The second in our exclusive features on the UK scooter scene
If you are an Lambretta owner, the chances are you will be familiar with the British Lambretta Archive (BLA). This great service, founded by Pete Davies in 2002, provides invaluable support to members, a place to share experiences and an authentication service to people wanting to register a Lambretta, or Vespa, with the DVLA.
But, back in January 2018, a gap in the market was realised by co-worker and friend of Pete’s, Johnny ‘Lambrettista’ Walklate. A service was needed for people to verify the build month of their Lambretta against factory production records and thus, the Lambretta Frame Check was born!
Johnny is a self-confessed Lambretta anorak and has a serious collection of Lambretta memorabilia, as well as quite a collection of paperwork that didn’t exist in the BLA. A third generation Lambretta owner, Johnny spent time in Italy in his early 20’s where his passion for two wheels ignited, including the rarer Lambretta Autocycles.
We caught up with Johnny to find out more out the Lambretta Frame Check and how his collection of memorabilia has transformed into this great service.
Johnny, what started your passion for scooters?
My grandad and dad both had Lambretta’s, way back before I was born. For them it was exactly what the Lambretta was designed for, to get you from A to B. For me, however, it goes a bit deeper than just a way of commuting. It all really took off for me when I was living in Italy in my 20’s and the purchase of my first Lambretta whilst there.
What’s in your collection…
My collection is a little unusual. I have a fascination for the early models of Lambretta, along with the Junior models and the Autocycles. There is always that one guy in a scene that is known for a certain thing…I guess anyone mentioning Lambretta Autocycles will bring up my name!
Currently I have 4 production variants of the Lambretta 48 Autocycle (1955-1961), a 1950 Lambretta model B and 3 different Lambretta Luna Line (junior) models.
The model B is all 1940’s technology and a very late production example. There are not many of them in the UK but there are a few. Mine has previously won the best A/B model at the Euro Lambretta Rally in 2011.
The earliest autocycle from 1955 is quite a rare machine with some unique parts that were only used on the mark 1 first version machines; that covers approximately the first 2,000 machines produced. There really are only a handful of these early ones known to survive, so does take pride of place in my collection!
Of the Luna models, I have the second earliest known example to have left the production line. The documentation stated that this particular model was only to be made available in white, however, mine was produced in Orbit Orange and is currently the only known example produced in that colour for that particular model. Strangely enough, the other 2 survivors that are known from that first month of production were Aquamarine Blue. You can read my recent article about the Luna models in Issue 9 of Scooter Nova Magazine, which was part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Luna models. The Luna line machines were designed by the famous Italian design house Bertone and was the first ever 2 wheeled vehicle designed by them.
Which scooter have you put the most work into?
For years I have been involved with different aspects of scooters, including customs and restorations. I think that it is fair to say that I have put more time in to other peoples than my own!
Out of mine, I would say the early Autocycle. It was in such a sorry condition when I found it for sale in Italy. On its debut in a custom show, it came 3rd place up against some amazing machines built by the best of the best in the UK. I’m not a trophy hunter – I just appreciate showing my machines and hope that someone enjoys them for what they are. Without showing, there will be no shows for people to attend. Everything had to be period production perfect but not over done. You have to allow a bit of age and character to exist in my opinion.
Another restoration I did was my Yellow Lui 75S (Luna Line). I purchased the frame from Pete Davies, who had acquired it from a personal friend of his (the wife of a late great Lambretta enthusiast from Wigan called Eric Tudor). I set about the impossible task of locating every nut, bolt and washer, as well as a sack of hen’s teeth and restored the scooter in Eric’s memory. This scooter has picked up two 1st place trophies since its completion!
And money no object…
A small island off the Scottish coast with a little farm house, stables and out housing… off the grid and in total tranquillity. Along with my partner of course, our horses and my carriage for transport around the land. As long as the out buildings were big enough to house one of each model of Lambretta though… I’d say that would be me sorted! CL: That sounds perfect!
Tell us about the shows…
They tend to be most of the year round, from January through to the end of October. However for the past 3 years I have also exhibited at the NEC Classic Bike Show as part of the Awfully Pleasant Scooter Association. So that normally only gives me December as a show free month.
Our local vintage vehicle show in Hinckley has evolved in to a monster over the past 8 years. It’s great to show up and support this one – I always like to attend with something different… CL: we look forward to this show every year!
Bridlington is normally the end of season rally for me. I’m not a big drinker but it’s always a good weekend with friends and showcases the best of the best.
Bridlington 2018 was a particularly special show for me, to see a scooter that I have been a part of the restoration of for around 4 years on and off – it will blow scooter enthusiasts away when they see it! It’s owned by Jason Stephenson and called the ‘Wake’. It actually won best in show, best custom Lambretta, best custom chrome/engraving/plating and a 2nd place prize for best custom Lambretta GP Range. Fantastic results for a beautiful restoration of an 80’s iconic custom Lambretta. Back to its former glory, from an era when I wasn’t even 10 years old! Scooter Nova Magazine ran a feature on the Wake in issue 10 and then as a follow up have done a feature on me and the work I do on customising scooters in issue 11. Exciting 🙂
Talking of magazine features…
The yellow scooter to the right of the Wake is a Vespa called ‘Top Banana Re-Peeled’ and is also featuring a lot of my work – it too is a multiple trophy winner in the UK and Europe. Scooter Nova Magazine featured this in issue 4.
Another exciting feature was in issue 1 which featured ‘Dazzle’, an original 80’s custom scooter reborn again. Dazzle was originally built by the same guy that originally built Wake, again another multi award winning build in the national custom shows since its rebirth by Dizzy.
So, tell us about the British Lambretta Archive and how you got involved?
The British Lambretta Archive was founded in 2002 by Pete Davies; an authority and author on Lambretta, as well as a previous vehicle registrar for the Lambretta Club of Great Britain. The BLA is a club but with no committee, no fees – just like-minded individuals that share experiences and knowledge about anything and everything Lambretta.
I have gotten to know Pete personally over the years, sharing knowledge and information, and supporting the BLA at custom shows on club stands with both the BLA and Luna Owners Club (which Pete also runs). I have designed logos, t-shirts and stickers etc over the years for him and our friendship has grown from there. I assist with providing information for magazine articles and he will often set me a challenge to find information hidden away in our Archives!
Are the any rare models in the UK?
We keep a record of frame and engine numbers for rare machines that surface from time to time such as the Lambretta Li series 4 Register, or at least photographic documentation where possible. There are one or two extremely rare Lambretta models in the UK. One of them is a factory prototype 3-wheeler that was left in a factory building with all the blueprints, other important documentation and prototypes that the Indian government didn’t get in their purchase of Innocenti in 1972.
Not everything was saved, but Vittorio Tessera was gifted everything he could move from the Innocenti Family and it is now housed in a purpose-built museum in Milan, the home of Casa Lambretta and the Museo Scooter e Lambretta. Vittorio has since dedicated his life to remanufacturing components for all models. We cannot thank Vittorio enough for his dedication to the Lambretta world.
How did this lead to the Lambretta Frame Check service?
Well, through my own personal collecting of Lambretta memorabilia, I have amassed quite a collection of paperwork, a lot of stuff that Pete didn’t have in his archive. At the 2018 Newark Scooter World
Show back in January, I mentioned to Pete about setting up a service, where if someone would like to know a build month of their Lambretta they can ask us to check it for them against the factory production records.
So that’s how it started. The Lambretta Frame Check is a joint project that started out as a Facebook page where people could message privately, it’s a free service where we provide information only.
You must feel quite proud of the Lambretta Frame Check…
Yes, I can check any frame or engine number at any time for someone. It felt like a logical thing to do, to help other people, if it was something that could be provided, a way for me to utilise my archive and be involved with the BLA. I even have a digitised spreadsheet version of the production records on my phone that I made!
Where do you source the information?
All the information is taken from Innocenti documents which have taken years to collect. The thrill of trying to find new stuff is great, but the cost of some items is astronomical! There are probably a lot of rare items, such as an English language Model B user manual from 1948.
But some documents that we have in the archive are not publicly available. There is no actual catalogue of what manuals, catalogues etc were ever produced by Innocenti. I find myself searching daily for anything that I might have missed, never seen before, or I just don’t have yet. But without money nothing would be collected. I find myself too far in to building up my own collection that it would be silly to stop now, but I only have limited funds in which to buy items.
What’s the long term plan?
The aim of the frame check website will be to eventually showcase some form of catalogue of items for other interested enthusiasts and collectors. There are a few fake items on the market these days, some of them good, but if you’re paying top dollar for something then you’d want it to be an original print. This will clearly be very time consuming to catalogue and scan them all.
What caused you the biggest headache?
Compiling everything for the website! So far it is all just a basic frame work to build on. I have done the whole website myself, from the coding, artwork, structuring and content… 140+ pages so far and more to come.
What tips would you give the next generation wanting to get involved with the scooter scene?
The scooter scene has so many little niches, from scooter racing, rallies, custom shows, the music and friendships at every event. There are always multiple events, every weekend all over the country, and many events throughout Europe.
There are clubs dedicated to younger scooterists and they also write their own section in Scootering Magazine. There really is something for everyone in the scooter scene.
There is a wealth of knowledge out there and a scooter can be built on a budget. You don’t need thousands to build one! There is still the odd bargain purchase to be found. I have several friends that import scooters from Italy almost monthly and they always have reasonably priced projects for sale.
For £25 you can grab a copy of the latest Complete Spanners Manual by Sticky and learn all about the mechanics and building of a scooter. A must have book for any one that owns a Lambretta.
So, Johnny, what’s next for you?
Currently I am restoring a Lambretta Cometa for a friend. It’s is coming along nicely right now. After that, Pete has asked me to restore his Lui 50C. So, a busy winter for me! I do hope to start working through some new updates to the frame check website, but I am still on a mission to track down anything that I don’t have yet. Pete and I have been working on a follow up to the Lambretta Bible book, which is taking shape, but as we both have day jobs and families our projects get shelved from time to time. CL: We look forward to catching up with you at a show in 2019!
Johnny, thank you for chatting to us….