Asian Scooter Restorations. The BIG Picture!

When I was searching online for my first scooter a few years back, it became very apparent to me that beautiful classic old Vespas and Lambrettas were being ripped apart and 'modernised' for convenience in all corners of Asia to feed the ever burgeoning appetite for classic scooters in the western world.

I've talked about this before on this blog, it's a big part of my life as I get so many emails from people needing help with parts for their scooters. They've spent upwards of $4000 by the time they get it here from god knows where in Asia and don't really want to spend much more but need to get it running. It's Catch 22 alright! "Do I suck it up and live with the fact that I just spent $4000 on a shiny useless paperweight with wheels or, do I spend more hard earned cash on replacement parts and try and get it registered?

Nicnamed Vietbodges, Vietscoots and Frankenscoots, they are classics hacked to death for a few thousand dollars.

But what burns me is, if you stop for a minute and think about the big picture here, it's heartbreaking and extremely scary. Think about all of the consequences of 'restoring' a classic scooter in Asia.

Old Vespas, many of which have been ridden around Asia for the last 40 years have all of a sudden become hip and trendy in the western world. We see them, we fall in love with them and for whatever other reason, we go in search of our dream. Maybe its for the cheaper fuel, to relive the Mod days or, damn it... just for fun! :)

The Asian chop shop owners see their prey and pounce. They're pulling the classics off the road to flog to us at an alarming rate. They rip all the genuine parts off to 'modernise' them and after covering them in shiny badly chromed after market parts, they flip them to unsuspecting westerners online who've fallen in love with 8 or so pictures of a shiny piece of poo they'll never be able to get registered.
So have you ever wondered what happens to the original parts? If not binned or able to be restored they are sold on. I know a dealer in India who buys entire vintage engines for scrap, or he'll send 100 of the 'better' engines to Thailand to be patched and bodged for the next Ebay sale. A tragic ending for a classic old scooter.

When the scooters are stripped in Asia, they are also often welded and bogged up to cover 40 years of dents and dings, sometimes even to disguise them as a rarer model.

Get a load of these pieces of faked poo

This first one from a dealer in Melbourne, a car dealer trying to make more cash it seems! the other pic from scooterbbs.

People with no idea are sucked in every day to the tune of thousands of dollars. As you'd expect, life in Asia can be rough for an old scooter. You can also imagine some of the patch up welds and bog that are found on Asian 'restored' scooters. I will always use that term very very loosely, I prefer to call it "restored to death". Some of these old scooters are bastardised so much during the process they can never be registered for road use in the countries they are destined for. Buyers of these scooters from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, NZ to name a few, find it extremely difficult to get them on the road as the registration specifications for road use in some of these countries are quite stringent. This is of no concern to Mr. Hu Flung Dung of course, the Asian scooter chop shop owner with the big smile on this face. They get paid and are laughing all the way to the bank. They might be lucky enough to repeat the whole process a few times before having to pack up and move shop when things get a bit heated. How hard would it be to find a particular dealer in Ho Chi Minh City when you've been sucked in and bought a dodgey scooter from the other side of the world. I often wonder how many times this scenario has played out all over the world? It's probably not that appropriate but I become more angry at the loss of the old scooters than I do feeling sorry for the people who lost money.

There has to be hundreds, if not thousands of old scooters lying in sheds all over the planet, unable to be ridden or registered, they are gone forever, restored to death.


  1. Thanks for all the hard work you've obviously put in on this blog. Yet I feel there must be some "good" restorers in the world. What about Cambridge Lambretta Workshops in the UK? They come across as good guys - no Asians working there just English white guys. Have you checked them out? Have a look and report back if you wouldn't mind.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jay, I have no doubt there are some good ones out there, may even be some good ones in Asia but all of my work comes in from people who have bought from Asia, where replacement parts are harder to come by maybe? Who knows? For whatever reason, the main pattern for resto's coming out of Asia is buy it cheap, bodge it up, give it a decent paint job, take 15 photos from all angles and flog it on ebay to an unsespecting newbie in the western world.... Gotcha...they must be grinning all the way to the bank those buggers. I'm just here to help people save them if they want that option coz most (read: all) bike shops don't want the stress...We don't promise miracles, but we'll give a good assessment and let you know what you'd need to do to get the scooter going and to be if the structure isn't great etc... but there's no guarantees made...we are still dealing with 40 yr old scooters after all.

  3. Ben Hill

    I can well understand what you are saying, I brought a Vespa from Vietnam and it was nothing but scrap.
    I ended up buying a Vespa from a guy in Cairns Dave Mackay, he buys frames from India, I know what your thinking, but you have to see the set up these guys have.
    He fully rebuilds them from the ground up.
    I live in Sydney and went to the trouble of going to see him, when we got there I was blown away as he was also building Exile Cycle bikes for Russell Mitchell in the USA, Russell Mitchell is the King of Discovery Channels biker build off and started on Lambretta scooters in the 80's
    Dave had 12 Vespa scooters there all at different stages.
    I have looked around and there is not one bike shop I have ever seen that is as clean and as well set up.
    I paid $4500 and its the best thing I have ever brought.
    I have had my scooter for 12 months and it has never missed a beat.

  4. Hey Ben, thanks for the comment, I like to hear of the good ones, especially here and for less that $5000. There's still people around flogging Vietbodges for $6000, that's criminal in my eyes.
    I buy stuff all the time from India, it took a while to find the 'real' suppliers and not the guys in back yard sheds copying everyone else but still some stuff needs to be upgraded, ie: my current project, had bought a heap of vintage style brake and clutch levers from India in the early days (when i was still learning the patterns of dealers vs quality and got burnt a lot) but have had them stripped and re-chromed here and they are shmicho! The repro parts aren't too bad if you get a good supplier. Its good to hear about the guys in Cairns, it means the VietCrap is at least being saved and not just scrapped as a bad joke. I'm sure there's hundreds of them in sheds all over this country, shiny piles of crap that people have paid shit loads of money for. Dreams shattered.
    I work with an engineer mate here to help people save old Vespas, particularly Vietnamese & Indo restored ones, we hate to see them scrapped, there's usually something that can be done even if it means starting with a new frame and working up but we get a kick out of saving one- sometimes we can't the resto's are so dodgey. Scary Shit when you find out it's 3 or 4 scooters welded together....and badly! :0

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