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.