Saving scooters from a rusty grave

One man who seems to have the ‘Midas Touch’ in unearthing vintage classic machines is a Northern Ireland scooter enthusiast who has requested that we don’t reveal where he’s located, or give his full identity – so we’ll just call him Frank…

According to figures published in 2018, Northern Ireland contains 28.3% of the total population of the UK, which equates to around 1.871 million people (the total population of Ireland as a whole is around 4.86 million).

Compared to the UK mainland, the country has always been a hotbed for scooters of all makes and styles, which range from the late 40s and early 50s right up to the present day. Sadly, not many examples have survived, mostly due to the wet climate, which helps keep the island green, but does nothing to preserve these metal modes of transport.

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From time to time, that rare barn find turns up for the lucky few, but for the rest of us mere mortals, it would be easier to find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! However, there is one man who does seem to have that Midas Touch – 68-year-old Frank, who has been restoring all makes of scooters for well over 30 years.

He first developed an interest in two wheels as a 16-year-old lad when he purchased his first Vespa, a 125cc model, to get him to work in his local wool mill in Northern Ireland. During his first winter as a Vespa owner, Frank was riding to work one morning and whilst descending a steep hill which, unknown to him, was covered in black ice, he applied the brakes. The inevitable happened and both Frank and his scooter went sliding down the road.

Unfortunately a bus carrying the local workforce was behind him and it too slid out of control and was heading straight towards the helpless young scooterist. Closing his eyes and fearing the worst, Frank waited for the impact, but luck was on his side and the bus narrowly missed him. From that day onwards Frank never rode his luck (or a Vespa) again!

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SPARKING AN INTEREST

Fast forward 20 years and Frank was now married with teenage children and running his own business. To relieve the stresses of work, he began to look for a hobby. Whilst visiting a local vintage car show he got chatting to a man who was selling an old scooter. Frank remembered his first and only Vespa and decided to take up restoring scooters as his new hobby.

Over the next 30-odd years, Frank travelled the length and breadth of the Emerald Isle buying all sorts of scooters; this purchasing frenzy included Heinkel Tourists, NSUs, Puch and the more common Vespas and Lambrettas.

All the restorations are carried out by Frank, including the mechanical work and paint. Parts that are beyond repair are replaced through a network of suppliers that he has built up over the years. He prefers to use original parts where possible, as he finds they are often a better quality and fit compared to reproduction items.

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Each restoration takes between six and 12 months to complete, and Frank can’t bring himself to part with any of them due to the labour of love he puts into each and every one of them. His current project is a Triumph Tigress, which he has just started and hopefully this scooter will feature in a future article in Classic Scooterist.

Many Irish scooters have been saved from a rusty grave by this talented man – let’s hope this continues.

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