Rob Miller opened Simply Retro in 2015 and since then he’s been involved in producing some fantastic custom and restoration scooters. We sent Stu Smith to check out what Rob’s been up to…
Rob explained that as a teenager he’d been lucky where he lived in Stapleford because it was close to the previous site of the Midland Scooter Centre, which helped him take his first steps in scooter mechanics. After youthful beginnings, in 1988 he stepped up a gear and bought himself a brand new Vespa T5, which he developed into the stunning custom scooter ‘Shame’. The scooter was based on the band the Eurythmics and was a cover/centrefold feature scooter in Scootering in 1991. The development of ‘Shame’ introduced Rob to the deeper elements of scooter builds and customisation, which forged him with connections to specialists such as John Spurgeon, who he’d commissioned to complete the artwork, Pete Robinson who did the chrome and Don Blocksidge who was responsible for the engraving.
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Through the years Rob’s been an active rally going scooterist. He’s owned both Vespas and Lambrettas, he’s been a member of Throttle Happy SC and Calverton Hornets SC, and he now rides as an independent rider with Britannia SC.
The man has an encyclopaedic mechanical knowledge and as his career progressed he successfully worked for 15 years in two large scooter outlets, which served to develop his understanding of the business side of matters. As a result in 2015 while he was on holiday and after a lot of thought Rob decided that he would take the plunge and set up his own business. He said: “I realised I’d already got a good level of a customer base from some of the work I’d been doing at home and things were beginning to snowball. If I was going to make a go of it on my own I had to get some premises up and running quickly to keep the momentum going forward.”
Arriving back from holiday, Rob began to look for some suitable business premises and in particular he had his eye on some units near to where he lived. He made some contact with the site owner, none were available but then only a few days later Rob received a call back from the site owner telling him that one of the units he was after had just come vacant, he jumped at the chance and ‘Simply Retro’ was established.
Rob’s speciality is top-quality restorations. He said: “It’s my favourite style of restoration. I like putting things back to how they should be, but don’t get me wrong I do like custom scooters.” Rob’s attitude is not cynical in any way, shape or form; his approach is skilled, knowledgeable and constantly positive. His approach to customers is transparent and he gives open, honest and well-informed advice to customers about their intended projects. Rob said, “If they’re not happy, I’m not happy. It has to be spot-on.”
When a project arrives at Simply Retro it’s stripped down completely. During this initial phrase, with a critical eye Rob checks over the scooter and examines it for any parts which are in need of replacement or are showing signs of wear. All the parts are then sorted out for either chrome or zinc plating. The body panels are bead-blasted to bare metal and any welding which is needed is carried out. Then, before the scooter goes to paint, it is dry-built to make sure everything fits perfectly and to see that there are no gaps in the panels/runner-boards, etc. When this process is complete the bodywork is then sent over to Terry Chambers at Racepaint UK or to Matt Sutton at I-paint to do the rest. Rob explained, that when parts need to be replaced they are replaced with new, or best quality used originals. Original parts which have been removed from the scooter are always handed back to the owner when the build is finished.
Rob explained that at present he has approximately 18 bike-builds on the books; all of which are at various stages of completion and he aims to complete a bike-build every month. He said: “Restoration work is something which cannot be rushed. If a customer wants a bike restoring to how it came off the production line then they have to be patient and may have to wait for up to a year for the bike to be completed.
If the customer changes their mind they can take it away and the next person moves up the list.” Jokingly he added: “And the customer has up to a year to break the news to their partner!”
Simply Retro’s bespoke tuning work is handled by Richard Folkes-Smith of RFS tuning, Grimsby. Richard is mainly contacted to deal with matters surrounding specific customer issues based on the style and level of tuning the customer is seeking to achieve. Whether it’s full-on performance, cruising reliability, torque or pulling power, Richard is always on hand and able to deal with the matter. Rob explained that he himself takes care of the less complex tuning matters such as gas flowing and engine/ cylinder profiling. If an upgraded kit is being fitting to the scooter, Rob will complete this process and set up the gearing to suit the power and performance of the scooter.
While I was at Simply Retro, Rob was working on a TV200 ‘scratch-build’, which if it ends up looking anything like the factory restoration SX200 he recently completed for a customer from Blackpool is going to look stunning. Rob explained that a ‘scratch build’ is exactly what is it says it is; a build from scratch. As an example, the current TV200 project had started life as a cut-down TV frame. Rob had welded back on the previously removed rear struts and added a new frame loop. In the meantime, the engine was being worked on and the parts and panel work was progressing.
In the workshop, by the side of the TV200, was an RB240 Lambretta which was being serviced and given a general check. Also in the unit were several other scooters, which were awaiting collection by their owners having received various upgrades and repairs.
Over the years and to the present date Rob has been involved in the production of some absolutely stunning custom and restoration scooters. Another top-quality project, which he had just started was Sean Pedelty’s Lambretta GP – ‘Nike 2’, which is a reworked version of Jeremy Howlett’s amazing Nike racer. Rob said “It’s another job I feel honoured to be involved in. The scooter incorporates a heavily modified Dave Webster hand-built TS1 kit, which is currently over with Richard Folkes-Smith to match it up to the engine casing. It also runs on a one-off hand-built DJ exhaust, 34mi1 Dellorto carb; and MSC close-ratio gearbox.”
Rob Miller is earning a reputation as a top restoration specialist and Simply Retro is firmly established in the scootering scene. As a result, Rob is now planning to make some upgrades; an additional room at the side of the current main workshop is being considered, which will be used exclusively for rebuild and restoration processes. Simply Retro is located centrally in the country, it’s within easy reach of the motorway network and with the top-quality work which Rob is producing, I’m sure he will continue to go from strength to strength.
• Rob’s early mechanical knowledge developed from his interest in BMX bikes.
• Between 1983 and 1984 Rob built bikes for the Raleigh sponsored BMS ‘Freestyle’ rider Alan Sibley.
• Rob’s been involved in the scootering scene in Nottingham since he was a kid. He bought his first scooter, a Vespa 50 Special when he was 14, which he bought in secret from his parents. Rob kept the scooter at his best buddy, Sean Dewis’s house (Sean can be seen on the front cover of Scootering in 1991 with Rob). Rob tinkered about with the scooter but it never saw the road.
• Rob built his first scooter engine (with the help of Sean) at the age of 14 (Vespa Rally 180).
• When Rob turned 16 his dad bought him his ‘legitimate’ 50 Special.
Words & Photographs: Stu Smith
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