Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Polishing your parts

Polishing parts is a very good idea to save pieces that you might otherwise think are junk. This is especially helpful with internal engine components and hardware. I have been doing a few different techniques lately to restore the beauty in parts and I have found that nothing works better than a bench grinder that has dual wheels. One wheel is typically a graphite stone grinder (DON'T USE THIS SIDE! YOU WILL ACTUALLY TAKE METAL OFF AND THIN YOUR PARTS!) and the other wheel is a heavy duty wire polisher (the side we will be dealing with). This tool is an extremely expensive investment, so if you don't already have one, you might want to try and make friends with some one that does! Luckily, my step-father has one. I can't even begin to explain how well this method works. Last weekend I used it on my gear selector, my clutch cover, my piston, and my cylinder and some random hardware. These parts were rusty, grimy, and extremely dirty. Now they look like they just rolled off of the factory assembly line.

Today, I tried to use a dremel with wire grinding tips to polish some parts. I don't recommend this method at all except for maybe very mild use to get into crevasses that you can't reach with the bench grinder. It works pretty well, but little bits of wire fly off of the dremel bits until all of the wires are gone and you're left with nothing. And this isn't a slow process. I bought two bits this afternoon. Within an hour of usage, both bits were reduced to nothing. So, don't do this more than necessary. Because of little wire fragments flying everywhere, I would especially not use this method on internal engine components as an alternative to taking the parts out of the case and using a bench grinder. It is absolutely crucial that the inside of the engine is COMPLETELY free of debris when reassembling it. And this frankly can't be accomplished with all of those little bits of wire flying inside the case. Take the time to take out the individual pieces and use the bench grinder. Your engine will thank you.

You may be tempted to wire polish your casings. While this will look very nice, a lot of people don't recommend it. Jeremy's blog goes into detail about it, but simply put; the engine case will get dirty, and fast. If you don't want to clean your engine case every day of your life, don't set it up for these high standards. Media blasting or a good scrubbing with paint thinner is sufficient.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Engine tear down

Yesterday, I finally got the piston loose from the engine. I just decided to get out a hacksaw and cut the connecting rod in half. After that, one good whack on the sliced half of the rod connected to the piston got it un-seized. From what I can tell, the piston will be fine. But I will need new rings and a new connecting rod. The cylinder will be fine after a good cleaning.

After freeing the piston, I could finally finish splitting the engine case. I took a heat gun to the main bearing for a few seconds then lightly tapped the seem of the engine case with a rubber mallet and it started to slowly come apart. Then I realized the gear selector needed to come off. You may have noticed in my previous engine pictures, there was some sort of cement all over the gear selector. I guess the previous owner decided it was a good idea to do that instead of replace a gasket. Luckily, it all came off with a chisel and light hammer
taps. But the gear selector is so rusty that I might as well replace the whole thing.
I still don't have the tool to remove the clutch, so I got it as disassembled as I could and then just did a lot of cleaning with paint thinner and a wire brush and rags. You would really be surprised what a little bit of elbow grease can do to these old engines. You can really bring them back to looking just like new. And it really isn't hard work, in fact it's pretty relaxing. If you are doing a restoration, do yourself a favor and opt to rebuild your own engine instead of buying a new one or having some one else do the work. It is so rewarding to see how everything works and bring all the luster back into the heart of your scooter. When I split the case, there was rust, grime, sludge, and dirt everywhere (see pictures). I'm not done yet, I'll post pictures in the next few days of how clean it all is when it's ready to be put back together.

I can't get to the clutch assembly yet, so I can't tell if anything in there needs to be replaced. As far as I can tell, everything is alright. The bearings are even in pretty good shape. But I would still like to replace them. Does anybody have any tips for getting those suckers off? I can't get to the clutch side one yet, but I am having trouble with the crank side one.

That's all for now, be on the lookout for some clean engine photos in the next few days.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Another quick blog

Oh, I wanted to mention something just for people who are looking to buy an already restored scooter instead of doing it yourself.

You should already know by now not to trust Vietnam bikes. Well, there is a company out of New York City trying to front like they are providing American restorations of VBB 150's. Well, they are duping a lot of people. They came really close to having my business at one point. I wrote the owner an e-mail a few months ago to see if we could work out a deal. They had just weeks before raised their price and I offered to provide free photography for advertising (from a renowned music video director and musician photographer that is a friend of mine who is doing our engagement photos) and mention in our invitations/news paper that the scooter was provided from their company in exchange for a small discount. I let them know that if you keep your eye open on craigslist and ebay, you can find other American restorations at similar prices that they expect.

Their only response to the lengthy e-mail asking for a small discount in exchange for some killer advertising was "An American restoration similar to our prices? I'd like to see it"

So on top of deceitful, and over-priced, they're also *ahem* douche bags.

Of course, this was before I realized that they were also Viet-crap bikes in disguise. And I'm more than glad that I am doing my own bike that I will appreciate more.


Well, time to slow down a bit

My weekend plans are kinda screwed. Well, not terribly.

I was supposed to have the frame and a few of the body pieces media blasted this morning and then spend the rest of the weekend prepping the body so that I could spend the week priming/sanding and paint next weekend.

I showed up to the paint strippers this morning at 10 as I was told to. A guy helped me unload all of the pieces and place them into the facility. Then the guy tells me that he will try to get it done by the end of this next week. A few days ago, I was told it would be done when I brought them and the parts would be in and out in about an hour.

I was kinda pissed, but I wasn't about to try to take my parts somewhere else. I just kinda brushed it off and kept my mouth shut.

So it looks like the weekend will be entirely spent on engine work. Which I suppose isn't a bad thing, but I just don't have all of the gaskets here to put it all back together when I'm done. So I was kinda hoping to do all of that throughout the week in between primer coats.

Oh well, tomorrow will begin with a little bit of (actual) work. I have to go to a customer's house at 10am cause I gotta make that money when I can! Then after that, it's time to get down to business with that piston. Wish me luck.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Let me rephrase myself a little...

To avoid confusion, in my previous post, I wasn't talking about any high-end, essential parts. I was talking about tid-bits that add up to be expensive. Like gaskets, gromits, rubber, trim, junctions, etc. As Jeremy stated in a comment on my previous entry, try to get as many authentic italian made parts as possible. Don't settle for run of the mill reproductions on complex parts. But as for 12v upgrades, asian/indian made is the only option. When you buy these CDI upgrade kits, even from scomo or scooterworks, you are getting parts that were sold to them by scootrs. But the same is true with a whole lot of those little rubber bits and pieces and hardware.

Word to the wise.

Straight from the folks at, I found out that most of their parts and scooterworks' come from

I had never even heard of the place until the Scootrichmond folks told me about them.

Well, they are CHEAP. I wouldn't necessarily trust them with heavy mechanical or quality concerning parts just to be safe. But I got everything I needed from them, including shipping for about half the price it would have cost from an American company that resells their parts.

That's Bookmark it.

Ciao. Ads

Yesterday, I posted an ad on looking for a 12v upgrade stator and flywheel. This morning, I had 3 e-mails from people who thought my Vespa was for sell. So I checked the ad to make sure I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't, it all checked out fine.

Read what you're trying to buy gooberheads!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mild progress today

So, I work for myself. It is nice because since I am also a full time student, I can still have plenty of time for my family. Well, today was my wife's first day of college. I was excited because A) I'm proud of her, and B) For her to go to school, I can't work on Wednesdays. Instead, I need to stay home with the baby. (The older of the two goes to day care, and to preschool in the fall). I thought to myself "Hot damn! The baby normally takes about 4 hours worth of naps throughout the day, that means on Wednesdays I can have a little dedicated Vespa time!" Especially because it is normally 2 naps of 2 hours, so I can have a couple good working blocks. Not today. Oh no no no. The baby was cranky. So all that I got done was taking her on a field trip to pick up the paint. After talking to a few bike owners and from what I remember of my old pal Tim (Custom painter at Big Dog Motorcycles), it is best to use a single stage paint on any sort of every day rider that doesn't have custom paint jobs (designs, flames, what have you) because it is much more durable and chip resistant. With custom jobs, you really don't have much of a choice. I was told a 2 stage (paint coat, top coat) is also good, especially for show quality, it's just a little better for an every day rider to have a single stage. I'm going with a seafoam green.

After school tonight, I squeezed in a good hour to finish getting everything rounded up for the big media blast on Friday. I decided I would just let them handle the Fender and fork, and finish up the little specs I left on the rims. I think if I never use chemical stripper again, it will be too soon. I started taping up parts that are already down to bare metal. So far, the pieces completely ready for priming are the engine cowl, the head, the lever attachments, and the gas tank. While disassembling the fork, found I will need a new shock, though. No biggie.


Parts update.

The last 3 days, I have thrown down a lot of money to get the most expensive parts out of the way. Really, the bike was pretty complete when I got it and some new parts had been purchased by one of the previous owners. By the time I got it, it had all new cables, a new wiring harness, a new center floormat, and rear brake rubber.

This week, I have ordered:
A headlamp assembly
A taillight lense
New bulbs
The floor rail kit
A new chrome horn
A gasket replacement kit
New grips
A 12v flywheel
A 12v stator
12v junction boxes
A new speedometer assembly
A new exhaust
A buddy seat
A set of kickstand feet

Of course, as the restoration progresses, you will always find pieces that need replaced along the way that you hadn't planned. As of right now, the piston and cylinder are questionable (I previously mentioned, we are going to try and un-jam it this weekend). And I think that Ken has the know how to get the glovebox cowl back into shape so that the door will fit back on correctly. But as of now, here's the known parts that remain necessary:

1 Brake/Clutch lever
legshield trim
cowl trim
cowl rubber
helmet latch
mirrors (optional accesory)
rear rack/spare tire attachment (optional accesory)
3x 3.5" x 8" whitewall tires
3x 3.5" x 8" innertubes

So really, as of now, I've got most of the purchases out of the way. But again, I'm more than sure that I will find other things that need to be replaced. The engine casing isn't split yet. Once inside, there's a lot of common pieces that need to be replaced. Like oil seals, bearings, cruciforms, etc.

We'll see where things go once the engine is split open this weekend.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The next few weeks ahead...

So, here is how things have been going...

I have sanded and grinded and chemicaled myself out. I give up. I caved in this morning and decided to get the frame media blasted. So, I called a place called SoftStrip who said they can fit me in on Friday morning at 10am. It should take about an hour and cost about $90. Honestly, if I knew it was that cheap, I would have done that from the beginning instead of waste 20+ of my own labor hours toiling away. This is as far as all of that has done. The only thing that really kept me from wanting to media blast is that it seems that it will take away the body filler that had previously been applied. And although on the smaller pieces, they were over-bondo'ed into submission, it was used very wisely and responsibly on the frame. But fortunately, it was just applied to the front of the legshield, so it shouldn't be all that hard to recreate. Anyhow, Friday morning = Media blast. The rest of the weekend = body prep + what will be covered in the next paragraph.

3 Days of letting PB B'laster soak in, and the piston is still seized. I'm not surprised, I never really seem to get an easy break, so I imagined this would happen. Jeremy ended up using a hydrulic press and a hacksaw. I might have to go the same road, but my step-dad (Ken, he's helping me all weekend with body and mechanics.) and I might have a few different tricks up our sleeves beforehand. As the engine is coming apart, it really seems that the only thing terribly wrong with it is the seized piston. It is also cleaning up incredibly easy. Just a little de-greasing oven cleaner and a rag does wonders. I just can't get the damn casing to separate. I took a heat gun to the bearing under the stator, like other blogs suggested, but it still won't budge in the slightest bit. Again, maybe Ken will have something up his sleeve this weekend. He has much more experience with mechanics than I do(albeit, not Vespas, but old model cars).

So, I had a heated debate with myself about whether to keep true to the roots of the VBB and keep the 6v system, or drill a hole in the side of the frame, upgrade the stator/flywheel/junctions/wiring harness, and run off of a 12v battery system. A lot of people say that the old magneto set-up is just awful and it is worth the price and labor and actually adds desirability and value even though it takes away from the original state. Well, when disassembling the engine, the debate is over. I pulled the flywheel and noticed that a fin is chipped off. And one of the wires to the stator has a terribly damaged sheeth. So since those are really the two most expensive pieces of a 12v upgrade, I might as well do it since I have to anyway. I'm sure that I will be much happier with the outcome anyhow. A buddy of mine has a sprint with the original 6v system and is very unhappy. He is going to have me give him an upgrade too, so at least I will have the experience first.

To finish off today, I found a picture that my beautiful girlfriend, Danielle snapped of me right when the delivery truck door opened and I got a glimpse of my new toy last Friday. I think I look thrilled. Oh, by the way. Never set a deadline on your Vespa restoration project. But, I am hoping to have this done in time for our wedding. We are getting married on June 7th, and don't want a crappy limo. We want to ride off on a restored seafoam green '63 VBB 150! So, I'm not necessarily planning on it... just hoping I get lucky enough for the experience.


Monday, January 21, 2008

So here it is...

By the suggestion of fellow Vespa restorer, Jeremy, I have decided to start a blog to keep a record of the restoration process of my 1963 Vespa VBB 150. So, to start it all off with, this is where I'm at...

I have wanted a VBB 150 for about 4 years now. I owned a 2003 ET2 that I got as a High School graduation present, and I just fell in love with everything Vespa. Tragically, that Vespa was very short lived. I got in a head on collision with a drunk driver, and luckily I survived, the Vespa did not. I had it only 4 months but had put over 7,000 miles on it. That's how much I loved it.

While a new one was great and all, I really started leaning towards the classic models. The Sprints, The Supers, The GSX's, The 150's, even the Allstates. I knew one of these was what I wanted, but finding just the right one would be hard. I kind of centered in on VBB 150's as my favorite model. Something about them just really got me. A year ago, I even got one tattooed on my leg. (I know it looks a little flakey in the pic, it was still healing.)

So finally, after years of searching, I found a good example of a Vespa VBB 150 that needs to be saved without being in too bad of shape. I got it on eBay, and it showed up at my door last Friday afternoon. Within an hour of owning this diamond in the rough, I already had it taken apart and brought to the basement to prep it for the make-over it so desperately needs. The picture might make it look like a desirable fire engine red color. I hate to have to say that it is actually a very ugly magenta/raspberry color. And a very terrible job at that. This specific piece was chosen because: The actual condition of the body is very pleasent, every essential part to get it running was included, and it would make for a perfect project bike.

As you can see, there's cables spewing out the head. That is because the previous owner bought this bike just the way he sold it to me. The person he got it from started to restore it, but just kind of gave up and sold it. And the guy I bought it from already has several functional Vespas and just didn't make the time to work on this one. It was taken apart to be painted (again, poorly), and all the electronics, levers, and cables taken out and the engine half disassembled. This is how I received it from the freighters. A slightly assembled bike and a box of parts.

So as of now, the bike is disassembled, all of the body pieces are down to the bare metal, ready to be painted, the frame is in the process of being sanded down now, and the engine is partially taken apart. The only body piece I think might need to be replaced is the glovebox side cowl. It has been abused with bondo and the door won't even fit back on because the metal is so warped. The only thing that actually seems to be wrong with the engine is that the piston has seized. So I am currently working on removing the piston from the cylinder. I will have an update soon with the body pieces ready and how the piston went through.