Ever since I was a kid I have always loved old scooters. However I have never really wanted the responsibility of maintaining a "vintage" machine. I always thought to myself, "why can't we have the convenience and reliability of modern engineering like a Honda with the class and styling of an old Lambretta?"
Recently it occurred to me that as an adult, I actually have the skills and facilities to address this important issue that has nagged me all these years.
I am a metal sculptor, and have absolutely no experience with scooters at all. What follows in this instructable is my experience of stripping down a mid 1980's Honda elite 125cc scooter, and totally redesigning it with aluminum scrap metal. For the curious, please visit my web site: www.nemomatic.com
to get a look at my other work and see how this beast fits into the bigger picture.
Step 1: The Carcass
To start out with I wanted a scooter that had a reputation for reliability, and enough power to handle the additional weight that I was bound to add with all of the scrap metal bells and whistles that I intended to heap onto it.
My friend Rich Humphrey
liked my idea enough that he traded me the fine Honda Elite 125 that you see below for some other mechanical crap I had laying around that would suit his robotics projects. Rich would prove to be a necessary feature in this project as he provided a broader knowledge of the scooters electrical systems which would have to be violated in order for the project to succeed.
His Elite was a perfect candidate because it was designed to carry two adults (weight not a problem) and it was covered with cracked up plastic panels that were just begging to be pulled off and thrown away.
Step 2: Picking a New Outfit
The beginning stages of this project were very much like that of my sculptures. I gathered up a big collection of large aluminum objects to weld together as the body panels. Street lamp covers worked out to be the best basic shapes. Their teardrop design made them a good fit for the "vintage" look.
I took extra (perhaps unnecessary) care to fabricate the main panels so that they used the mount points on the original frame. The thinking was that fewer connection points would lead to less vibration.
Step 3: The "nose"
Once I had decided on the what the major panels were going to be made out of, I removed the paint and passed the metal over the buffing wheel for a while to shine it up. If I wanted to get anywhere I had to start making some commitments, so I dove into the front end which I still feel looks a bit "nosey". I had already mounted the street lamp cover to the front, but it needed a vent to allow air to reach the radiator. An ancient space heater gave up its grill to this end.
In order for the two halves of the front end to meet up, I had to cheat a little and fabricate big triangular patch panels out of aluminum sheet (it couldn't all be scrap).
Step 4: The "head"
Having finished the front panel and air vent, the logical thing was to come up with a steering column head light that looked good with it. The original head light was mounted lower on the frame so I could pretty much make this up as I went along.
The original approach was a vacuum cleaner carpet attachment with some light fixtures welded to it.
The later discovery of two smaller matching vacuum cleaners quickly rendered this first idea obsolete.
The two were stripped of paint, cut in half and welded together. The resulting shape just happened to be the perfect shape to house a standard car head light. Some retaining rings and hardware needed to be machined to fasten it in place. The holes where the hose used to attach to the vacuums also turned out to be the perfect size for some orange LEDs from Kragen.
Finally, the original windshield was ditched and a new one was made from a piece of acrylic and bent slightly with a heat gun.
Step 5: Junk IS My Trunk
In the spirit of bringing the whole thing along at an even pace, it was time to swing around to the back and deal with how the two motor covers were going to meet together. I should mention that in hindsight I am making this seem much more methodic that it really was. All of these steps overlapped and ran together, but that wouldn't make a very good instructable now would it?
Step 6: Dash Board
Time now to look at the instrument panel. The original was a blocky, purple plastic thing, that the world is better off without. Rich suggested that we try to make a nixie tube speedometer. I couldn't think of anything that would be cooler than that so I went ahead and mounted everything up so that he could route the original encoder through a contraption of his own making. I used the original fuel and temp. meters, but hacked them into antique voltage meter bodies to maintain the vintage feel of the machine. A lot of hours went into these little details. The meters had to be mounted on a piece of plexiglas, hung behind the face plate with aluminum standoffs. I cut out new meter scales from pieces of plastic and drew in the scales by hand. Then some LEDs were added to illuminate them. I found some old Russian nixies on the internet and mounted them behind a slightly larger voltage meter body.
Update: I just realized I never posted an image of the final instrument cluster. The speedometer worked out quite well, though the temp meter reads backwards, doh! I suspect it is a simple matter of reversing the wires but I have not had the motivation to pull the panel apart since I finished it.
Step 7: Engine Work
Now that the basic shape had been worked out, it was definitely time to make sure everything was in good shape mechanically. The scooter had been sitting for a long time with old gas in the tank and many rat-chewed wires. I pulled all the panelling off (again) and went over to my friend Wendell Jones's
shop. Wendell has been working with bikes for years and provided the first of what proved to be several tune-ups. Once he was satisfied, I was content to get on with the finishing touches.
Step 8: Finishing Touches
With a running motor and attached body panels I was suddenly confronted with all the little details that had been insignificant thus far. Added together they represented a few more weeks of tweaking. The seat also needed to be re-designed / re-covered. I recruited my fiance Nancy to help me, but we just couldn't quite pull it off. Sometimes you just have to hire a professional, sorry do-it-yourself-ers, I tried.
Step 9: Finished!
Whew! I had no intention of spending two and a half months on this project, but such are the labors of love. Despite all the hours and frustration it is a real pleasure to have accomplished something that had been lurking in the back of my mind for so many years. Now it is time to get back to making art
, and perhaps tackle another bike in the future, maybe electric next time who knows?
These final photos were taken by my friend Cameron Platt
And many thanks again to Rich Humphrey
for his his technical help, Wendell Jones
for his mechanical help, and Nancy Leung for her patience more than anything.