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Vespa Restoration

By Danny Ashton

The "Bullet Bike" (BB) is a 1967 Vespa 150 Super. But the story doesn't start there; it starts with my friend Barnaby Williams, formerly of the California Roadrunners S.C. Barnaby is a large flamboymant person who, after a flirtation with Mod in his teen years, became a hard riding scooterboy (and possibly the first Psychobilly in the U.S.-not sure.) Did I mention flamboyant? Barnaby has a degree from the San Francisco Art Institute and works as a tattoo artist at Anubis Warpus on Haight Street. His body is a colorful canvas further adorned by a number of large piercings. In the 80's he usually sported a piled high pompadour that was known by most as the "Shark Fin", and rode any bike as long as it was chopped high, and cut hard. His last bike of this period was affectionately known as the "Barnabortion." That bike was t-boned by a doctor driving a Mercedes (Barnaby will be happy to show you his surgery scars - if he hasn't yet covered them with Koi fish.)

After the death of the "Barnabortion" he began building a clean custom chop (which I believe remains unassembled, years later, in his bedroom.) Given that his custom bike wasn't coming together he made a trade for some temporary wheels, a '67 Vespa 150 Super. Now this was quite a sight, big 'ol Barnaby on a pretty powder blue 150 Super in immaculate condition. It was incongruous to say the least, but Barnaby grew to like the scooter and took pride in the contrast between the two of them.

After just a few months with this scooter, it was stolen from in front of his apartment on California Street. The agony was short lived, after a couple of days he got a call from the Daly City Police; the bike had been recovered just south of The City. Unforutnately it was in a sad state. The bike had been crashed: the leg shield bent on one side, floorboard strips were missing, one part of an emblem gone, the seat thrashed, and lots of scratches; but the final insult was the six .38 caliber bullet holes scattered over the rear engine side. Barnaby took the bike to First Kick Scooters, where a new gas tank was fitted to replace the punctured one. The bike ran for a few weeks but then crapped out. The coil was cracked and who knew what else, Barnaby hauled it to his Mom's back yard where it sat for nearly two years. Talking with him one night about the bike, Barnaby became disgusted, he said, "This is a sign that I'm not supposed to ride nice bikes, I'm supposed to ride big, ugly chops." He then gave the bike to me, saying that he knew that I would try to revive her.

I started with a new coil, a new plug, points, condensor, a horn, grips, a tail light, and then she ran, with all electricals working properly. But, she ran poorly; big evil noises ground their way from inside of the engine case. I loaned her to friends for a short time, but she gave up one night in North Beach. At 3:00 AM my friend Whitey rode her while holding a long wooden pole in one hand; using that as a tow line I pulled them with my P200 down back streets to the front of First Kick Scooters. The next day I told Eric to get to work on the motor.

Once the rebuild was finished nothing much was left of the tired old engine except the cases and top end. She ran great and I started to include her in my rotation of ridable bikes. In January two friends from Denver moved to The City. On their first Saturday night in town I met up with them, lending Nick the Bullet Bike because his Primavera needed rejetting before it could handle sea level. We rode to Donington Park, a pub in the Mission District, talked and drank. After awhile it was time for a ride. On a clear night it's great to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and look back at The City, so we set out. I lead on the 200, Scott rode his Lambretta with his girlfriend Sam, Nick rode the Bullet Bike with Logan. We got to the bridge with Scott and I well out front. We crossed the span and waited at the view point for Nick to catch up. And we waited some more, and then some more. Worried, we crossed back over to The City end of the bridge and found Nick changing a tire on the 150. "What happened?" I asked. The tire had blown just as Nick and Logan started across the bridge. He tried to save it, but went down on the glove box side. He dumped it on the bridge at night! There isn't a worse place to lay it down. I apologized to Nick, the tire was a decent looking Michelin S83, but it had been on there since I got the bike, I should have checked it. Nick was sorry about some scratches, but they were nonexistent relative to the general condition of the bike. Nick mounted the old cracked spare and we set off to re-cross the bridge. We made it there and back, to the beach, to another pub, and then home.

Later in the week I took the flattened tire and wheel apart (I had to have the bike ready for Scooter Rage X because I promised to loan it out to the Vesparados from Milwaukee.) I noticed that the lip of the rim was bent badly, I thought that it must have been damaged during the blowout. Once I got the wheel apart I found the cause: a .38 slug was embedded in the sidewall of the tire; not all the way through, just enough. The Bullet Bike, tough bike, tough tires.

Epilogue: She still looks rough -- the bullet holes cry six rusty tears down her side -- but runs like a champ. A few other projects are ahead of her in the queue, but someday I'll restore her exterior, except for the six bullet holes which I'll have polished and chromed.



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