Classic Restoration – Part 1

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This is the first in a series of blog posts documenting the restoration of my rare 1968 Vespa Super Sprint 90.

My fascination with Vespa scooters started in New Zealand in the mid 80’s when a good friend of mine bought an old 1960’s 150GS. We were both studying at university in Wellington, NZ and we became interested in the London MOD scene with its focus on fashion, music and pop culture. The 150GS was one of the best scooters of its time because if its powerful engine, excellent handling and its smooth integrated design. This blend between style and sport made it the King of Vespa.

I never thought that one day I would ever own my dream scooter, the elusive and rare Vespa Super Sprint 90 (SS90). I was lucky enough to acquire a 1968 SS90 from a friend’s brother in 1998. I had three years riding the scooter before emigrating to Europe. The scooter was stored safely in NZ for 14 years before being crated up and shipped to the UK.

The Super Sprint 90 – An Overview

In the sixties Piaggio needed a small, compact and high performance scooter to give the Vespa a sporty racing image and appeal to a younger market. Piaggio came up with a model unique from other vespas on the market – it featured a smaller legshield, a specially designed exhaust, a more streamlined engine cowling, and a spare wheel and dummy fuel tank (storage compartment) fitted vertically between the seat and footboard.

In 1965 the Vespa 50 cc small frame evolved into the SS90. It was given the celebrated name ‘Gruppo Piloti Sportivi’.  The two-stroke 88.5 cc engine used in the Super Sprint is a single-cylinder, air-cooled unit with a bore/stroke of 47/51 mm and an 8.7:1 compression ratio. It’s paired with a 4-speed gearbox, the dry weight is 77 kilograms, and the top speed is 93 km/h – although this does depend on the weight and aerodynamic position of the rider.

The Vespa SS90 is much sought after by collectors worldwide due to its extreme rarity, only 5,309 units were made between 1965 and 1971 and less than a third of them survive today.

Exploiting the success of the SS90, Piaggio produced a 50cc version, the Super Sprint 50, for its export markets (particularly Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand and Canada). Only 2,525 SS50’s were produced.

NZ SS90’s

Piaggio Vespa scooters were imported into New Zealand by an Auckland based company, Airco Ltd. SS90/50’s were imported in CKD (completely knocked down) kits which were then assembled in Newmarket with various parts manufactured locally as per the government rules at the time. The NZ SS90 can be easily distinguished due to their lack of  “dummy tank” and spare wheel which was never fitted because the extra cost could not be justified when the machine was quite expensive anyway. The licencing regulations required that a certain amount of local materials/manufacturing/labour/etc went into any imported product to further support/protect NZ businesses and markets. Airco Ltd made the seats locally which they badged themselves and assembled the frames which were stamped with their own 4 digit manufacturing number code. Many of the scooters were fitted with Dunlop tyres to help make the 10 per cent local content quota. They were then distributed and sold as Vespas to a waiting list of buyers… any product that was new and foreign-made was sold at a huge premium.

The SS90 speedometer in Great Britain, New Zealand and Canada had a mph Speedo with the old Piaggio Emblem and a 70 mph scale

The NZ SS90’s were available in three colour options… Red, Peacock Blue (Blu Pavone) and White (white livery was only produced for the export market).

My SS90 Restoration

The starting point of my project was to bring my SS90 scooter back to its former glory with a full restoration of both the frame and the engine. The bike has not been started for over 4 years so I wanted the engine rebuilt to ensure it will last many years to come. I have employed a London based company, Retrospective Scooters, to do the work as they are specialists in vintage scooter restorations and have already restored several SS90s.

The first problem with my SS90 is the engine is sitting in the wrong sized frame – a standard Vespa 90 frame rather than the streamlined small frame.

1968 Super Sprint 90 in a standard 90 frame
1968 Super Sprint 90 in a standard 90 frame
1968 Super Sprint 90 in a standard 90 frame
1968 Super Sprint 90 in a standard 90 frame

I had managed to buy an original SS90 small frame in NZ in 1999 which I had restored (sandblasted and resprayed in Monza Red). However, after bringing the refurbished frame to the UK and taking it to Retrospective Scooters for inspection, they spotted the frame was not straight and would need re-straightening.

Restored SS90 small frame

Straightening of the frame involves putting it on a special Vespa jig (used at the Douglas factory in Bristol), cutting out the twisted metal from the front leg shields, and then welding, sandblasting, shaping and respraying the frame. The shots below show the frame after it has been straightened and the front section of the leg shields cut away to remove the twisted metal. New metal will need to be welded to the leg shields and then smoothed and shaped. Stay tuned for the next post which will show how my small frame refurbishment has progressed.

SS90 Small Frame re-straightening

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