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 Limited. SS90 (and SS50’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 are easily distinguished by the exclusion of the  “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 licensing regulations required that a certain amount of local materials, manufacturing and labour went into any imported product to further support and protect NZ businesses. Airco Limited made the seats locally, which they badged themselves, and assembled the frames which were stamped with their own 4 digit manufacturing 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.

They 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 this project was to bring my SS90 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 employed a London based bike shop, Retrospective Scooters, to do the work as they are specialists in vintage scooter restorations and had 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 was lucky enough to buy an original SS90 small frame in 1999 which I had restored (sandblasted and resprayed in Monza Red). However, after shipping the frame form NZ to the UK and taking it to Retrospective Scooters for inspection, they spotted the frame was slightly twisted at the front and would need re-straightening.

Restored SS90 small frame

Straightening the frame involved 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 shots below show the frame after it had been straightened and the front section of the leg shields cut away to remove the twisted metal. New metal will then be welded to the leg shields, smoothed and then shaped.

SS90 Small Frame re-straightening