Scootering classics: Triumph from Tragedy

There aren’t too many choppers with their roots in Mod culture but Stuart Dean’s Lambretta is a notable exception…

‘Twisted’ dampers are a hallmark of Gary Simpson chops.

The first thing people notice about Stuart Dean is that he’s one of the most open-minded people in British scootering. Racing, autos, choppers and Mod have all formed part of his life. “All that matters is that it’s done well,” he began. “If I’m going to ‘do’ Mod I do it wholeheartedly – tailored suits, handmade shoes and of course the best scooter accessories money can buy.” It was this obsession with detail and the building of an accessorised Vespa Sprint that would eventually lead to the stunning chopper pictured here. “I’ve seen plenty of superbly accessorised Lambrettas, but not so many Vespas,” Stuart explained. “I decided to put that right, took my time and hunted down the best period accessoriesI could find. Eventually I produced what I thought was a really good example of its type. The problem was that no-one seemed to agree with me. I thought that if I couldn’t build a good Mod scooter I ought to try my hand at building a chopper,” he laughed.

Unwelcome inspiration

At this point purists can relax, for Stuart isn’t a man who believes in destroying a perfectly good frame. In fact the basis for this project was an Li 150 that had already been converted in the workshops of well-known fabricator Gary Simpson. One advantage of purchasing a frame with such pedigree is confidence that its geometry is based on years of experience, not informed guesswork. The problem was deciding a theme; sadly inspiration came in a most unwelcome form. “John Hulme wasn’t only my brother in law, he was my best friend,” said Stuart. “He loved life and lived it to the full. When I took him to a scooter rally he fell in love with the entire scene, music, people and of course scooters. When we got home he asked me to build him a scooter. I promised that I’d sort something out for him once I’d finished the chopper. Sadly that was never to happen as he died suddenly and most unexpectedly. I’m not ashamed to say that I lost the plot for a while. When the fog started to clear I realised that the only thing we’re really short of is time, it catches up with us all eventually. I wouldn’t say that the build is a tribute to John, but it’s certainly inspired by his departure.”

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Although Stuart had a theme in mind, executing it was a different matter. “I knew the colours had to be black and gold,” said Stuart. “That’s a scheme I associate with old British motorcycles, it’s both classy and classic.” Clocks were an obvious way to represent the passage of time but the use of wrist watches as cable ties is inspired, although as Stuart pointed out only one of them works. “The rest are set at five minutes to nine, the time I received the phone call to say that he’d died.”

Custom motorcycle parts from Panic Cycles in Texas.

Work in progress

Unusually for Scootering magazine what you see here isn’t by any means the finished article. The concept of ‘dry building’ is well known but Stuart’s taken it to an entirely new level. “A chopper is an entirely different beast to a full bodied scooter,” he began. “There’s a risk to bringing so many specialist parts together. The only way to know if a chopper really works is to ride it for a while.” Being something of a perfectionist, running it as a rat was never an option for Stuart, fortunately hydrodipping is an ideal compromise between cost and practicality. “I laid the base paint with rattle cans after which Liquid Customs applied gold flake clear coats and the hydrodipped clock design. Final touches in the form of gold leaf and pin-striping were courtesy of Phil Applegate at The Monster Forge.”

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It’s an unusual and not inexpensive approach to ‘shakedown’ but one that Stuart doesn’t regret. “The tank has been a nightmare. It was pressure tested before painting but once fuel went in it started leaking. Each subsequent repair also passed pressure testing but it’s taken several attempts to cure the leak. I dread to think how much money I’d have wasted by going straight to the final scheme.” Stuart’s closely guarding details of the final scheme but its details are currently being worked through with a young airbrush artist called Lewis Williams who’s gathered a strong following in the North West’s Harley-Davison scene.

It’s all about detail

There’s no dispute that Time Will Pass You By has a very strong look but when Stuart’s asked about any steampunk influences he laughs before answering, “Not at all, but I can see why people think that. The under tank brass fire extinguisher prompts a lot of those comments but it’s purely practical. One downside of choppers is their lack of storage capacity. The old pump action fire extinguisher is perfect for storing and dispensing two-stroke!” Although Quality Chrome were involved in providing some brightwork, incredibly there’s no brass plating anywhere on the chopper. It’s all solid metal. In another example of his attention to detail there’s not a visible thread to be seen anywhere as they’re all covered in some way or other. Another expensive exercise was masking the control cables. “I’ve used brass braided outers imported from the States that cost £90 for a five foot length. I’ll leave you to do the maths!”

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Fire extinguisher is a neat oil dispenser.

Based around an RT195 kit breathing through a 30mm Dellorto PHBH, it’s still being run in but so far it seems to be very reliable. Eagle eyed readers may have noticed the exhaust which is an original 1980s over kickstart Fresco. “It came from eBay,” said Stuart, “and was far from being new old stock. The money spent getting it back to serviceable condition could’ve bought any performance exhaust on the market but it was worth it. There’s nothing like that Fresco sound!”

Whether it’s clothing, music or scooters the Mod movement is all about detail. With that in mind perhaps a chopper with Mod origins is well overdue. It just took someone like Stuart to make the leap.

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Name: Stuart Dean
Town: Liverpool.
Scooter club: Lambretta Chopper Owners Club.

First interest in scooters: Mod revival of 1979.
First scooter: Vespa 90, PKD 144M!
Favourite scooter model: Love pre PX Vespa but couldn’t live without Lambretta.

Favourite style of scooter: Anything that’s done well.
Funniest experience with a scooter: Riding home at 1am with the headlight in my parka pocket after crashing into the back of a bus. How I never got stopped by the police is beyond me.

Stuart’s under-appreciated Sprint.

Name: Time Will Pass You By.
Model: Lambretta Li150 (1966).
Time to build: Two and a half years by me.
Engine build: Harry Barlow.
Engine spec: RT195, 30mm Dellorto PHBH, under kickstart Fresco exhaust.

Stickers hide a few blemishes.

Paint: Liquid Customs and Monster Forge.
Specialist parts: The frame, Gary Simpson. Front forks, yokes, exhaust heat shields, mudguard stays, MLH Engineering. Foot gear change MLS Precision Engineering.
Chrome: Quality Chrome.
Engraving: Kevin Adams.

Stuart Dean, modernist and perfectionist.

Thanks to: Harry Barlow at H-bomb Scooters, Pete Merchants at Soley Scooters, Chris at MLS Precision Engineering, Mark at MLH Engineering, James at Liquid Customs, Mat Caulfield at Caulfield Leather.

Words: Stan
Photographs: Gary Chapman

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