Introduction: "Quicksilver" Retro-Future Scooter From Appliances and Scrap Metal

Picture of "Quicksilver" Retro-Future Scooter From Appliances and Scrap Metal
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: to get a look at my other work and see how this beast fits into the bigger picture.

Step 1: The Carcass

Picture of 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

Picture of 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"

Picture of 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"

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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.


RoryW2 (author)2017-06-12

That is the coolest thing ever! I love it!

VasiliyZ (author)2015-06-26

hobbyman (author)2015-04-16

This is one of my all time favourite instructables. :)

curiosityband (author)2014-07-11

The Nixie tube speedometer BLOWS MY MIND!!

BobTheICM (author)2014-06-13

"Steampunk Vespa"

jawasan (author)2012-12-05


ArtificerMade (author)2012-09-30

In my own experience, people who buy and people who make are rarely the same people. Anything you see in my shop I will help you make.

wrsexton (author)2012-02-05

Call it what it is - dieselpunk. Wonderful! Retrofuture machine age style - definitely dieselpunk. We need more of this.

circuitmage (author)2011-11-01

OMG. The design is awesome. And the display is...WOW. Great work. One of a kind.

randomray (author)2011-10-15

Sweet ! The only thing you missed was making a faux after burner/ rocket on the back of it and I just put that down to personal taste .

Nuonaton (author)2011-08-14

Epic. That is all I have to say.

agis68 (author)2010-10-26

near to my house a street lamp is missing!!! Now I know where is gone!!! lol

Nice job...really shiny

wobbler (author)2010-09-16

"Now it is time to get back to making art"? I don't think you stopped making art. It looks to me like this IS art. Great Instructible.

towers (author)2010-08-01

Fantastic! When is the instructable for the ARM coming out?

Hubiewan (author)2010-01-21

Hubiewan says:
Love it!   Where did you find so much aluminum that had yet to be recycled?

nemomatic (author)Hubiewan2010-01-21

 I can't seem to get away from the stuff.  Got literally tons of it piling up.

Hubiewan (author)nemomatic2010-01-22

  I live north of Boston and, find it difficult to beat the other scroungers to the prize.  Lots of folks rely on scraps for extra dough.  Where are you located?

nemomatic (author)Hubiewan2010-01-23

 I'm in Oakland CA.  I've had to form relationships with the scrap yards out here.  They are all afraid of liability claims so it helps to show up with a hard hat and steel toe boots.

Soehave (author)2009-08-02

Amazing. really great work even down to the smallest detail. I like the way you did the dashboard. did you get the Nixie tubes to work?

nemomatic (author)Soehave2009-08-04

Yeah, thanks for reminding me. I just posted a photo of the finished panel on step 6.

Mtalus (author)2009-08-02

You guys are making me feel really lazy. All that I managed with my aero 80 was a headlight and instrument nacel from my old BMW. Now I feel that I have to swap it back and rework both bikes!

KentsOkay (author)2009-07-13

Dude that's frigen awesome! My bike's gota built in retro look, but this takes the cake!

tsaylor (author)2009-06-04

I'm surprised you didn't make sure it ran or at least almost ran before doing all that body work! Isn't that a big risk?

nemomatic (author)tsaylor2009-06-04

Yeah. That's the problem with attempting functional things when you are primarily an artist. I get into trouble that way often.

sabbott (author)2008-05-22

Wow, this is so cool! Love it. I am the proud owner of a new Vespa. I'm pretty happy with it, but this is just awesome.

I smell bacon (author)sabbott2009-04-14

What kind of Vespa do you ride?

sabbott (author)I smell bacon2009-04-15

It's an S150. Red, actually. There are some pics of it on an -ible I posted into the Green contest. Looking at your work again makes me inspired to try to make the cowling storage more functional, like maybe engineer a water bottle to fit. I'll visit your site to see your other stuff.

I smell bacon (author)sabbott2009-04-20

In Australia I have only seen the S125. Maybe they don't sell them here?

mcshawnboy (author)2009-01-09

Check out index for of Lakeville,MN about 3 years ago a fellow wanted the look of early HD bikes and built knock-offs out of metal tubing & painted 'em flat black. Love that paper! No ads & readers reccmd good products.

TheMadScientist (author)2008-08-16

its a lamp......

Golem100 (author)2008-05-15

Absolutely too frackin' awesome. Has a little bit of a steam punk look to it to my eye. Great job on the instructable too.

carpespasm (author)Golem1002008-08-04

While I see what you mean, I think this is more in line with the style of the 40s and 50s with everything being as smooth and metallic as can be. If there had been more rivets, brown leather, wood, and exposed metal tubing I'd call it steampunk. It looks amazing either way.

randempedestrian (author)2008-06-23

Amazing! Every attempt of mine to do this sort of thing on at any scale turns out "rigged" looking. 5/5 Props!

coffekid (author)2008-06-05

chevere!!! nice work,

nicko (author)2008-06-03
This has been done before on a motorbike by Chris (fixitsan) on the neonixie-l Yahoo! group. ISTR his experience was that nixies have a variety of mechanical failure modes that tend to manifest themselves as shorts between cathodes when used in this configuration, i.e. bumpy roads & nixies are not a good long-term bet. To reiterate, its not that they break (with the risk of mercury escaping - most nixies contain small amounts of mercury), its an internal failure that gets you. To Jiggsy - nixies can be very very cheap (USD 500 each) depending on size & rarity...
sharkbite1 (author)2008-04-25

Great Project

BrandcoIndustries (author)2008-01-10

Incredible! That thing is awesome. I did something very similar to my Honda Elite 80, although my is less curvy. Check it out.

That is wild! It makes me want to track down a bum scooter and trick it out. I thought the rivets were a nice touch. Very utilitarian. There is an Eastern Block Scooter that actually looked a lot like this. What did you use as the donor scooter. I wish that I was this cool with a MIG welder.

Thanks. It's a 1985 Honda Elite 80.

Whoa! That is awesome. I love it. I looked all over while I was doing this project to see what else was out there. I wish I found you then. Where are you located? We should dork up the streets!

Thanks. I only need a few more things to finish it. Yours has inspired me to complete mine. I'm in south Texas. If you're ever down this way, let me know. The Streets will be thoroughly dorked.

leebryuk (author)2008-02-18

I do not say this lightly, but that is the most ape shit cool instructable ever. And I mean ever. I dig the chopper helmet (but it won't help you in a crash) Absolutely amazing. I am stunned by your brilliance. I too wish to own a lambretta but am not going to pay $3,000 for an example in shit condition. And I agree on the performance. And finally, you have a great girlfriend. My formers would never tolerate all of this. Did you land this cutie while making your bike?

nemomatic (author)leebryuk2008-02-19

No. Met her while I was still an art student. This gave me the opportunity to come across as weird and pointless as I was ever going to be. Everything I've done since then seems very responsible by comparison.

FireBAT (author)2008-02-14

THAT is the most beautiful Elite scooter ever! Amazing!

clamoring (author)2008-02-13

Clever, creative, fabulous! +1

And congrats on the metafilter mention.

nemomatic (author)clamoring2008-02-13

Hey thanks, I didn't know about that post.

aquadave (author)2008-02-11

Dude, where can I get a sweatshirt like Wendell?

nemomatic (author)aquadave2008-02-11

I think you just wear a white sweatshirt for a while around some nuclear waste.

orpharion (author)2008-02-11

It's a wonderfully beautiful design that makes me think of something Buster Crabbe would ride to the Rocket Port in Flash Gordon. Thank you!

walkthewalk (author)2008-01-27


About This Instructable




Bio: I am a kinetic sculptor who works from found materials.
More by nemomatic:"Homunculus" Kinetic Robot sculpture from found materialsGiant Kinetic Praying Mantis Sculpture from found materials"Quicksilver" Retro-Future Scooter from appliances and scrap metal
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