Thursday, December 28, 2006

Invitation to all readers

Calling all readers . . .

The overall goal for this blog is to create a comprehensive resource for SS180 owners. I can not do this without your help and therefore, I invite all of you to "comment" to postings and make recommendations where you see fit.

My knowledge, at this point, is limited. This blog documents my first restoration and I hope to point out all the mistakes I made and how to avoid these pitfalls in an effort to make the next VSC restoration easier on its owner.

The priority of this blog is to keep SS180s as original as possible during restoration, BUT I also want to help the "daily rider" restorations. It may benefit them to replace their HT coil with a newer PX125 HT coil for better spark, for example.

I recognize, many purists will say that you can't have it both ways Jeremy and my anwser is . . . you can if you have two bikes . . . meaning each owner may restore with a different goal in mind.

Please email me:
1) photos -- before and after -- of your SS180, serial number, year, and your name and I will create a "Registry" post to capture our SS community.
2) stories about your restoration process.
3) problem solving techniques you applied.

I will post your information on the blog.



Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Engine-side cowl restoration

As with many vintage Vespas, our SS180 had been layed down engine-side and the fly wheel ate up one louvre and a few other louvres were badly bent. In speaking with fellow club member and owner of a GS160, Roland Henry informed me that a good welder could fabricate a louvre and weld it into place and no one could tell the difference.

I emailed the Yahoo Super Sports group and learned that First Kick Scooters, in SF, sells reproduction louvres. I emailed First Kick and many more shops. I got two bites. Scooter Parts Direct sold reproductions for $6.00/each. And First Kick sold louvres for $13/each. I opted to replace all the louvres for uniformity and ordered them from Scooter Parts Direct.

Once I received them I noticed the reproduction louvres lacked the beauty and detail that the original ones did with a double lip. The reproduction louvres were thicker and wider -- with a bend in them creating one lip.

Today, I visited the body/paint shop to remove the seat lock bolt (I am an idiot and had the frame blasted with the seat lock bolt and steering column lock "cover" still attached and of course the chrome was stripped) and I got a sneak peak at the body work. The engine cowl looks good. Spoke with the guy who is working on it and he has seven hours invested so far. Though it's not original, I do think the shop does good work and once painted the scooter cowl will be uniformed.

Now I wonder if it would have been best to have the body shop repair the bent stock louvres and fabricate one to match? Would have looked more original? So much to learn . . . also so much can be spent on something like this. Budget and end goal must always be balanced in my mind.

Follow-up Lesson Learned:
After follow-up research I have come to this conclusion . . . buy the $13 louvres from First Kick. They are near perfect. With a good welder it can be done with little to no filler and the result is . . . a purist won't be able to tell the difference. Think about . . . had I done it this way I would have spent maybe $35 more than I already have, but to change it now I am looking at at least another $300 plus. Please don't make my mistake. I put this Blog together for this specific reason -- so you can avoid making mistakes and be knowlegable about options you have.
The proof is in the pudding, err I mean Collin's Grimstead. He used First Kick's louvres. His welder did this without any filler to boot! Compare to my louvres and the original ones pictured above.

Reference: Original SS180 Renja Seat

(Due to a hard drive crash I lost all pictures of the original condition of the SS we had and therefore appreciate anyone who can send "original" photos of SS scoots and parts).

Seeing as I did not keep our seat original (but wish I did) I am posting pictures of the stock seat for your reference. A big thank you to Hiro (Palmog on BBS) for sending these photos!

As you can see I missed three parts of the restoration: (1) missing the "lift" foam at the butt of the seat, (2) the tubing around seat in gray, and (3) the seat strap.

If your foam is in good shape you can buy a brand new seat cover (looks semi-original) from Scooter Works for about $130.

I wish I had researched the seat restoration more prior to beginning it. I learned the hard way. *See previous post on the "seat" and photos.

Ah the sweet sound of the Vespa SS 180

While searching I found:

Ah the sweet sound of an SS:

Some close up an SS:

I can't wait for our SS to be complete.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Who's living in my Carburator

There was a hornet's nest inside the carb. We hired Christopher Markley to rebuild the carb, because he was doing the engine rebuild at the same time and we wanted to have him deliver us a completely functioning engine. We even had him clean the air filter in his parts cleaner. The carb sat in his parts cleaner machine for two weeks I believe before he could rebuild it. He said it was a mess.Look at how dirty the carb bowl was. A carb rebuild kit costs about $15 and labor with Christopher Markley was another $25. It helps when you have the right tools. We now have a rebuilt carb that is clean and to manufacturer spec.

Note: SS180s produced in 1966 and before used a 117 main jet in the carb and they had problems seizing. Piaggio then switched to a 120 main jet and recommended all earlier models do the same.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Stuck: clutch lever screw

Our minds are more powerful than our hands or arms. Thinking is a better option than hammering. Remember this mantra and you will not destroy parts unnecessarily.

The screw that holds the clutch lever would not come out for me. The nut came off very easily. I used PB Blaster several times a flat head screw driver twice, before beginning to strip the chrome threads. First, I contacted scooter shops and verified I could replace the part. I can. I then used two nuts on the screw to back in out. No go. I emailed for help on Scooter BBS forum and was told to gently tap it out with a hammer. I used my copperhead hammer (copper is softer than a lot of metal to the hammer gets dinged up, but the part doesn't) and freed the screw. But before I did this, I made sure to ask if there were any threads in the clutch housing to avoid stripping them. Two people wrote me and said "no, you're fine." When I got the screw out and looked inside, I saw threads. The next moring I checked the forum again and two people wrote me franticially and said "DON'T TAP! THERE ARE THREADS!!" I owned a drill bit set that is designed to remove stripped screws and did not even think to use it. Damn myself. Using pliers on the treaded to part of the screw to back it out would also be a bad idea as the stripped threads would move through the threaded clutch housing and destroy those threads to. The way of least resistance, not a hammer, is always the best. Stop. Ask a few different sources. Take your time. Relax about your problem and THINK it through. Now I have two damaged parts instead of one. I hope a metric tap and dye set will be able to save what little threads I have or I will need to heli-coil in some new threads or use a lock nut. What a drag. This mistake was easy to avoid and would have only cost me $2 (for the replacement screw) if I had done it correctly.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Gas tank restoration

My mentor, Christopher Markley, helped me address the issue of severe rust inside the original SS180 gas tank. The previous owner had his brother sand blast the exterior. Christopher told me the best way to restore my gas tank is to have a local radiator shop "hot tank" the gas tank. This is NOT an acid dip, but rather a much less abrasive chemical process. I called Smitty's Radiator shop in Harrisburg, PA and was quoted $40-$60 for the job.

First Christopher had me remove the fuel tap so it would not be destroyed in the "hot tank." Thanks to Roland Henry, one of the founder's of Three Mile Island Scooter Club, who loaned me his GS fuel tap wrench that fits the SS perfectly.

Christopher stressed to me the importance of coating the gas tank with 2-stroke oil immediately after the "hot tank" inside the tank and then to use PPG Metal Cleaner and Conditioner (see the paint stipping post). I went to Advance Auto and picked up some "2-stroke Pennzoil for air-cooled engines."

Ernie, at Smitty's Radiator, charged me $45 total for the "hot tank" and then he bead blasted the tank to clean out all rust debris and he dried it as he bead blasted. He quickly coated the inside with oil generously. The tank was slightly pitted, but the structural integrity of the tank was solid. I picked up the gas tank and then PPG prep'd it for the painter. It is highly recommended, by Tom Giordano (a highly respected restoration expert), that I do not coat the inside of the gas tank and I trust Tom. If the tank had "thin" spots I may have considered coating the inards of the tank, but as many restorers say all coats eventually fail and fall apart and then are a major pain in the butt to clean out.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Stripping paint yourself

Learned Lessons:(1) Take the time to make sure that every part that needs to be prepped for paint is put aside for medium blasting or dipping or what ever your choice, (2) avoid your run of the mill paint strippers, such as Bix, they don't work. Get "Aircraft Stripper"! (3) It's not always easy to find INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH paint stripper that is labeled "aircraft stipper." I contacted and visited over six stores before I found an aircraft stripper. Finally, by dumb luck and after a phone call which resulted in "no we don't carry it", I found the stripper at Advance Auto for $30.00.

Make sure you prep everything carefully to protect this extremely harsh chemical stripper (it burns you skin painfully or eats through plastic cups and send fumes of melting plastic towards your nose) and for paint prep. Here I covered the reflector inside my tail lens.

Follow the aircraft stripper's instructions very carefully. You must apply it in one direction - only! You MUST apply on a thick coat. My first coat was not thick and did not produce results and I ended up wasteing the expensive stripper. If you paint is a nightmare, you can paint it on thick with a "stripper paint brush" (this is what I used) and tightly wrap it in a garbage bag and let it sit over night. After my first application I decided to skip the garbage bag and not let it sit over night. Within 20 minutes this is what I got (see picture to the left).

Using a plastic puddy knife and a paper towel the paint falls off without effort. To prevent rust I used PPG Metal Cleaner PPG Metal Conditioner. This way I can store my metal for up to one year before needing to either paint or reapply. Rust sets in very quickly. You can buy PPG products at an auto paint supply store.

Thanks to Christopher Markley, of Moto-Rapido, for schooling me so well.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Seat Restoration

The seat was a complete rust bucket, but complete nonetheless. In the fall of 2005 I began restoration on the seat. I researched online for the best way to remove the rust and preserve the integrity of the springs. Acid dipping would be a clear mistake. I consulted my mentor, Christopher Markley of Moto-Rapido, and we discussed the options. He suggested the “way of least resistance.”

Note: Though Christopher is young – he is of the old world. Body work and mechanical work are done the way our forefathers would have done it. This type of craftsmanship is very difficult to find these days. My wife and I have learned that Christopher is a anal retentive meticulous obsessive perfectionist that will not say a job is done until it is to the spec per the original manufacturer or his client’s request.

Christopher and I agreed upon electrolysis. In a dummy-downed definition, it is filling a bucket with water and connecting a car battery to a coat hanger and electrocuting the water and the rusted item inside the bucket. This is the gentlest approach and proved to be easiest on the seat springs.

Before I did anything, I brought the seat “as-is” to reupholster shop, named Dura-Fit Cover, Inc. located in Harrisburg, PA. I was quoted $150 for reupholstering the seat if I brought the seat frame in 100% restored. The price for a brand new seat was about $130. We opted to restore the seat.

Feeding his karma chain (which he does often), Christopher volunteered to de-rust the seat frame/springs with electrolysis after I sought his direction on “how-to” do it. Furthermore, he said because I was a poor college student again becoming a teacher, he would powder coat the seat frame/springs in black for free for us. He had recently purchased the tools to powder coat. He returned to us a slightly pitted, but perfectly sound and functional seat frame and springs that will weather well over time.

Next I brought the seat to Dura-Fit Cover, Inc. I was informed that the foam was in great shape and could be reused with a new thin layer on top to give perfect shape to it. Lisa and I wanted a British Racing Green paint job and a complimenting brown seat. I brought home a small handful of marine vinyl samples that were for boats and outdoor usage. Dura-Fit took a few months to complete the seat, but it looked great. I was able to reuse the strap-on hardware and the seat lock release. In an effort to preserve the SS’s soul I made sure to have the seat’s “Milano” branded tag in the back of the seat; although I did not preserve the stitching, vinyl color, and the black crusted and cracked seat strap. I will keep my eyes open for a matching seat strap and add it to the seat once I find it.

I recognize that this seat & bike is not restored to its original state, but this bike is being restored and customized for my wife, Lisa.

Note: Due to a hard drive crash two years ago I lost the photos of the seat & frame in its original state and after Christopher Markley prepped it. You can find pictures of the seat in the "History" post below. Click on photo to zoom in on it.


Year: 1967
Make: Vespa
Model: SS180
Serial Number: VSC1T0028***

I am currently in the process of hunting down either the original or second owner of the bike in an effort to provide a more detailed history of this specific Vespa.

The bike has the round headset and the “tractor style” tail light, which suggests that it (1) was sold in the USA as the DOT required those and (2) I learned that the Vespa was bought from a scooter dealer in Hanover, PA.

Three Mile Island Scooter Club member, Svend Shepard, found the bike. He had hired a guy from Zimmerman’s Plumbing to some work on his house in Mechanicsburg, PA. The plumber saw Svend’s P200 and his early 1960s restored Vespa and told Sven, “I know a guy that has one of those out is shed just sitting there.” Svend jumped on the opportunity and asked if the owner would be willing to sell. The plumber left with Svend’s phone number and not long after that Svend received a call from the owner. The scheduled a time to meet. Leaving with $500 in cash in his pocket Svend drove to Hanover, PA in an open back truck ready to make a purchase. This is exactly how Svend found his 1960s Vespa as well.

When Svend arrived he found the white SS180 complete sitting in this guy’s shed. The owner lived in a rural forested area and told Svend that he and his kids used to ride it up the trails all the time. It was a fun bike, he said. He continued to explain that his kids abused it. The bike sat caked in mud as if it was an off-road dirt bike. Svend also learned that the owner had bought it from the original owner when the bike was in great shape and perfect working order. It had been purchased by a scooter or motorcycle dealer right there in Hanover, PA.

It was negotiating time and Svend was prepared to spend $400 on it. Svend asked if the owner had the title, which he did. Svend knew that the guy would now want $500 to $600 for it, because the value goes up when the seller has a clean title. The owner asked for $25 and promised the title. Svend did not haggle the owner and paid him$25. While Svend loaded up the scooter to take it home, the owner located the title and gave it to Svend. A few weeks later Svend and the previous owner met up at PENNOT and Svend paid the fee to transfer the title. Svend was the new owner of the SS180 as of the Spring of 2001. When he got home he realized what bike he had purchased and its value. He emailed other local clubs to determine its value and scooterists responded that they would pay $400 sight unseen.

Svend went down to Hanover and it was in the shed. Kids road it and abused in the mountainy area. Svend had $500 in his pocket and thought he would charge him $400 and more with the title. Hanover guy was 1st or 2nd owner and bought it from someone else in a great shape. Svend bought $25 with title in the summer of 2001 (but later sold the SS180 to Eric Hughes for $400).

Another Three Mile Island Scooter Club member, Eric Hughes, had the itch for a vintage Vespa and to complete a restoration. Years before, Eric completed a restoration of a classic car and had some knowledge about restorations. According to Svend, Eric begged Svend to sell him the bike. Svend remained reluctant until the summer of 2001.

Eric began the restoration project. He disassembled 95% of the scoot, including to doing some dolly and hammer work on one cowl and touching it up lightly with bondo. He had his brother sandblast the gas tank. Eric had priced parts and a rebuilt engine around a $2,800 using a Scooter Works catalog. The bike was primarily complete – it even had the air filter. During this time Eric also bought a red Genuine Scooter Company Stella, which quickly scratched his itch for owning a vintage scooter. Eric began making minor mechanical and aesthetic modifications to his Stella and the Vespa took a back burner.

At age 30 I made a career change and returned to school. My wife and lived on one income and money was tight with mortgage, car loans, and all those wonderful adult responsibilities. In the spring of 2004 Eric posted his interest in selling his SS180 on the Three Mile Island Scooter Club’s yahoo email listserv. I quickly jumped on the opportunity. He said he would be willing to let the bike go at a great price. Eric asked for $250 for the scooter. My wife and I were first in the line to buy the scooter, but we needed to discuss it and review our finances. A fellow club member told me that “it’s a no brainer. If you don’t buy it – I will.” That’s easy to say when you have $250 to spare. Lisa and I researched the rarity of the bike and within two weeks bought the SS 180 and loaded up the body and a laundry basket filled with parts into the back of our Subaru Forester, leaving Eric with a check. Svend still had the title in his name and a month after purchase we met at AAA and I paid the $30 transfer fee for the title. Svend wrote me a receipt for $10 for the disassembled scooter-in-a-box. Lesson learned: go directly to DOT to transfer titles. It’s cheaper.

In the summer of 2005 I began the first of the restoration . . .

Philosophy of Restoration

This bike is being restored for my wife and it is our goal to keep it in the family. We do not intend to sell it; therefore the bike will be customized for her. It will be a rider, not a museum relict. Our goal is to keep the bike as original as possible without compromising its functionality. There is the philosophy that scooters have souls and when we replace parts of them we steal parts of their souls. While Lisa and I agree with this, we also believe that one honors a bike by keeping it on the road and some modernization, such as replacing a rusted crank with a reproduction honors the bike by making it a dependable trustworthy beauty.

Blog Intentions

The objective for this Blog is to (1) educate scooter restoration newbies on the entire process of restoring a scooter in detail, (2) to provide resources to help restorers be successful, and (3) to illustrate what is involved when one takes on the process of a restoration. It is safe to say that the majority of restorations, unless it’s a very rare bike, will not sell for what one invests in the bike financially and time-wise.

I am a restoration newbie myself and am quickly learning a lot as I go. The scooter that will be restored on this Blog is rare – Vespa VSC. In the spring of 2005 my wife and I bought a complete, but disassembled 1967 Vespa SS180 from a local scooter club member for $250. Our goal was to completely restore it from the ground up. I planned to do almost all of the work and barter with friends who had specific skills that I do not have to ensure the job was done right. At times, I suspect I would need to hire a professional for a few odd jobs. I expected the total restored scooter to cost between $3,500 and $3,800 based on prices I have seen online for restored scooters. I was sadly mistaken on the price . . . a new guesstimate reveals closer to $6,000.