Monday, July 7, 2008

Free at Last, Free at Last, my Shifter Tube is Free at Last

This Fourth of July weekend I spent a little time working on the VBB, and had some unexpected success. I finally was able to remove the shifter tube from the headset! Very exciting -- I worked at it for weeks and finally gave up, thinking I'd just buy a used one somewhere. But the few I were able to find cost a LOT, so I figured I'd give it one more try, using some suggestions that the guys on ScooterBBS gave me.

Here's what finally worked. I removed the handgrip, then clamped the headset in my vice (protecting it with wood blocks over the metal vice faces), with the shifter tube pointing up. Then I doused it in PB Blaster (which I had been doing for the last month or so), and started heating up the headset with a blowtorch in the section where the shifter tube was. Including inside the headset. And I mean really heated it up -- smoke was coming out the top of the tube! I squirted more PB Blaster in there (fun when it catches on fire). Then I put a 2x6 into the headlight opening of the headset (for leverage), and used a pipe wrench on the shifter tube. (Yeah, I was worried about scratching it up, but then figured it's worthless if I can't get the tube out, no matter how pretty it looks!) So using the 2x6 to keep it from turning in the vice, I cranked on the pipe wrench. And finally, slowly, it moved! Yay!

So I worked it back and forth like that with the pipe wrench till it was moving a little more freely, then forced a screwdriver gently under the flange that holds the clutch lever to pry it up, and was able to get it to start extracting. Once I got it out about 1/2 inch, then I was able to grab the tube by hand (using a rag to keep from burning my hand -- it was still hot) and pull it all the way out.

It was pretty rusted at the outermost part of the tube that was still inside the headset, which I guess makes sense. But mostly surface rust -- I was able to sand it off with emery paper and now it moves smoothly in the headset. The inside of the headset is fine, no corrosion there (gotta love aluminum or whatever it's made of).

So now I am ready to believe that completing this project is actually possible! Hopefully this week we'll be able to rebuild the front fork, then start on the fuel system (pulling and cleaning the gas tank, etc.). More later. Thanks for reading!


Friday, June 27, 2008

Front End Work

Still catching up on work already done...

Removing and Rebuilding the Front End

Okay, now on to removing and rebuilding the front end. I'm still waffling on the decision to do the body work now, or reassemble and ride first, but the front end and headset work will need to be done regardless.

Removing the Headset

First step was to remove the headset. Remove the two screws underneath, attaching the headlight. Oops, one broke off -- but I should be able to drill it out later. Then pull off the headlight. As you can see from the pic, the glass lens broke a few decades ago, sitting out in the rain the reflector rusted pretty badly, and the chrome ring is pretty bent and pitted. It will all need to be replaced. I found some plastic lenses, but I would rather have the glass for more authenticity so I'll keep searching.

Looking inside the headset was amazing -- talk about cobwebs and dirt! How did that all get in there? Oh well. Time to remove the headset, by unscrewing the center screw on bottow, allowing the speedometer to be pushed up. Undo the "gland nut" (What the?) and remove the speedometer. Then unattach the brake cable.

To get off the headset, gotta get all those cables out. Remove bolt inside the throttle tube, remove the switch box (remember the connections!), then unhook all the cables from the levers and remove them, and slide the unattached headset off of the front fork tube. Finally, just slide out the clutch and throttle tubes from the cast aluminum headset. Ummm.... wait, it's stuck! After applying liberal doses of PB Blaster (I love that stuff) to the throttle tube, I'm able to remove it (in fact it just falls out), but the clutch tube is totally stuck. I finally resort to propping the headset up on blocks of wood and hamering at the flange where the shift lever attaches, and it turns. But it's just the alumininum flange turning on the throttle tube -- the tube will NOT budge in the headset! This is where I'm stuck. We tried heating it with a blowtorch, dousing it with WD40 and PB Blaster, but it just doesn't budge. And I haven't seen any headsets for sale for an affordable price. DARN. But don't panic, we'll get it eventually. Just not now...

Removing the Front Fork

I dont' know why it's called a fork, since it is an offset tail-dragger design and not a fork. But that's what everyone else calls it. Anyway, the first thing to do is remove the front wheel, to give room to pull out the fork and to reduce the weight. Four screws do it -- I love my air-hammer, just zips them off!

Next we undo the lock nut on top of the tube -- placing a screw-driver in the notch and tapping the screwdriver gently with a hammer. The nut unscrewed pretty easily. The manual said to watch out for the loose ball-bearings to fall out of the top, but to my suprise there were NO BALL BEARINGS! And no lower race either, it seems. From the gouge marks on the inner tube, I'm guessing the last guy to take it apart just didn't bother to replace them. Grrrr. Something else I'll have to locate and replace. (I've heard that you can substitue in a captured-ball-bearing race from a P-series, I'll look into that). Now gently drop the front fork out of the body, watching out for the 19 ball-bearings floating in the lower race. Yep, there were 19, and they look in good shape.

Removing the Fender

Next step is to remove the poor beat-up front fender. The bolts were pretty rusted on, but some squirts of PB Blaster and some sweat got them off. Three bolts on top, and two screws on the side. Then remove the lower bearing race by tapping on the dust cover with a cold chises, round and round. Got it off, no problem. Then the fender slips off.

The fender is really beat up -- from running into things, I presume. I will probably replace it with a newly manufactured one, although I've heard that ScooterWorks doesn't have any in stock anymore...

Now that the front fork is totally off, I can rebuild it. Which will have to wait for a future weekend. But here's a picture so I remember where all the cables go so I can get it back together again... Note that the brake cable goes up inside the end of the tube, while the speedometer cable comes up alongside the spring and into a hole in the tube further up (but before the bend).

Final Notes

Finally one more thing and I'm up to date. I went to "Moto Italiano", the Vespa rally held by the Los Gatos Vespa Club, right after removing the front end. And I saw an immaculately restored 1960 VBA (I think). It was gorgeous, and the same (original) color that I want mine to be. Some pics are below. The guy who restored it worked in an auto body shop, and so he mixed up the paint color himself. But like a numnuts, I didn't ask him if I could buy the paint from him! Bummer!!!!!!!!! If you're out there and reading this, send me a note please!!!!!

Next Post

Now we're up to date. I hope to rebuild the front fork this next weekend, then pull the gas tank and clean that up, then on to the rest of the body work.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Rebuilding the Engine, and Discovering Cracks

Still catching up on work already done...

Rebuilding the Engine

Well, dismantling would be a better word I guess. After rebuilding the carburetor (and breaking it, sniff) I moved on to the engine. Following the Haynes manual, I removed the variator -- the wires were rather ratty. And then the clutch. Took a day to dismantle the clutch -- it was TOTALLY rusted out! Not repairable -- all the plates were totally rusted, half the bell was rusted, and half of the 45-degree gear was as well. Fortunately I found a used clutch for not too much, from a guy on ScooterBBS, and when it arrived it was in perfect condition -- didn't even need new plates. Glad I didn't waste time trying to fix the old one...

Then on to removing the cylinder head. I removed the bolts, but the cylinder would NOT budge -- couldn't remove it. So then I decided to split the case halves and see what was going on. Oy! I worked for over a week trying to gently split it so as not to damage the surfaces where the gasket goes. No luck. Tried heating the bearing with a blow torch, tapping on the little tab that the manual says it's okay to tap on, etc. Nothing. Then I notice, while examing the case, a 2-inch long crack in the case, right by the main bearing. Shoot. Fortunately I also found a used case from that same guy on ScooterBBS -- and when it arrived it seemed in pretty good shape. It's from a 62 VBB2T,so it's not exactly the same, but I think it's close enough. (Main difference I saw was how the break shoes mount on -- there are two posts instead of just one like on the VBB1T. So it will require different breaks, no biggie).

So not having to worry about damaging the old case, my son and I started hammering away at the old one to split it and see why it was so wedged. We worked for a couple weeks at it. Finally my son was able to drive a few big screwdrivers and a cold-chisel between the halves, and it popped apart. And then we understood...

This thing must have had a pool of water inside of it for 20 years. The entire top end was one solid rusted piece of metal. Piston, cylinder, bearings, flywheel. One piece now! I'll post a picture below, it really is pretty impressive. SO now I needed to add a new top end and flywheel to the list of parts to get.

Lesson number three: Next time you buy a scooter to rebuild, make sure the engine/kickstart at least turns!

Oh well, I wanted a "learning experience"! Plus I feel somewhat virtuous resurrecting a truely dead scooter. Yeah, that's it, keep telling yourself that!

But all was not lost. Turns out that the transmission section had maintained its seal, and all the gears are in excellent shape. Even the bearings there look good. So I just need a new cruciform and that part at least is reusable.

Replacement Parts

So I already mentioned that I got a good-condition used clutch and case. I shopped around for a few months trying to find a VBB1T "deflector head" piston and cylinder. None available used. None available new either. But I did find a new dome-headed piston. I talked to a few people and they all claimed that I could use it and not have to change the timing. Hmm, we'll see about that, but I got it anyway. And a new cylinder head to go with it, since I wouldn't be able to use the one from the deflector head.

If any expert out there knows whether or not I need to worry about adapting the timing because of using a dome-headed piston instead of the deflector-head, please let me know!

So I have all the pieces to reassemble the engine. However, I relized that I'll need to get the gas tank refurbished first, and either mount the engine somewhere or else put it back onto the body, in order to try it out. Which means I need to decide if I'll put it all back together first, try it out, then disassemble again to do the body work and painting. Or if I should do the body work and painting next, and just put it together once. I decided to redo the front end next, which I would have to do in either case, and defer that decision until I saw how much work the body was going to be.

Next post: Front End Work.

Then I'll finally be caught up with where I am now -- just in time for my son to get home from college and help me make more progress on the rebuilding.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Removing the Engine, Rebuilding the Carb

Getting caught up on what has already been done...

Removing the Engine

My first step was to pull the engine from the bike, and get that working. Which meant removing the left (glovebox) cowl -- all those tiny bolts that were impossible to reach until I bought a 9mm ratcheting wrench. Remove the wheel/tire to make it lighter (I put 2x4's under the center of the scooter to hold it up). Then undo all the cables attached to the engine (clutch, rear brake, throttle, two shifters), remove the main bolts, and drop the engine.

Once the engine was out, I unbolted the carburetor and set it aside. Then it was clean clean clean on the engine! There was so much hardened grease dried onto it -- very exciting when the Piaggo logo stamped on the case was finally visible! When the engine was all cleaned up, I decided to set it aside and rebuild the carburetor first.

Cleaning the Carburetor

This was fairly easy, because I've done this before on my old Plymouth when I was in college. Get a carb rebuild kit from Scooterworks, take the all apart (following the manual, of course), clean everything up. Two hurdles -- the guillotine throttle was totally jammed. Had to use lots of WD-40 to get it unstuck. Second hurdle was the choke -- it was also major jammed.

Finally got it all apart, cleaned up with Gunk, replaced the float, float needle, all the rubber parts. Put it together. Looking good. Then disaster struck. I was screwing in the idle adjust screw -- a big long screw with tiny threads that seemed to take forever to go in. It was getting harder to turn, and I knew it hadn't bottomed out yet (the bottom presses on the guillotine throttle to hold it open), so I forced it. Bad idea. Very bad idea. The screw was stuck fast. So in desperation, fueled with adrenaline, I tried to unscrew it and... broke the screw off right where it comes out from the body of the carburetor! :-(

So Lesson number one: Don't force ANYTHING. In or out.

I tried extracting the screw with those fancy screw extractors, but it just wouldn't come out. So I had to take the "better part of valor" and look into purchasing a new carburetor. Forunately, they were on sale at Scooterworks -- and a new one was only $35! Had I known that, I might have just gotten a new one to begin with. I spent 1/3 that much on the rebuild kit, plus 20 or more hours of my time rebuilding it. Duh.

Thus Lesson number two: Evaluate if it's worth your time to rebuild BEFORE you do it.

I'll post some pics later, but just wanted to get this in.

Next post: Rebuilding the Engine, and Discovering Cracks

Thanks for reading!


Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Plan

My goal is to do a full rebuild and restoration of a 1961 VBB, trying to do as faithful a restoration as possible. What I want to end up with is a vehicle that looks and rides just like a new VBB rolling off the assembly line in 1961. Including that gorgeous silvery-blue color like in these pictures of an original 1960's VBB:

My naieve hope starting out was that I could just repair the existing parts of a barn-find VBB, so that it was 100% original. However the Vespa I ended up getting for my restoration had a number of problems (that I knew about going in). For one, the engine was totally frozen -- it wouldn't even kick over. For another, the headlight was gone and the reflector too rusted to restore. And to make things interesting, the throttle and the shifter were both totally wedged. Evidently this poor Scooter sat out in a grassy field for 20 or more years, and every moving part on it, with the exception of the wheels, was siezed up.

So the revised plan was to repair what I could, and replace what I had to. I conceived of it in two phases:

  • Rebuild the engine, to be sure that it can be made to work.
  • Rework the suspension, replace the tires and lights, so it is street legal.
  • Put it back together, get it registered, and ride it for a bit!
  • Take it all apart again, do the body work, dip it, prime it, repaint it.
  • Put it all back together and voila!
  • Take it to a ralley and win lots of awards.

    Simple, no?

    In my next post I will explain why the above plan will need to be modified a bit...

  • Saturday, March 29, 2008


    This blog will document the restoration of my 1961 Vespa VBB1T, purchased on August 20th, 2007 in dilapidated condition from a collector in Antioch, California. There was grass everywhere, even in the cylinder, and it was painted rattle can red.

    Here are the Before pictures:

    I should say that this is my first restoration -- I am not an expert by any stretch. I am learning as I go, and intend to use this blog to document the steps I take, and the mistakes I make, so that I can learn from it and do (even) better on the next restoration!

    I choose a VBB as my first restoration project for a couple of reasons: First, because with the 8-inch wheels and rounded cowels, it very much has that sweet classic Vespa look. Second, the electrical system is simple and reliable -- no battery, kick start, should make it easier to restore. Third, parts for VBB's seem to be fairly easy to come by. I'm guessing either because a lot of them were made, or a lot are still running, or a little of both. And forth, the 61's were the first model with a 4-speed transmission, which should make driving them even more fun.

    If you are reading this and you are an expert (or at least experienced) in restoring old scooters, please chime in with any advice or pointers! And if I'm doing something boneheaded, please let me know! I want to end up with a nice looking, accurate restoration of a 61 VBB, and would appreciate any and all help I can get.