Luc, the garage/salon's 48-year old owner, whose own
shoulder-length hair clearly hasn't seen a pair of
scissors in years, reaches into a sack and pulls out a
chrome-plated Harley Davidson siren. "Two-hundred
dollars," he says. "You know the Harleys were
police bikes, and used by the Presidential Guard."
Mention old motorcycles in Vietnam and everyone
wants to talk about Harleys. Three years ago, a restored
1941 Harley WLD750 sold for US$12,000, while 1968 or '69
Sportsters fetched at least $7,000. But these days,
there aren't a lot to talk about.
the bad news. You have more chance of seeing Evil
Kenieval rattle by on a Russion Minsk motorcycle than
you do of finding an old Harley at a great price. Today,
there are probably no more than 15 "Hogs" left
in Vietnam. But motorbike enthusiasts still have a lot
to get revved up about. Remaining colonial-era treasures
include German BMWs and Hoffmans, German and British
Triumphs, and Italian Lambretta and Vespa scooters.
when they were cheap, this one old Vietnamese guy bought
about 40 classic bikes," says Loc Huu Nguyen, an
American-Vietnamese motorcycle enthusiast who has been
collecting bikes in Ho Chi Minh City since 1991.
"When I first came, he had 16 BMWs and five Harleys
in his living room."
Since the early '90s, a core of Vietnamese and foreign
motorcycle enthusiasts have built a lucrative industry
out of buying, restoring, selling and exporting
Vietnam's old motorcycles and scooters. "The cost
of labor is one-tenth here what it is in Europe. Combine
that with a steady supply of vintage bikes and Italian
and British spare parts and you understand why Vietnam
is the place to do this," says Patrick Joynt, a
young British man who has been collecting Lambretta and
Vespa scooters in Ho Chi Minh City since 1997.
Mr. Joynt, scooters are a family affair. His wife Dung
owns the Saigon Scooter Centre, a shop specializing in
the restoration, repair and export of classic Italian
shipped out about 200 in the past three year's,"
says Mr. Joynt. "Vietnamsese shops can restore a
bike in 24 hours, but we only restore about three a
month. The Vietnamese standard of paint is good enough
for here, but six months later you need a respay. We
spend ten times more on paint, plus import parts."
All of this goes towards explaining the Scooter Centre's
prices: a 1964 Lambretta TV3175cc, including papers for
export (but excluding shipping), sells for $1,700, while
a 1963 150cc model runs around $1,200. "I could
sell a lot more but I can't find more mechanics I can
put my trust in."
course the Saigon Scooter Centre isn't the only shop in
town. Another foreign-run scooter restoration business
sells its bikes via the Internet; one of its
best-selling models, the Lambretta SX150, retails for
$2,099. And a few overseas-Vietnamese collectors deal in
old scooters and motorcycles, for customers in Vietnam
lot of people are now jumping on the bandwagon, thinking
they can make quick money," says one established
scooter dealer. "They buy the bikes for about $300
and sell them overseas but the quality is low. Now
Vientam's starting to get a bad reputation."
problem, says one old collector, is that many
prospective buyers don't know the first thing about
motorcycles."The oldest bike in Vietnam is a 1930s
BMW," he says. "And there's a story that the
guy bought it from a Hmong leader for fifty kilograms of
opium. But the bike isn't worth it."
people think that because it's old, it's valuable,"
he says. "But some bikes, you keep them 100 years
and you just have a bad 100 year bike."