How vintage scooters got the market in a buzz
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It was the 1953 movie Roman Holiday, in which Audrey Hepburn causes traffic chaos on a Vespa in Rome, that introduced 1940s-invented scooters to the world. Scooterism next peaked with Quadrophenia in 1979, where the gritty lives of its scooter-riding 1960s characters consumed a generation. Today, auctioneer H&H’s first scooter sale on 6 April at the National Motorcycle Museum, Solihull, is a measure of the fast-developing market: last year, a machine went for nearly £11,000 on an estimate of £2,000.
“We’ve recently had some bonkers prices for barn-find unrestored scooters,” explains Damian Jones of H&H. “The market is strong so we thought this would be a good time to offer a bespoke auction to scooter enthusiasts.” David Beckham’s scooter from Adidas’s Euro 2004 advertising campaign is one highlight of the sale – the Spanish-built 1962 Motovespa 150S, in England kit colours with Mod-style accessories, is going in with an estimate of £9,000-£10,000.
Scooters germinated from the US Army’s deployment of simple motorised two-wheelers, Cushman Airborne Scooters, in the second world war. Italian aircraft maker Piaggio, banned from producing planes after the war, recognised their potential and started producing Vespas (“wasps”) in 1946, with Piaggio’s aeronautical engineer Corradino d’Ascanio devising machines with an enclosed engine – he is said to have viewed motorcyclists’ oil-stained clothes with disdain. The clean-riding concept resonated with fashion-conscious Italians – and the Roman Holiday poster helped generate thousands of Vespa sales.
The main scooter duellists are Vespa and Lambretta – the latter being favoured by the UK’s Mods. In 2008, Quadrophenia’s lead scooter – a Lambretta ridden by Phil Daniels’s character Jimmy – was bought by nightclub owner Tony Cochrane for £36,000. “It was in one of my clubs, but now it’s at home. People travel miles asking to see it,” he says. Bonhams told him that Jimmy’s Lambretta Li150 Series 3 was the third best known two-wheeled film icon, after Triumphs ridden by Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) and Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963).
Paul Diamond of vintagescooters.co.uk clocked the high prices last year. “The Vespa community wasn’t surprised,” he says. “Those outside it were gobsmacked. A Lambretta GT200, needing restoration, sold for £23,000 – more than five times its estimate.
“Finding certain Vespas and Lambrettas is difficult; they’ve just gone,” adds Diamond – models that weren’t valued at the time weren’t preserved. “However, the next collectibles are surfacing. Collectors now want ‘handlebar Vespas’ – with the higher headlamp, as opposed to faro basso (‘low light’) headlamps fitted for the Italian market.
“Mid-1950s 42L2s and 92L2s are gathering momentum as the last reasonably-priced ‘handlebar’ Douglas Vespas,” he adds. “£4,000 needing restoration, £6,000 for good ones. They’ll double that within 24 months. Crucial for collectors is original paint; it wasn’t always important, but now it’s vital.”
In the UK, Lambretta created a thriving market, whereas Vespa had a poor partner in Bristol-based manufacturer-dealer Douglas. But it’s different abroad. In Italy, Lambrettas cost far less, while early Vespas can sell for €100,000-plus, says Derek Askill, 56, from Worcester, known as “Disco Dez”, who has been selling and restoring scooters for 40 years. Vespa enjoys similar status in France; in Germany there’s huge demand for “handlebar” Vespas; while in the Far East demand for Italian machines and original accessories across the board is high. In America and Australia, vintage scooter prices are typically half those in Europe – there has simply been less interest.
Askill is a Lambretta man. “Purists want pre-1971 Lambrettas. That’s when production went to Spain and India – things like paint quality weren’t as good.” His stock includes a restored 1964 GT200 at £17,000, and an original 1964 Lambretta TV175 at £6,000. “In the eyes of collectors the last Vespa worthy of garage space would be the 1978 Rally 200,” he adds. “The PX range replaced it, but has a near-40-year production run so is unlikely to become collectable.”
He rides a 1956 Lambretta LD150 that cost £3,500 in 2014, now worth £6,500. And he helps run the Awfully Pleasant Scooter Association. Only pre-1966 scooters can participate in club events, although membership is demographically broad. “Members consider the 1960s to have ended in 1966. 1956 to 1966 are the glamour years in our eyes,” he says. “After that, well, pah...”
Building developer Jason Hudson, from Ilkley, bought arguably the most glamorous scooter: “Speedball”, a 1965 Lambretta GT200, for £42,000 in 2021. Speedball was built by Dean Orton of Rimini Lambretta Centre in Italy – a Cornishman who moved to Italy in 1992, and is the go-to for scooter restoration across the world. “Dean’s standard of workmanship and attention to detail is different-level,” says Hudson. Speedball is festooned with accessories, including 30 mirrors, decorative parts worth £5,000 each, and “hen’s teeth” toolbox and leopardskin seats. Perhaps it’s little surprise, then, that wherever these scooterists go, people stop, look and ask for selfies. Just like meeting movie stars.