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If you simply must, part 2

November 11, 2011
P200 on the bench

That garage queen will require a bit of work... (Orin O'Neill photo)

You’ll recall in our last episode, we discussed the things you’d want to do if a modern scooter with almost no miles on it, which has been sitting idle for months—or years—is being offered at a price too good to pass up.

This time, Jason offers advice on what to do if that scooter is of the old-skool persuasion.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s assume there’s a ~30-year-old P200E that’s caught your eye, offered at a price you can’t resist.

Firstly, same deal about dealing with the owner and/or a designated agent via power of attorney. Likewise, go look at the bike yourself; if it’s an out-of-town bike in a town where you know someone who’s knowledgeable about the scooter being advertised, that person can look at it for you to help you determine whether a trip to see the bike yourself is warranted.

While it is not at all unheard of for the seller of such a bike to have a clear title in their possession, in cases like this odds are better than even he/she won’t. How much of a problem this is depends on the state or province where you live; in Washington, you’ll need to take the bike to an office of the Washington State Patrol and have it inspected (mostly to see if it’s stolen), and you’ll need to get the seller to sign an affidavit of lost title. Your local motor vehicle authorities are the best source of info for matters like this, which can sometimes be handled quickly, sometimes not. As I said, it depends on where you live.



Jason says the importance of the bike’s history cannot be emphasized enough. Ideally, the seller will have every scrap of paper associated with the bike from the time it was new. Ideally.

But in the real world, you’ll at least need to know the last time the engine started and ran, and at least get a rough idea how conscientious previous owners have been about maintenance.

Oh, and no matter what the bike’s history, if it still has its original tires (or really old ones), Jason sez, FOR GOSH SAKES, REPLACE THEM!!!! Tires for old-skool Vespas (a P200 will wear 3.50-10 shoes with accompanying innertubes) are cheap. Much cheaper, in fact, than a visit to the local Emergency Department to tend to the broken collarbone (or worse) you’re likely to suffer when those old tires crumble into dust. Like I said, TIRES ARE CHEAP! Those off-brand whitewalls on sale at the online motorcycle tire place for 10 bucks each would be better, at least temporarily. After all, tires on old-skool Vespas are a doddle to change.

Jason says old-skool scooters tend to fall into one of three categories of use:

  1. High-mileage, a long time between ridings.
  2. Low-mileage, a long time between ridings.
  3. High-mileage, frequently ridden.

The latter will be the easiest to deal with, if for no other reason than the seller will most likely know what’s what, from riding it. History still comes into play here: if the seller has been, uh, forgetful about maintenance, you should take it to a knowledgeable scooter repair shop for an evaluation.

Jason sez a scooter falling into the first category will need the most work. Plan on an engine rebuild, since it will need to be pulled apart to assess the condition of its internal components, anyway. Seals, gaskets and rubber bits are likely to be dissolved, or nearly so. The presence of ethanol in most gasoline sold in North America causes a lacquering of the needle valve in the carburetor’s float chamber, which has a serious detrimental effect on the engine’s ability to get fuel to run. Hey, you’ll probably need to pull the carb apart, anyway, so you may as well clean it.

While you’re at it, Jason recommends replacing the control cables with freshly-lubricated new ones, along with the spark plug (you’ll carry spares), and the battery, if there is one. Older old-skool Vespas often didn’t have a battery, the magnetized cooling fan inside the stator generating enough electricity to run the head and taillights, and the horn (bleaaaaat!). The advent of things like turn signals, and especially ignition immobilizers, made batteries pretty much mandatory, tho an old-skool scooter will start and run with a dead one.

While a scooter falling into the middle category will not require quite as much work (Jason estimates the potential savings at $150; that figure may vary), there’s still work to do. Dry seals and gaskets are what you’re likely to find, or those dissolved by chemical reactions. Bearings are likely to be okay.

My lawyer reminds me to remind you that every old-skool Vespa offered for sale will have its own issues or lack thereof; this is simply a guide to the most likely ones, based on my and others’ experience. Yours will vary, and none is typical.

Oh, and keep in mind what Tom and Ray Magliozzi of the NPR radio show Car Talk say about old-skool motor vehicles: you’re not buying transportation, you’re buying a HOBBY.

But then, that’s the nice thing about scooters: they’re relatively cheap, and they don’t take up much space. You can have more than one. Favicon

  1. November 11, 2011 8:46 am

    I’ve never heard that particular Tom and Ray quote, Orin, but it make damned fine sense. When I picked up my old Passport, it needed more work than I gave it, but at least I got it back on the road. Then I sold it. It was great, but as a functional, modern commuter? I don’t know. There are definite shortcomings to old bikes, and if you’re not willing to take those risks, and drive accordingly, you should not get in the saddle. I can’t stress that enough.

    If you get everything done right, though, it’ll probably be nice and reliable, or as reliable as something produced thirty years ago can be. There also isn’t much to go wrong on a scooter if you’re willing to change the oil every so often.

    I’m reminded of this guy who strolled into a garage as I was shooting the bull with my mechanic late at night. He said a scooter he had recently bought just quit working. We asked him if he was mixing the fuel correctly, and he said he… uh… hadn’t actually done anything with the machine yet. After he admitted to putting gas in, we told him, uh… actually you nuked your motor. When he asked what he could do with it, we told him, basically, to push it into a river.

    Gotta take care of your things if you want them to work!

    Behind Bars – Motorcycles and Life

  2. November 11, 2011 10:15 am

    I think the thing that needs to be stressed is if a scooter doesn’t have a title it can be a pain in the arse. Barn finds can be tricky in this state (Washington. —Ed.)

  3. Dan Gould permalink
    November 11, 2011 11:32 am

    really? I have a passport I’m gonna need a title for, ugh.

  4. November 11, 2011 11:48 am

    I’m told replacing a lost title in cases like this takes three years in Washington; you are given a letter from the Department of Licensing that allows you to obtain license plate(s) and renew the registration in the meantime. What about other states? Anyone?

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