Asian "Restorations" - Vespa & Lambretta
DON'T EVER BUY A SCOOTER FROM VIETNAM
When I first started riding Scooters, the primary problem was finding scooters and parts. Now, with the internet to help us, parts are less of a problem than they ever were. Additionally, a scooter to buy can be just a mouse click away. As I have tried to show throughout the buyers guide, not all models of Vespa and Lambretta are created equal, and some are more valuable than others. I have also mentioned that buying a scooter that is complete and in good condition can save you a lot of time, and often, a lot of money in the long run. Since the late 1990's, some people have realized that many Vespas and Lambrettas were sold in South East Asia, and in particular, Vietnam. It appears that many of these scooters somehow survived the years of abuse heaped upon them over untold hundreds of thousands of miles. It appears that at some point, some enterprising people realized that these scooters could be repainted, and sold to unsuspecting westerners for a lot of money, and the trickle of scooters became a flood.
Now, there are one or two shops in Vietnam which are exporting scooters of reasonable quality. I'm not going to get into recommending one shop or another. Go to one of the online forums, or ask your local scooter shop for a recommendation if you are serious about buying an Asian restored scooter.
LET ME REPEAT MYSELF...DON'T EVER BUY A SCOOTER FROM VIETNAM
However, the point of this article is to warn you away from all Asian "restorations" unless you really really do your homework. The horror stories about these scooters abound, and you won't have to look too far on the scooterist message boards to read them. I have personally seen scooters which were welded together from two crashed bikes. I've seen others with legshields far bent out of shape, non-functioning brakes, rusted rims, and home built forks. The worst things I have seen were inside the motor, an area that is not easily noticible from pictures over the internet. The poor quality of the internal motor parts used on many of these scooters has to be seen to be believed. Not to mention the multiple repair welds and use of thread inserts and various sized bolts and studs all over the motor. More often than not, I have seen shops have to simply junk the entire motor and forks and start from scratch when attempting to work on these scooters.
NO SCOOTER SHOP WILL WORK ON A BIKE FROM VIETNAM
That brings me to another issue, getting someone to work on these disasters. At this point, all of the vintage scooter shops in the U.S. have seen their fair share of these scooter disasters. Any experienced scooterist can easily spot one simply from a picture. The shops know how much time, trouble, and expense these scooters are. Many of them have realized that there really is no upside to servicing them. More often than not, the scooters will need very extensive, and expensive repairs simply to get them to run. After that, it is never sure if they wil even be safe to ride on the street. After someone has spent three to four thousand dollars on importing a scooter, the last thing they want to hear from a shop is that it will take another one to two thousand just to get the thing to run, and so, they get upset with their local shop owner. From what I have heard and seen, most shops simply refuse to work on these scooters. They just turn them around right at the door.
The sad thing about all of this is that these Asian imports are often no bargain. I could maybe understand someone taking a chance on a scooter that was under a thousand dollars (though I wouldn't take one of these scooters for free!). Unfortunately, most of the Asian imports that I have seen were in the three to four thousand dollar range, plus shipping and import duties. At those prices, you could have bought a really nice scooter close to home or from a repuatable shop. Now that there are many of these bikes floating around, there are lots of people who have alread been suckered, and are trying to off-load their money pit problem onto you. In this case, knowing what to look for in order to stay away from these bikes will save you a lot of money.
LET ME SHOW YOU HOW TO AVOID BUYING A SCOOTER FROM VIETNAM
So, now that you know to stay as far away as possible from these "restorations", as someone who is new to the scooter world, what can you do? As someone who has been around scooters for a long time, it is very easy for me to spot these fake restorations. However, for someone who is not familiar with them, it can sometimes be difficult to spot these scooters. Here are some tips on how to avoid being victimized by these dangerous scooters.
FIRST, buy a scooter from a reputable shop. There are quite a few reputable classic scooter shops located around the country. These shops are listed in the links section of the site. The classic scooter shops have been around for years, and they have a good repuation to uphold. They will not sell these junk scooters, just as many of them won't service them. It might seem more expensive to buy a scooter from a shop, but you'll know for sure that you are not throwing your money away on a scooter that will be dead in a week.
SECOND, ask your local scooter shop. If your local shop does not have a scooter for sale, then you should always check with them before you buy. Often times, just a picture is enough for an experienced scooterist to note the tell-tale signs of one of these bad scooters. If possible, a pre-purchase inspection by your local shop is always a good idea. If you do not have a shop near you, it would be a good idea to call the closest shop to ask them if they can look at some pictures over the internet. Establishing a good relationship with a classic scooter shop, even if it is not local, is a very good idea in this hobby. Parts can be difficult to source, and a good shop can make all the difference. Of course supporting your local shop is best, otherwise, you may not have a local shop for long!
THIRD, join a scooter club. If there is a local vintage scooter club near you, join up. These people will be able to help you identify a good or bad scooter. Additionally, many times club members have a scooter that they want to sell within the club. Clubs are a great resource for information. If you don't have a club, you can post a message to the Scooterists BBS, or to a yahoo group. Use the internet to help.
FOURTH, simply ask the seller who did the "restoration" on the scooter they are selling. If they say someone in Vietnam, walk away. If they can not point to a reputable shop in the U.S., or to a local scooterist, then you should avoid the scooter. If in doubt, do not buy it. There will always be other scooters to buy.
FIFTH, read the information listed at the links below to get some first-hand accounts from people who have owned and worked on these bikes:
- How to tell if its a Viet-Bodge
- The Story Of The Black VBB
- If none of that convinces you, then read the story of my friend who owned one of these bikes.