Apartment Scooter Revival: The Lucky Lizard

I’ve had an New Zealand assembled ’69 VBC 150 Super since the late ’80s. Once a simple scoot, it’s now “Speedy”, a fast, loco machine that is more often than not broken down. I’ve got another eight  or so other scoots in varying degrees of completeness. Along with my friends, I (try to) do long distance rides, the Mille (1000km in 2-days), track riding, we even have a VespaCrosse track.

However, I am training outside of my home state for six months or so at a new job, meaning no scoot and no alternative transportation. I’m not good at “cold turkey” sudden stops for my riding, so I began to formulate a clever plan. I checked the cost of shipping a scoot out for remote use and it was more than I cared to pay. Did I happen to mention that my new local bus driver was my main friend and that my other mode of transportation was a Razor Scooter? I decided it was time to work on other options.

I looked at numerous auctions, eBay, GumTree (the Australian Equivalent of Craig’s List) etc., for something within my price range (i.e.: bugger all). To no great surprise, I found that most scooters were broken down, missing main components (mirrors, lights, panels, keys, locked CDI, clutches/motors etc.), “stolen & recovered”, high mileage, or even a “ZhongZhow Embarrassing It Would Be to Own, Let Alone Ride”. It went from the ridiculous to the sublime when somehow a damaged 2016 sports bike mysteriously appeared on my bidding account, complete with a demand for a rather large immediate payment. Pass, mate.

Things were rather grim, especially with the amount of effort being put in to find something. I was almost at the ‘Plan B’ stage, which I didn’t know what it was yet. When up popped a 2007 Piaggio Zip 100 on Gumtree.

It looked OK (mirrors, lights/lenses missing or broken, some minor panel damage, etc.) but, the bonus was a blurry photo of an odometer showing a mere 1066km or around 660 miles. What? 1066km in 10 years! That’s what I’ve been looking for! But it was a “make an offer” ad, so moments later I offered $325, which I thought was rather low, but worth a try, and I could always offer more. However, within a few minutes, someone called me. After a long chat about sellers being unethical and selling things out from under you when someone else comes along with $2.55 more than you offered, I had learned a lot about the wee Zip. It came from an old compulsive hoarder after he had it for five years or so when this guy brought it as a “Paddock Basher” for on his farm, but he was never really able to get it running, so it sat around doing not much.

The story went that his mate managed to get it kinda running by hot wiring it … “Yeah, hook a battery cable to the brown wire (which I found went to starter relay), and the other one to the motor, and it sorta starts”.

So, I went around with a small wad of cash (& a slab of beer underarm, just in case), to some dodgy boys with obligatory high solid fence, in an even dodgier suburb, had a look, & drove off in the rented ute with a rather rough Zip strapped to the back!

I’m not sure if the slab was appreciated, as he offered a Coke Zero in return. I was later informed that suburb was frequented by a religion that appears to not enjoy beverages of an alcoholic nature. Oops, I should have brought the low-carb version. Probably should have grabbed that slab back as well.

Realizing that ALL my tools were home, it was off to K-Mart For a “211 piece Kwalitee Tool Kit”, of which most items were screws, picture hooks, thumb tacks or cable ties. Sorted for scooter tinkering then!

By the next midnight, it was stripped bare with all the plastics removed so a good assessment could be made upon the return of sunlight.

Overall, it wasn’t too bad. Nor was it too good! I placed an order for a new battery and a short list of cosmetic and rubber bits. Then it was on to getting it running – carb stripped and a closer look at the overall condition. So many mysteries appeared… who managed to butcher it so well?

The floor, glove box and most plastic were powdery, but I had seen something once on YouTube about heat and plastic combining to bring the luster back to plastic. So a blow torch was ordered as they were cheaper than a heat-gun (which I of course had a few back home!)

Once the battery arrived it was time to work the wiring out. There was nothing, nada, zip. No wonder it’s a Zip! Without a tester, I used the old “bulb & hair clip” electrical tester. Which worked as well as it sounds (i.e. not well). So lots of frustrated wiggling later, somehow everything started to work. Yup, the main connector to the ignition harness was slightly disconnected! Yeehaw, we have life!

As the daily packages arrived from near and far, the project was underway and there was a sliver of hope in getting to the Griffith National Scooter Rally.

The motor even turned over and once the new carb was fitted, complete with “out of the box settings”, it was running! It started, turned, stopped & all the electrics worked! No idea how, but it was. Luck over skill? I’ll take it!

The day the blowtorch arrived was monumental. I love the three universal tools: fire, masking/duct tape and hammers! And I had FIRE (and masking tape)! So with a mischievous grin, off I went, blowtorch and floor plastic in hand! They had a great night together (by head-torch as the nights were getting longer), and a dark, non-powdery smooth finish appeared. This made the rest of the dimpled plastic panels look, well, plasticy. So the blowtorch got a workout. Every panel was heated to melting point, then a bit more, till the dimples flattened, and a metal panel look ensued. Of course  there was a few minor issues of distortion upon refitting them, but having never worked on a plastic scooter I was happy with the result. I also found out a blowtorch is a great was to stop bugs biting you!

Then came the rain! At least I managed to finish a layer black undercoat just before it started. Into the baking-oven, (otherwise known as my room with the small heater on full blast) the plastics went.

Inspired by the classic Vespa shape, numerous viewing angles, lots of online pictures of the same color pattern, and apparently a few acid flashbacks, the design started to evolve.

With miles of masking tape and far too much viewing time due to that damn constant rain (who ever said Sydney has great weather was obviously on holiday this month!), it took shape.

A bit of feedback was gathered, and as the bus driver was not much help, I relied on my new workmates (who were starting to wonder about my mental stability). One recommended that the white lines (i.e. masking tape) looked awesome on the flat black primer.

So there was a temptation to do just that, however, black is never a good color for a bike, as visibility diminishes. Colors choices were emerging, and as I have a fetish for purple or orange, but have already painted enough things these colors (my tangerine, sparkly, metallic, pearlescent glow-in-the-dark car back home, for instance). So I needed something different. Purple and bronze were finally chosen.

As it turns out, they were a poor choice. On the plastic, they were oh so different. It was a disaster!

The (hammer tone) bronze went on as expected. Even though it was painted at night, outside, in the (you guessed it) rain, and with a head-torch and a tarp spray-booth. Once masked up, it was time for the “Dark Purple” (a darker version of the Ford “Wild Violet” ex Escort Mk1 or Mk2 era). Yup, that would look awesome. Well, what came out was a pastel flat lavender, complete with spray lines due to complete lack of coverage. Not exactly the look that I was going for!

The light lavender tone was more surprising considering the black primer. So, it was back to the shop for a bit of verbal negotiation and a new color. Hammer tone Black (which is more dark gray), and the plastics were again back to the ‘baking-oven’ for a few days. The masking was tidied up, and the front mud guard which looked perfectly matched until the steering was straightened. Oops, another issue with masking in the dark!

Once “dry” and the masking tape was re-adjusted, it was back to painting. At least it was only overcast and a mere 80+ % humidity, and the rain held off till almost the end, but being a weekend it was at least light for once. Yup, it looked awesome, and my masking was my BEST EVER. So tidy, so smooth.

After a time in the baking-oven which (appeared to now be simply a warm, humid enclosure) it was time to remove the masking (which sadly had now been on for almost a week, which I was taught was a no-no with painting).

Ohh sh*t (and a few other words) escaped my lips, as the paper had stuck and stuck well. Of course, on attempting removal, the tape started removing the bronze paint. There was a definite “tape-line” clearly seen around the edge of most transitions! Time for a drink I say!

The next few evenings were spent ‘spit-cleaning’ to remove the paper (as we all know ‘Mothers Spit’ is a universal cleaner) and flatten the still soft bronze paint! Gutted, oh well, this life, time constraints, and three plus weeks of rain. Suck it up princess and have another drink. Nope, beer is not the best way to remove marks, but it is ok at softening the paper and it kinda matched the paint, so not all bad.

Bugger it, not enough time for crying, nor repainting. The rally and catching up with friends was fast approaching. All those nights starting ASAP after work, skipping dinner (workmates started to notice I had lost weight) and working in the dark till midnight were going to pay off, no matter what! So riding around the yard (dang it’s nasty going over bumps without a seat, and a skinny bottom  due to lack of food), as a final check that things actually worked.

My good friend later informed me that painting it with hammertone paint may have defeated the effort of making the plastic flat! Hmmm… Oh well, I shall remember that for next time.

Then I figured I better work out the mysteries of registration in this state. So off I went to consult the Internet, friends (mostly back home and therefore not a lot of help but kept spirits up) and the wonderful government department that looked after these things. Only to find out I either needed to relinquish my current driver’s license and get a local one or a “proof of identity” card. So I chose option B. Well, that was a PITA. All my proof of identity papers were back home, I had nothing except my bank statement (and passport, back home) that showed my middle name. I even tried saying “my middle name is actually ‘P’, my parents were not real imaginative”, but it was unsuccessful. Even my rental agreement was unsuccessful as while it had the current address, my real address was back home. How could I be living here BEFORE I lived there? But being the helpful government department they are (and after a few visits) they said: Either an ORIGINAL passport or a COPY of bank statement, oh, and all you need to do is call the bank & get them to change the address, then print a statement! Dodgy buggers, but on a Wednesday it worked!

Once assembled there were a few late night rides around the block “just in case”.

On Tuesday I failed the safety check as I rode in, as mirrors had not arrived, the new car horn had not been fitted and the artistic pointy thingie on the front was considered dangerous, but at least I made it there & back.

Luckily, on the Wednesday before the rally, the mirrors and my new bargain tent and sleeping bag had finally arrived, and a $5 secondhand yoga mat appeared just in time. Now all I needed was a scooter.

Thursday arrived, and off again I went for the test. An hour later they called to let me know it had passed, but wanted me to start it so they could check the lights and indicators, as the guy checking it could not kick-start it. I deftly clicked the starter motor, showed them the proof they needed and off I rode to get the plate (from another office), which somehow went quickly and smoothly. I was finally ready for the rally. Yeehaw, four-weeks or so of late nights in the rain had paid off.

Nothing was going to stop me now. Except that damn cyclone was a minor concern, but since it was still a whole state away, and I had a little windbreaker… Honestly, I didn’t care, as I’d managed to find, buy, strip, fix, paint and register a scooter with almost an evening spare to pack, before running it in and riding to that damn rally.

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