THOSE OF YOU
who like travelling in style, the word
"scooter" may not seem stylish and practical
way of negotiating the streets of Hong Kong than riding
a classic scooter to work ?
Air-conditioned luxury it isn't - but if it's freedom
and exhilaration you crave, then there's no substitute
for catching the eye of passers-by on a fully restored
Vespa or Lambretta.
Such Italian masterpieces were immortalized by films
such as La Dolce Vita and the British "Mod
classic" Quadrophenia. It has been a long
and daunting task to import classic scooters into Hong
Kong owing to high prices and prohibitive shipping costs
from Europe. But now, one cost-effective option is a
short hop away in Vietnam.
Saigon Scooters, run by Briton Patrick Jont, is one of
the foremost classic scooter suppliers in Vietnam. Based
in Ho Chi Minh City, Joynt supplies scooters from
$15,000 to $25,000. And Vietnam's close proximity to
Hong Kong means shipping can take only three or four
Most bikes in Vietnam today are attractive slim-style
Series 3 Lambrettas, dating back to the early 1960s. At
this time there was an assembly plant in Saigon
recieving bikes direct from the factory in Milan. Vespa
models including the VBB, Sprint and Super also remaines
Joynt is passionate and meticulous about his work. The
one-month restoration process is exhaustive as each bike
is stripped down to the chassis and rebuilt with
original Italian or UK re-patterned parts. But while he
sweats over the merest mechanical detail, he's well
aware that most scooter enthusiasts simply enjoy the
thrill of driving such elegant, refined two-wheelers.
"Most people who buy classic bikes do so for the
looks and the style. Most can't even change a spark
plug, and why should they have to? I personally test
each bike for a week and make any required adjustments
so the customer doesn't have to worry about anything but
riding the bike and looking good," he says.
Unfortunately, not all bikes from Vietnam are restored
so carefully. A pretty paint job can cover up some
"With so much cheap labour in Vietnam it's no
problem to change a piston for less than the price of a
beer in Hong Kong, but these parts were not produced to
meet export quality," says Joynt. "At least
once a week I see a life-endangering repair job brought
into my workshop.
"Anyone can pick up a wreck down Ho Chi Minh City
'scooter alley' for as little as $500, but the work is
shoddy and they're restored in a matter of days",
"In a way it's like open-heart surgery. It's not
until we strip the bike down that we know what we're
dealing with. Occasionally, the flaws are so well hidden
we can't restore a bike. Then it's used for original
Joynt's insistence on imported parts means restorations
are not cheap. For example, a Vietnamese piston costs
$4, while Joynt uses an Italian one which costs $70.
He believes, however, his commitment to quality and
detail is what keeps his customers from all over the
world coming back. Business is good - in fact it's so
good, he has two-month waiting list for some models.
So how did he end up restoring Italian-designed scooters
in Vientam? Joynt got his first scooter when he was a
teenager and embarked on a hobby that lasted throughout
college. In 1993 he went travelling, but it wasn't until
he arrived in Vietnam in 1997 that he found what he was
looking for and began restoring and exporting classic
Four years on and he has exported scooters all over the
world, including Britain and Australia. On one occasion
he even sold to a couple of Italian businessmen passing
through Vietnam. They bought two rare Lambretta LD
Series 2 scooters build in 1956. "It was like
taking coal to Newcastle," Joynt recalls.
"The two Italian guys had been friends since they
were young men. Back then, both rode Lambretta scooters
which they couldn't find anywhere in Italy now."
Ironically, vintage scooters are a rarity on Italian
streets. Most werwe bought by British and American
enthusiasts. For many, there are only two types of
classic scooters: Vespas and Lambrettas.
The Vespa, which means wasp in Italian, was build by
Piaggio. Vespas were first manufactured in MIlan during
1946 as a cheap and simple form post-war urban
transport. Because so many manufacturing licences were
issued around the world, the list of different classic
Vespa models is long. But 90 per cent have 150cc engines
and all share the distinctive single seat, wide front
panel and sweeping sides. The most stylish and
sought-after Vespa is the VBB, build in the early 1960's
and famed for its beatiful lines and chrome detail.
Lambretta, named after a district in Milan where the
factory was based, had its heyday in the 1950s.
Lambrettas are generally thinner than Vespas and have
larger engines. The Series 2 and 3 are particularly
One of the most prized Lambretta is the SX200. It boasts
a 200cc engine and can reach speeds of more than
112km/h. Only 21,000 were ever made, so finding one can
be a tall order.
Unfortunately, in 1971, Lambretta stopped making
scooters in Milan. The factory was closed and the plant
equipment shipped to India where manufacturing continued
but quality control eroded. - The South China Morning