Scooterworks UK

London, England

Most scooter enthusiasts know the story of Piaggio developing the Vespa after World War II as a means of affordable transportation to aid in the re-construction of war torn Italy.  The industrial history of the Piaggio Company actually began sixty years earlier in 1884 when they started making interiors, cabinets and fine woodwork for luxury liners and other sailing ships.
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Scooterworks across the Pond
By Alan Dollar

Has everyone heard of Scooterworks, in Chicago?  They have been around forever.  There is another Scooterworks, in London, as well.  There is no connection between the two except that they share the same passion for getting Vespas back on the road.

In anticipation of our upcoming vacation to Scotland and England, I jumped on the Internet to contact anyone I could find there who had anything to do with scooters.  Not much luck.  A place called Scooterworks UK had a nice web site and the owner wrote back inviting me to visit his shop when I arrived.

Traveling by the London underground is the only way to go!  From the hotel, I was within walking distance of the shop in a matter of minutes.  Soon I spotted the familiar sight of vintage Vespa cowls along the sidewalk.  

A dilapidated looking Vespa in front of the shop contrasted the beautiful red SS90 in the front window.  It turns out the beat up looking Sportuque out front belongs to the owner of Scooterworks UK, Craig Odwyer. He built it with a rugged suspension and P200 engine.  He has ridden the beast more than 100,000 kilometers!  Craig still has a goal of making a Vespa trip though Europe, Africa and back to New Zealand.    

Scooterworks UK is a cool little scooter shop and café.  Craig collects vintage coffee machines and has a small café serving cappuccino among the display of Vespas, t-shirts and memorabilia.  His fiancé, Fifi, handles the sales and café while Craig overseas the workshop and frequent travels to Italy.

After a long visit, Craig said he was going to his workshop soon and invited me to go with him.  I could later catch the underground near the workshop that would get me to my hotel in minutes.  OK let’s go!

Along the way, Craig stopped under a train overpass in a desolate area. He unlocked the huge metal door and fired up a generator, powering one tiny light bulb.  It illuminated a horde of complete and partial Vespas and body parts, wall to wall.  He explained that he had to empty the entire storage room in the next thirty days, as the owner wanted the space back.  He made it clear he would deal on anything of interest.  I was already interested in a complete 1951 Vespa fender light he had described that was waiting at the workshop.  I could hear my wife’s voice in my head, “don’t buy and scooters”

Craig answered his cell phone repeatedly as we he drove across London.  Speaking sometimes in English and sometimes in Italian, his patience with each customer was admirable.

I thought I was getting used to the English accents; however, Craig’s was puzzling, until he told me he was from New Zealand.  There he had completed airline mechanics school and was working on Vespas engines as well. 

He came to England fifteen years ago. Upon arriving, he bought a Vespa in pieces for 50 pounds and rebuilt it.  He then set off for Eurovespa in Italy.  Upon arriving, he found his schedule was  screwed up and he was a month late.

While having lunch at a street café, a small group of Vespa riders who were on a run joined him. He took off with them on their Vespa ride.  The adventure led to a six-month stay consisting of lots of rides, working on Vespas and learning the Italian language.

He arrived back in England completely broke with only one possession, his Vespa.  Fifteen years later he is a successful entrepreneur and premier Vespa restorer.  Among his personal collection are four 1950’s Vespa fender lights, four SS90s, three super sprints, GS VS1 and VS3, a custom GL, a 180 and SX200.
The Scooterworks UK workshop employs three full time mechanics working six days a week.  Mr. Odwyer boasts of getting about 2000 scooters back on the road through repair or full restorations.

In a large storage room adjacent to the workshop, I spotted the fender light Craig had told me was for sale.  He had bought it in Italy and planned to restore it and add it to his collection.  1951, was the first year an accessory speedometer was available, and this scooter had one.

We dug it out from among all the other scooters and it started right up.  It is the oldest scooter I had ever ridden.  I shouldn’t have but I bought it!  With the weak dollar against the English pound and the cost of shipping, it is something I will never do again. It was an anxious train ride back to the hotel as I anticipated how I would tell the wife about my new acquisition.  It all worked out, although I am probation prohibiting me from buying a scooter for one year!  It is worth it.  That ‘51 fender light sure does look good in my garage!

Craig Odwyer is devoted to repairing and restoring Vespas and keeping them on the road.  His passion reminds me of the many dedicated scooter people I have met here in the good old USA! 

If you are in London, stop by for a visit and a cappuccino!!

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updated 6/27/05