Amidst a recent gold rush of iconic scooters reappearing, don’t forget to pay homage to those that never left our sight.
Many of the nostalgic customs I have featured over the years are either in mothball or only come out for the odd ride-out/local event. Some treasures, though, are hidden away in plain sight, and have been a constant offering on the custom scene for decades. Hard to Handle is one such diamond.
Owner Nigel Smith has been constantly improving and embellishing his ride since the late ’90s. A chop in the true ’80s style, HTH is a showpiece for not only Nigel’s vision, but also the craft of master engraver Don Blocksidge.
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These days, people seem happy to throw vast amounts of money around to unveil a ‘finished’ machine. However, when I first delved into the customising ‘drug’ during the ’80s, custom scooters evolved over several months, and even years.
With numerous shows and rallies throughout the year, and without the dreaded Internet, part of the main lure of customising was to spot these improvements as they happened. Hard to Handle embodies this ethos.
Owner’s Name: Nigel Smith
Scooter Club: Burton Brewers Scooter Club
Scooter Name: Hard to Handle – I’m sure you can guess why!
Year originally built: This version 1998
Paint (Artist): Simon Clark of Colchester. I left it with Simon and told him that he could do what he wanted with it. The paint job is still incredible, but it might soon be time for a refresh, so watch this space.
Base Model: Lambretta SX150
Chrome/Engraving: Chrome by Karl & Keith from Quality Chrome in Hull. Engraving by Don Blocksidge from Worcestershire.
What condition/age was the base model when you got it: I bought it as an unfinished project already chopped. It was in poor condition – no lights, nothing! It was a non-runner with a poor white-pearl paint job. I had it all done up and then came off it, in front of everyone.
The accident smashed the headlight and carburettor, and destroyed my pride! After that, I stripped it down and then got to work on what you see here. It’s taken a few years, though.
What have you had done to it or plan to do since owning it: Everything! It’s always ongoing. I keep changing things, including swapping some of the chrome for gold and a bit more fabrication. I’m always looking for something different, replacing standard parts with something a bit more interesting and custom.
Interesting Facts: One time I remember the chain guard coming off going down the A38 at 65-70mph, and it instantly locked the back wheel. A car nearly hit me, but I managed to pull over. It was rattling like a tin can.
I got it home and took the engine apart, only to see it all chewed up.I was glad to see that day end. Now that tax discs are no longer required, I had one made out of brass and engraved by a precision machine. The information on it is as it was on the original tax disc back in the day.
Everything (well, 99%) that can be engraved has all been done by hand. Don has been engraving for me since 1998, and I won’t let anyone else do it for me. Although Don is 80-something now, Hard to Handle wouldn’t be the same without him.
I didn’t always plan to do a chop, but it was the only thing I could afford at the time. I think I got it for about £400. I wouldn’t have another one though, as I don’t have the space.
Do you still do rallies: Now and then, when I get time off work.
What other scooters do you own: Hard to Handle is one of seven Lambretta scoots I own, so I’ve got one for every day of the week, although this is my only chop.
The rest of the gang are a Lambretta TS1 225cc in British Racing Green, a Lambretta LI125 in factory white, 1963, fully restored to as it was when it left the factory; 1967 Lambretta SX150 in white; 1970 Lambretta DL-GP150 in red; and a Italian Lambretta DL-GP150 with 225 engine.
I’m in the process of building number seven, ‘Hard to handle 2’, which should be completed in the first half of the year. It’s a custom series2 150cc, 1959, and is currently at the paint shop. More info coming soon.
Funny ’80s scootering stories: Some crazy memories of rallies in the ’80s. Turning up to Scarborough with mates and then being thrown off the pier into the sea. No dry clothes and no money for a B&B.
I wasn’t going to any custom shows back then, so it was all about just going and having a great time. My first scooter was a Jet200, which I kitted out with a bunch of lights and mirrors… a proper mod. This was back when fish & chips were about 20 pence, though!
Favourite Event Ever: Scarborough, 1980s
Favourite Custom Scooter Ever: ‘Time, Trouble, Money’ – a Lambretta legend! Anything else you’d like to add or think is relevant: I’d like to thank Karl & Keith for the chrome, Don for the engraving, Si Clark for the paint job, and everyone else who has helped me over the years.
To anyone else who is thinking about their own custom chop or scooter, I’d say make sure you have a fat bank account, and be prepared to wait for your parts to come back! It can take months, but in the end it’s worth the wait.
Thank you Nigel, for giving us your beautiful chop. Next month, an ‘Oi’ inspired heavyweight…
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