>Cats and dogs. Apples and Oranges. Lambretta and Vespa. Sort of the same, and also completely different. I love walking, but when I set off on a ride, I don’t want to complete the journey on foot or sit in the kerb waiting for Carole Nash to arrive. That’s why I own Vespas.
A Lambretta rider will invariably be wearing a pair of walking boots and the facial expression of someone expecting bad news. It’s not that they are inherently unreliable, just that they demand a lot more TLC than a comparable Vespa. Consequently, there are far more vintage Vespas on London’s roads than their Milanese cousins. Last night I stopped to help the rider of a smart Series One who had pulled up on Mile End road. His spare wheel, fitted inside the legshield, had fallen off and he was strapping it to his carrier with a clutch cable. “I ride it every day from Camberwell to Chigwell” he beamed; “It never lets me down” – ignoring that fact that it it er, had just let him down. Perhaps more than any other vehicle, Lammys inspire an affection and loyalty bordering on the psychopathic. That’s why there’s a Lambretta Museum in Weston-Super-Mare, which we visited after Ilminster.
The Lambretta Museum started off as Weston Scooter Parts, run by Nigel Cox. Cox had been buying up Lambretta parts, memorabilia and even the stocks of whole dealerships since the early 70s, when nobody really wanted them. At first it was just as a collector, but he opened up as a dealer in 1986, with his collection on display in part of the shop. He retired a couple of years ago with the shop’s stock going to Marco and Steve at Scooter Emporium and the museum being sold to local boys Scooter Products. It’s now the largest collection in the world – literally every inch is cluttered with parts, stickers, ephemera, posters, point-of-sale displays, badges and of course, scooters – a couple of dozen of ’em – including my favourite Lambretta, the Dennis The Menace-esque Rallymaster.
A lot of the scooters here are ultra rare, many with zero mileage or fitted with hens-tooth accessories. Cox had the foresight to hoover this stuff up in the days when Lambretta scooters were seen as anachronisms and parts and accesories were being scrapped, burned, buried or even dumped at sea by the ton. He was one of the first to visit Italy in the dark days when Lambretta dealerships were closing and could pick up a whole shop’s stock for a song. Originally, there was at least one example of each Lambretta model from 1947 to 1971 – including the very last one to roll off Innocenti’s production line in the days when it was owned – of all people – by British Leyland. Apparently, Cox kept this one and a few other models for himself when he retired – can’t say I blame him. Despite my earlier comments, I’d love a Lambretta to sit alongside my Vespas – and if Waltham Forest council hadn’t dumped a third wheelie bin on us, I might have actually had the room.