Scootering classics: Evolution

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise… ‘Wild Thing’ is back and better than ever.

Some scooters enter their first show fully formed, perfect from the outset. ‘Start Me Up’ is an example that springs immediately to mind. Others mature like fine wine, evolving with contemporary tastes and that’s certainly true about ‘Wild Thing’, one of the most distinctive custom scooters of all time. For almost 30 years it’s been in the hands of its creator Pietro ‘Was’ Wasyliw, but it now has a new keeper, Keith Turner, although surprisingly he was initially a reluctant owner. “I’ve known Waz for years explained Keith. “We’ve a common interest in scooters and I always enjoyed looking at Wild Thing on display in his pub. When Waz gave up the tenancy he decided it was time to sell Wild Thing and gave me first option. Quite honestly it wasn’t my thing. I prefer standard scooters and Wild Thing is the furthest away from that as it’s possible to get!

Original chrome still peeps through the paint.

“Once it went on eBay I had a change of heart. I’d never have the chance to own such an iconic scooter again and we came to a price.”

Wild Thing’s new curator Keith Turner.

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Establishing a pedigree

‘Iconic’ is a much overused term but it fits Wild Thing perfectly. First hitting the custom scene in 1987 it was a very different beast to that seen today. Although the theme was similar, its execution was very different. The original paint was by Ian King at JGS and was more mural based with big cats and a female face emerging from the animal skin backdrop. The engraving by Don Blocksledge was minimal and chrome was restricted to the usual suspects of tank, chain-case and exhaust. If the ‘Bet Lynch’ animal print paint didn’t set it apart from the crowd there was one feature that created more conversation than anything else: its headset. In keeping with the animal theme the headlight emerged from the jaws of a lion’s head that had been modelled in fibreglass. Love or loathe it there’s no denying that it was a jaw-dropping innovation. In this form Wild Thing secured several trophies before being subjected to a complete makeover in the new millennium. It’s reputed that this incarnation cost Waz around £12k, a not inconsiderable sum but what emerged was a totally different beast.

Although its distinctive headset remained, the paint was entirely reworked with what was then a ground-breaking technique that allowed chrome to ‘burst through’ the top coat. This effect was a collaboration between the late Peter Robinson, who was responsible for both the plating and engraving and Martin Sparks who applied the new livery. Collectors of custom show trivia may want to note that the rebuild also incorporated some components from Rhapsody in Blues, further enhancing Wild Thing’s pedigree.

Altogether five different ‘skins’ were woven into the theme, the majority being ‘stitched’ together, while a snake effect wound along the frame tube. Surprisingly, given the cost of this refurbishment, Wild Thing made relatively few show appearances. Life as a publican isn’t the easiest of lives and Waz simply didn’t have the free time. As a consolation Wild Thing could often be found on display at his pub, The Eight Bells at Bolney, arguably making it one of the most accessible custom scooters anywhere on the circuit.

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Like many of us, Wild Thing’s spent most of its life in a pub.

Enhanced DNA

“I’m not a fan of scooters that can’t be ridden” said Keith. “When I bought Wild Thing it was always with the intention of riding it, something that hadn’t been done for many years. Although the engine started it wasn’t a smooth runner and the plating looked tired.” With a full overhaul required, Wild Thing was despatched to Ell’s Speed Tuning on the Isle of Wight, where Andrew took responsibility for the refurbishment.

Engraving by the late, great Pete Robinson

Keith took delivery of Wild Thing early this summer and it’s probably covered more miles since then than in the preceding three decades. “I never expected it to become my main ride,” laughed Keith, “but at the moment it’s the only one of my scooters that’s reliable enough to use regularly. Overall it’s very pleasant to ride but I have to be careful on left handers as the exhaust doesn’t give too much clearance!”

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Chrome may not get you home but it gets you noticed.

Free to roam

One thing that hasn’t survived this latest incarnation is Wild Thing’s most distinctive feature, the moulded lion’s head. “I thought long and hard about that but I just couldn’t live with it.” Nestled away in Keith’s garage are the two helmets sprayed by Ian King back in 1988 and these are now the only substantial remains of Wild Thing’s original incarnation. Removing the lion’s head wasn’t a popular decision with Waz but it does simplify Wild Thing’s line, making it leaner and more streamlined. It’s also fair to say that Graham at Resolution in Reading has made a fantastic job of matching the new headset top’s paint to the original scheme. Although in both Waz and Keith’s eyes it remains ‘Wild Thing 2’, it’s arguable that this is its third incarnation. Like the animals it portrays Wild Thing continues to evolve and has seen most of its contemporaries scrapped or broken for parts. Survival of the fittest indeed.

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MAN & MACHINE

Name: Keith Turner
Job: Garage owner.
When did you first become involved in scooters: 1980 Mod revival.

First scooter: Li150 Series 3.
Favourite scooter model: SX200.
Favourite style of scooter: Standard.
First rally: Bournemouth 1980.

Headset is the greatest change on this build.

Name: Wild Thing 2.
Type: GP200.
Built by: Pietro ‘Waz’ Wasyliw, refurbishment by Ell’s Speed Tuning.
Paint: Ian King/Martin Sparks/Graham at Resolution.

Engraving: Peter Robinson.
Brightwork: Peter Robinson/Quality Chrome.
Engine: GT200, Stage 4 tuned with bespoke exhaust.
Anyone you’d like to thank: Was for selling me the scooter and Andrew at EST Tuning for returning her to her former glory.

It’s never been hidden but in Keith’s hands gets ridden.

BRINGING IT BACK TO LIFE

Based just outside Cowes on the Isle of Wight, Andrew ‘Elliot’ Davis and team at Ell’s Speed Tuning (EST), have a rapidly growing reputation for sensibly priced, high quality restorations and servicing. As Elliot explained, Wild Thing was one of their more straightforward projects. “Wild Thing’s never had anything more than a very gentle tune,” he began. “The set-up is very old school, something Keith was very keen to retain.” He began “Fortunately the engine was in good condition and required little more than a deep service. Although the paint was all very stable we made the decision to send most of the plated parts up to Quality Chrome and they’ve done their usual excellent work at restoring the brightwork.

“Unfortunately there is a very small amount of rust in one of the leg-shields chrome panels. Beyond cleaning and stabilising it there was very little we could do without compromising the scooter’s integrity. Fortunately it’s only obvious on very close examination. We’ve had quite a few classic customs through our workshop, but Wild Thing’s probably one of the most recognizable. It was a pleasure to work on it.”

Words: Stan
Photographs: Gary Chapman

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