If you were a young Mod about town in Chicago circa 1986 and decided that it was high time to get yourself a scooter, you would have found in fairly short order that it was a pretty easy thing to do.
$500.00? No worries, mid-70’s Vespa 90’s, 150 Sprints or Supers in great shape were all over the place (if you didn’t care about all that extra stuff like working lights). Deeper pockets? $800.00 would put you on a Rally 200, a used P-Series or even a Lambretta Jet 200. As a matter of fact, Vespa of Chicago on Clark St. still had a few new-ish “P’s” in stock for $1,200.00 or so out the door. In any event, it wouldn’t generally take longer than a week to get yourself all sorted out.
Mind you, a 1978 Rally 200 wasn’t anywhere near as cool in 1986 as it is in 2006, back then we were after the REAL vintage bikes, the 60’s Mod bikes which were pretty hard to find then too (but there was this one barn… on this one farm… in Wisconsin or Iowa or I think near Rockford… that was full of Vespas and most of them are GS’s… and they’ve never been ridden… and – no there wasn’t). Scoring vintage Vespas or real Italian Lambrettas was pretty much all luck; you had to have the opportunity and the cash available at the same time.
The scootering world was different; there was no “Scooter Scene.” In 1986 a scooter was made in Japan and it was automatic and angular and plastic and called an “Elite” or a “Helix” or a “Razz.” People on the street genuinely didn’t know what to call a Vespa, they usually settled on “moped” but it certainly wasn’t considered a “scooter” by Johnny Q. Public. Back then you had Mods and …old guys with milk crates bungi-corded to the back rack. Ok, that may be an over simplification but there were VERY few (like seriously, almost none) non-Mod hipsters with Vespas, it was mostly just Mods and the random folks they tried to talk out of their scooters at any opportunity.
I used to scan backyards for bikes from the “el,” you’d usually find scooters tucked away in unassuming places. My first bike (1974 Vespa 90) came out of a garage in Schaumburg for $200.00. I bought it from an old guy who had replaced the fuel line with aquarium tubing. My buddy Joe picked up a Jet 200 from a machine shop in Elk Grove Village. I drove down to the south side and bought my first P200 ($900.00 – pretty steep back then) from a guy who used to do trade shows at McCormick Place, he’d bring the bike with him to ride around inside the building.
The one that got away: A beat up but 100% complete (with factory accessories), 60’s, TV200 we found in the gangway between two buildings near Ashland and Clyborn. I couldn’t talk the guy out of it even after I assured him that his scooter would never run again and that I just wanted it for “parts”. He used to ride it to the zoo (That’s what he said “I used to ride this scooter to the zoo”).
Once you finally got your new bike home you’d need to decide what you were going to do to it. You had a British “L” magnet you needed to trim down to fit the leg shield and a Jam sticker you got at The Alley and truck stop lights and a bike flag with a raccoon tail on it… but first you’d need to undo what the previous owner had done. It might be 100% stock, which was easy but not often the case. You usually generally faced with a variation on two standard themes:
A) “I’ll Bolt this to That Moped in the Garage!” – This bike always came with a milk crate and had shit bolted all over it: Turn signals, foot pegs, more turn signals, a sheet of metal, a cup holder, miscellaneous handles, maybe a bracket or two, more turn signals…
CONS: Fugly, full of holes and sometimes several of coats of brushed on house paint.
PROS: They were the classic old guy rig so they were usually cheap.
B) “The D.A.S.M.I. Bike” – Accessories, accessories, accessories! Humungous plastic windshields, full on lockable trunks (where the milk crate should be) and Extra-wide, super gi-normous, tuck and roll leather, La-Z-Boy “king and queen” saddle.
CONS: Scorn and ridicule should you ride like that.
PROS: They generally came with every rack and crashbar in production at the time (Bonus!).
Discount Accessories for Scooters and Mopeds Inc. (D.A.S.M.I.) was run by Guy (pronounced “G-ee”) the guy (pronounced G-eye) who owned Vespa of Chicago – the one and only shop in town. It was located on the west side of Clark near Hollywood originally but it had moved just north of Clark and Albion by ’86. I think the old space is a seedy shoe store now but if you look really closely at the fading white paint on the brick wall in the parking lot of the “Kwik Mart” next door you can barely make out “Vespa – The Scooter of Steel!”
Guy passed away in the early 90’s and Ron, shop mechanic and all around super good human took over the business. He kept it running for a couple of years but it was right about then that strange and ominous things were afoot in the Chicago scooter world.
A new shop came out of nowhere and decided to kill all the buffalo. Ads started showing up in all the papers we used to check to find our bikes that read “We buy Vespa, Lambretta and Allstate scooters – any condition – cash paid”. Ouch! Scooters got harder and harder to find and the prices went higher and higher and before long, the place dried up. Ron eventually closed Vespa of Chicago and went to work at the new shop. He was a great guy and a crack mechanic but not “business” enough to keep up.
We never had a problem with bikers, “Ninja guys” sure we had all kinds of problems with them they were the ones screaming “Get a Harley” but not the real, legit “Bikers.” We did our thing and they did their thing and it was cool. Looking back it almost seems we have more in common with them now than we did then. Both of our deals have been “commodified” and sold to hipsters who have no idea what it’s all about. – Mods man. It was all about the Mods.