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 As soon as the wires disappear inside the tubing the nice new wiring is superceded by what is clearly worn out old sh-t wiring, amateurishly twisted together.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.