The Sentinal first graced the pages of Scootering Magazine back in 1988. Fast-forward and this classic is looking better than ever…
One thing I’ve come to realise is that the owners of high class customs are a breed apart. What separates them from other scooterists is an eye for detail and being satisfied with nothing less than perfection. A model example of the type is Gary Wickham. In 1984 he scraped together £800 to buy a nine-month-old P200E. It was the start of a love affair that’s seen its ups and downs, but three decades later Gary and The Sentinal are still going strong.
For those too young or too intoxicated at the time to remember, the 1980s custom scene was dominated by fantasy art. Whether that was because the superpowers of the day seemed intent on atomic war or due to the amount of narcotics consumed in the entertainment industry, the Eighties spawned a huge amount of fantasy-derived material. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the custom scene fully embraced the prospect of scantily-clad three-breasted warrior princesses riding tigers. For several years scooters such as World’s End, Road Warrior and Apocalyptic Prelude dominated every show they entered. It was against this background that Gary planned the scheme for his P2.
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Although The Sentinal has had several incarnations, the constant presence has been airbrush maestro John Spurgeon. “The first scheme had a loose theme based around Cerebos, Guardian of the Gates of Hell,” said Gary, “but in the main it was pure fantasy from John’s imagination.” Given the popularity of fantasy art at the time, The Sentinal had a surprisingly lukewarm reception on the 1986 show circuit. Riding home from Scarborough, that year’s final rally, The Sentinal broke down and suffered badly at the hands of the AA, falling down 11 times during the journey home. That winter, in addition to repairing the damaged murals, Gary raised The Sentinal’s profile by adding chrome and engraving. The next season The Sentinal achieved success but it was consistently beaten into second place by World’s End.
Many would have accepted this as being The Sentinal’s fate, but not Gary. “I thought the original panels were a little dark so in 1989 I asked John to rework them. I also wanted to change the leg-shield design but I was struggling for inspiration until I went to see The Wonder Stuff at Norwich Uni. The support act were Zodiac Mindwarp, I enjoyed their music but, particularly, the look of the lead singer. I thought it was perfect for The Sentinal and took the cover of their Tattooed Beat Messiah album to show John. He liked the idea and said that with a few tweaks it’d work well on the leg-shields.”
Incredibly, the leg-shield mural, painted in 1989, is still original. It’s never been resprayed or touched up. As The Sentinal has always been a ridden scooter, that’s quite an achievement.
Laid to rest and resurrection
For both Gary and The Sentinal the Nineties were a quiet time. In common with many scooterists Gary started a family and that, combined with pressures of work, meant scootering took a back seat. “I came close to selling it a few times,” said Gary. “When the family was young and money was tight it was difficult to justify keeping it, but I’m so glad that I managed to hang on.”
Gary never lost interest in scooters and in 2011 The Sentinal underwent another revamp. After decades in storage the scooter was looking worn, so John Spurgeon was again commissioned to rework the panels, toolbox and headset.
It’s worth pointing out that John consistently delivered on Gary’s requests throughout this project, in fact Gary still has the 1989 panels on display. It was his obsession with creating the perfect scooter that drove Gary on. “I was never really happy with the 2011 panels,” said Gary. “In 2015 I decided to do everything I’d always wanted to but either hadn’t got around to or couldn’t afford previously.” Once again the panels were dispatched to John and the engraving sent away for a rework. “Back in 1989 I should’ve used Don Blocksidge or Pete Robinson, but I stuck with a local engraver, which was a mistake.” He contacted Quality Chrome to ensure the plating was up to standard.
The growing appreciation for all things Eighties means The Sentinal is finally receiving the recognition it deserves, notably winning Best Custom Vespa in the unridden class at Bridlington last year, particularly impressive seeing as Gary rode it to and from the show. On the subject of riding, Gary has been loyal to Malossi for many years and he describes the current 210 set-up as: “Quick, nippy and reliable. The top speed’s 75 but it’s happiest cruising around 65.”
When asked if this is The Sentinal’s final incarnation Gary refuses to be drawn on an answer. Whatever the future holds one thing’s for certain, even if the rest of us think he’s already created a masterpiece, Gary’s quest for perfection will continue.
MAN & MACHINE
Name: Gary Wickham
Scooter club: Misdemeanours SC Lowestoft, VCGB, LCGB.
First became interested in scooters: Definitely wasn’t Quadrophenia!
First scooter: Purple PX125.
Favourite scooter model: Lambretta GP.
Favourite style of custom scooter: Full-blown custom.
First rally or event: Skegness 1983.
How did you get there: Good old Purple PX.
Worst rally: Morecambe in 1985. I hated every moment for some reason. I went back the following year to try it again but I was right! Ironically, the VFM Morecambe rally in 2015 had my scooter on its patch.
What’s the furthest you’ve ever ridden on a scooter: Scotland and Nequary.
Favourite custom scooter: Start Me Up. It has to be the best custom scooter ever. Also, it is owned by a top bloke.
Name: The Sentinal
Model: Vespa PX200.
Inspiration for project: Seeing scooters like Patriot Revenge etc.
Specialised parts or frame modifications: Cut out side panels, engraved copper engine cable covers, shaped cover plates on floorboards all made by myself.
Engine kit: Malossi 210, Crank: Vespa 60mm S/Pro, Carb: Malossi reed valve, 30mm Dellorto, Exhaust: JL, Clutch: Cosa clutch/SIP clutch basket, Gearbox: DRT fourth gear.
Porting & dyno by: JB Tuning.
Paint by: John Spurgeon.
Engraving: Most of it is by Don Blocksidge, although the late Pete Robinson did the forks.
Chrome: Quality Chrome.
Advice for someone starting a project: Think carefully about what you want, then set a budget and double it.
Thanks to: My wife Sharon and children Lucy and Tom for putting up with my nights in the garage and weekends away. Misdemeanours SC, every weekend away ends up messy. Quality Chrome, Don Blocksidge, John Spurgeon, Mark & Vicki, Rick & Jill, everybody who I’ve met in scootering over the years.
Photographs: Gary Chapman
Photographs: Gary Chapman
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