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.