyed or badly damaged during the War and it would be decades before the national economies of Europe fully recovered. There was a desperate need to both kick-start an industrial recovery and provide cheap mass transport. In Italy, Germany and Japan, military aircraft manufacturers such as Piaggio and Heinkel had been banned from building aircraft or anything remotely military and they desperately needed to find a new role if they were to survive. Enrico Piaggio had been impressed by the Cushman scooters the US military had used in Italy and saw an opportunity. Piaggios' 1946 scooter prototype, nicknamed Paperino ("Donald Duck") was stylistically reminiscent of the more bizarre pre-war scooters and quickly shelved, but a new design, featuring a step through body and simple, elegant lines was an instant hit. Piaggio is reputed to have said, "It looks like a wasp (Vespa)", due to it's slim waist and high pitched buzzing engine, and the name stuck.

Vespa's 1946 prototype, the Paperino.

Piaggio's design was scarcely original - the design was so remarkably similar to that of other contemporary Italian scooter manufacturers, such as the Iso, that someone could fairly be accused of 'plagiarism' - but that wasn't important. Piaggio's marketing turned the Vespa into a phenomenon. The youth appeal of the Vespa is what is most remembered today, but that was actually the sentiment of a later era. Vespa's initial success was with working families, especially housewives, who could easily drive or ride on the scooter without getting their dresses caught or dirty. Mechanically the Vespa was a simple, clean and relatively reliable machine, and it became the all purpose workhorse of post war Italy. It appeared in movies (e.g,, Roman Holiday), was endorsed by film stars, politicians and even the Catholic Church.

A Vespa 125 from the early 50's in Verona, Italy. 2004

Vespa's success set a standard that all other scooter manufacturers tried to attain. In fact, re-badged Vespas were built under license my a myriad of scooter manufacturers from America, to Russia, to India. In comparison, Vespa's main Italian competitor Innocenti's first Lambretta was a graceless, naked tubular frame with an engine.

Lambretta D

In 1951 Innocenti released the LC 125 with body panels. Larger, more powerful and very stylish, these new Lambrettas threw down a serious challenge to Vespa that was to last until Innocenti finally retired from the scooter market and sold Lambretta to India in 1971.

Lambretta TVC

In the US, the craze for European scooters led even veteran motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson to come out with their own model, the Topper. It proved to be an embarrassing failure. Cushman however continued to dominate the scooter market with their miniaturized motorcycle/scooter hybrids, such as the Eagle. But once again the fad quickly ended and motorcycles continued to outsell scooters by a significant margin. Both Harley Davidson and Cushman abandoned scooters to concentrate on their core market.
The Harley Davidson Topper - square, styleless and dull - like all 60's US scooters.

Scooters were very popular and very eccentric in post war Britain. The most eccentric by far was probably the Piatti, which looked nothing so much as a fat sausage sporting an improbably large seat. Despite its Italian sounding name and very advanced features, the Piatti and many other similar domestic scooters couldn't really compete with their Italian counterparts.

A Piatti. Unanimous winner of the weirdest scooter award.
Typically perhaps, the French struck out in their own direction, producing a number of very interesting, stylish and innovative scooters that we almost two wheeled cars, of which the Terrot and Peugeot with their front hood and luggage boot were typical examples. The French however, never aimed or succeeded in penetrating the export market and these innovative scooters were almost unknown outside France.

A stylish Peugeot scooter.
German industry had been virtually destroyed during the War and so the first German scooters were basically Lambrettas and Vespas built under license with imported parts, which explains the familiar lines of such German scooter classics as NSU, Puch, Zundapp and Durkopp. But the Germans were never particularly satisfied with the Italian machines and it wasn't long before they were completely re-engineering them into something more typically... German. The Italian scooters were built for an Italian environment of small towns, country lanes, twisting, weaving cobbled streets, driven at relatively low speeds. Germany was a country of autobahns and wide roads. The Germans wanted power, mechanical reliability and comfortable handling over long distance. As with Italians, it seems as though industrial espionage was at work in the 1950s as almost all the scooters featured a wide, fixed front wheel faring, large 10 or 12 inch wheels and aerodynamic streamlining. Lined up together the Bastert, Faka, Goggomobile, IWL Pitty and the Heinkel all have a very similar silhouette.
A 1951 Goggomobile. G. O. G. G. O.....

Like their Italian predecessors, the first generation of post-war German rollers were something of a disappointment, being invariably heavy and underpowered (especially carrying all that extra metal!). But future models came with much more powerful engines, better suspension and much improved road handling. Most of these German machines were really motorcycles in a scooter body. Stylistically, the fixed front wheel fairing didn't make it past the early 50's, being replaced in the early 60's by the more traditional appearance of the Zundapps and Puchs. All that is except for the Heinkel, which would doggedly maintain the style until they ceased producing scooters in the mid 1960s.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Beginning at the Beginning

Perhaps it wasn't the most well thought through idea, but a couple of drinks certainly added to my sense of enthusiasm. I don't remember who mentioned it first as I wasn't involved in the initial discussion, but I did overhear the word "scooter" and my interest was sparked. Apparently we were all going to buy scooters - the retro looking Vmoto Milan in fact, because it looked so cool. "I'll be in that.", I said. There were six of us and someone said they could get us a deal for a bulk purchase. We all drank to the idea, but the plans never really made it past that night. Sober heads prevailed.

I was quite disappointed at the time. I had really wanted the scooter, but almost a year later, at another party with the same crew a new opportunity presented itself. One of our entrepreneurial friends, who seemed to have his fingers in many different pies, announced he would be importing nine restored Vespas from Indonesia. At this time, there were few Indonesian scooter restorations on Australian roads and the underlying problems with the vehicles were largely unknown. Deals were struck, money was exchanged, and a vehicle was purchased.

It took a lot longer than anticipated for the scooters to arrive. Two months became three, then became six. As I'd committed to pay only when the bike had passed pit inspection and been certified roadworthy, my bike had already received an extensive overhaul after it arrived in Perth. It inevitably however, it broke down shortly after I took possession, but our friend fulfilled his promise and had it repaired at his own expense. Now, almost a year after the bikes first arrived, only three (including mine) are actually on the road. Three are still in the shop but almost ready to go and the remaining three haven't even been looked over yet.

My bike is a beautiful vehicle. It is a cream 1963 Vespa VBB. I bought it as a local runabout- a means of getting up to the shops or down to the beach - not as a daily commuter vehicle. Unfortunately, due its initial mechanical unreliability I haven't had enough time to become familiar with the peculiar idiosyncrasies it shares with all vintage machines. In March, through rider error, I had a little accident with the bike, forcing a return to the shop for more work. Initially the diagnosis was minor - a sheared bolt on the front shock. It was fixed in matter of hours, but the fix highlighted a number of other problems. It was ironic actually as I would have taken it back to the mechanic to have the steering re-examined anyway, as the front end tended to shudder disturbingly as soon as the bike reached 60 kph - not a very comforting feeling! In the last four weeks the entire front end of the bike has been taken apart and put back together, and then taken apart again. The interior workings of the steering column has revealed some dubious Indonesian makeshift repairs, including inserts of tin can shims. Sam from The Scooter Centre (ph -93710812, 82 Beechboro Road, Bayswater) has been very patient.

A New Opportunity

When I bought the Vespa, I must admit that Piaggio and Lambretta were the only classic scooter manufacturers I knew, but my eyes were soon opened to the variety of interesting machines out there. From the moment I saw my first Heinkel, with its unusual fixed nose-wheel faring I thought, that is my dream scooter. But there seemed to be few if any available in Australia, although clearly there were plenty in Germany, where many were still used as daily commuters. They were not especially expensive in Germany, but the cost of shipping one over, untested, seemed a little extravagant. So I parked the Heinkel dream and concentrated on the Vespa. And then....

In Melbourne, Klaus Wolf of the Retro Scooter Palace, needed to clear some space in his garage and posted some fifteen rare and unusual scooters on eBay. All were restoration projects in various states of repair. Among them was the 1954 Heinkel 103A-0. It was described as being complete, but in pieces. The price was cheap but also indicative of the amount of work that the new owner would be required to do. My immediate thought was that this would be too difficult for me, a novice scooter enthusiast, so I let it go. But every day I checked into eBay to watch the progress of the auction. There were some truly exceptional scooters on offer, but interest seemed slow. I also continued my research into the Heinkel, the availability of spares, the complexity of its engineering, and the relative costs of transporting the scooter to Perth. On the last day of the auction there were still no bids for the Heinkel. I was in a quandary. Should I do it?? I went for a long kayak on the Swan River, weighing up the pros and cons. I decided if no one else was interested I would bid and later that night, with still no other bidders, I placed the minimum bid. The next day the Heinkel was mine.

It was a daunting prospect! It was now time to put my money where my mouth was. I hadn't mentioned any of this to my wife, and I know exactly what she would say. Hmmm. It was gonna take some special pleading to convince her. Which is why I'm also at a loss to explain what I did next. Klaus and I exchanged a lot of emails and messages to arrange the transport of the Heinkel, but my initial quote fell through when the transport company refused to pick up the bike. This was a spanner in the works! Klaus thought he could find me a better deal if the consignment was bigger. Did I know of anyone else in Perth who would be interested in one of his bikes. We could share transport costs. I asked him to sent me the inventory of the remaining bikes he was selling and before the week was out - against all better judgement - I'd bought a second rare bike - an East German IWL Troll. At least the Troll was intact and supposedly running.

So, in the space of four weeks my scooter plans have completely changed. Next week I should have the Vespa after it's extended convalescence. I am hoping that the steering will now be completely fixed and it will be safe to drive on the roads. It will still be my local runabout. When the German bikes arrive, I'm intending to quickly go over the Troll, install its new battery, clean the fuel system and get it running.

The Heinkel will be my restoration project. I intend to fully strip the bike back and rebuild it. I'd like to get it finished by November for my 40th birthday, but I'm not entirely certain that's possible. I love vintage vehicles - my great uncle, Percy Markham, had a large collection of vintage cars that he donated to the WA Museum - but I am not such a purist that I'll be trying to restore the Heinkel to factory condition. I'll play it by ear. If it make sense to use replacement parts in the restoration, I'll do so. I want the bike to functional and safe, not a museum piece. When the Heinkel is finished then I'll undertake a proper restoration of the Troll.