Ian Mann’s Lambretta SX200 wears its 51 years on its panels, on its unpainted headlamp cover and on its chipped and scarred legshields and mudguard.
The plumbing and heating engineer from Norfolk knows every dent, every scratch, and how that headlamp cover got its bare metal look after an accident at the Brighton scooter rally in Easter 1969.
Because the 68-year-old was there, and he and his “special” Lambretta have been together at the turn of every decade since, even if the SX has spent the majority of it laid up in first his dad’s, and then his own, garage.
£170 Lambretta SX200 brings unforgettable teenage memories
But now, after more than 40 years in hibernation, the scooter that cost Ian £170 in 1968 and gave him some unforgettable teenage memories is back on the road.
And the father-of-three, who was 18 when he bought the Lambretta from the Pointer Motor Company in Norwich, is enjoying rolling back the years on the country lanes around his home east of the city.
“I was bloody nervous to start with,” he smiles, having not ridden the scooter since 1972. “But it was great, it felt good. Riding it now, you still think of the old days.
“It’s an achievement to have it off the road that long and to get it back on again. I never thought about selling it because it’s special to me.
“It’s your teenage years, a carefree time which everyone looks back at.”
Those youthful days when Ian and his mates in the Norwich Broadsmen Scooter Club would don their parkas and meet up on their, mostly, Lambrettas are filled with memories, of long-distance travels, of rallies and time trials, of mishaps and impromptu maintenance.
The SX, or Special X200, wasn’t the first scooter Ian had owned, buying a 1962, series III Li125 at the age of 16 from St Giles Motors.
“My parents weren’t very happy about me buying one,” he says. “I think I got a scooter because the people I went about with had scooters. If they’d had motorbikes I would probably have motorbikes in the garage now.”
At the time, Ian was working as an apprentice technician for Eastern Gas, which involved six months’ study at college in Hertfordshire.
“I used to go into a scooter shop in Cheshunt and drool over things”
“I went down there once or twice on the Li, until I hit someone walking in the road on a wet night – the six-volt lighting on scooters isn’t brilliant!” he says. “I clipped him and went sliding down the road. I wasn’t hurt, and he was OK, but it shook me up a bit so I didn’t ride it down there after that.
“I remember I used to go into a scooter shop in Cheshunt and drool over things.”
He still had the Li when he joined the Broadsmen, an incarnation of which still exists today, and met his future wife Jane, who “would come down with her mates when we used to gather”.
“She used to go on the scooters back in the day, but won’t go on it now, and isn’t overly keen on me riding it,” he says.
By March 1968, having passed his test on the Li, it was time for something a little more powerful, and Ian saw the SX – Innocenti’s top of the range scooter at the time – in the Pointers showroom.
“It just looked nice in the showroom,” he says of the Lambretta that was registered on January 1, 1967 in the days before the new year was a public holiday.
“It was the first vehicle registered in that year, as you can see from the number plate: KVF 1E.”
The SX200 had a tuneable engine
The SX200 superseded the TV200 and, because of its tuneable engine, quickly became a favourite with the burgeoning scooter racing scene, with the Rafferty Newman “Wildcat”, Arthur Francis “S-Type” and Supertune “Rallye” proving popular conversions for racing.
Although Ian’s bears a Wildcat sticker, it remains in standard form, but had more than enough punch to keep up with the traffic of the day.
The spring and summer of 1969 was a busy time for Ian and the Lambretta, starting with the scooter run to Brighton at Easter, where the SX gained its new headlamp cover.
“I remember it being cold and involving a lot of riding,” he says. “When we got there, someone asked me if they could have a ride on it.
“I said yes, but he was coming along Brighton front far too quickly. I put my hand up to slow him down and he did slow down, skidding along the deck.
“He didn’t hurt himself, he just hurt the bike. The headlamp cover, floorboards and panels were damaged. I spent most of the weekend searching out a new headlamp cover, which remains unpainted to this day.”
Next came the Northern 200 navigation trial, run by the Oldham and Rochdale scooter clubs.
“We didn’t have a clue how to do a navigational trail”
“We didn’t have a clue how to do a navigation trial,” he says. “We were totally clueless, but we did it – I don’t know how.
“It was an absolutely foul night going up there. We went up in the car and some of the lads rode the bikes up for us and we rode them back.
“Coming back over the Pennines, the lads who had ridden up looked at one of the corners in the daylight and frightened the life out of themselves that they’d done it in the dark.
“I think it was an achievement to complete it and ride the bikes home from the other side of Manchester.”
All of this was good preparation for the main event that summer, a trip to the Isle of Man scooter week between June 21 and 28.
The experience gained in time and navigation trials stood Ian in good stead for a week-long programme of events, including the Manx 400, night navigation, hill climbing and the Druidale speed event.
Rebuilding the SX200’s engine at a guest house
“It was a big thing at the time, going off into the unknown, my first holiday being away by myself,” he says, digging through a filing cabinet to find the original event programme.
“Six of us rode all the way there, and I ended up rebuilding the engine at the guest house where we stayed. An oil seal was going, so I stripped out the engine on the lawn of the guest house and fixed it.”
The Manx 400 involved, you guessed it, 400 miles around the TT course, which was open to general traffic, with just one break for lunch.
“Each lap was timed, and you also had to factor in petrol stops,” says Ian. “You’d buy tokens in advance so you didn’t have to mess about with money, and drive in to the garage and out as quickly as possible.
“I managed to do the whole 400 miles in about 12 or 13 hours without picking up any penalty points, for which I won a small trophy.”
Ian and the SX also undertook the hillclimb at Peel Hill – “I didn’t get on too well with that one” – and successfully completed the night navigation trial.
But the Druidale, a closed road speed event including the famous water splash, was cancelled because of thick fog up in the mountains – which may have been a blessing in disguise for Ian’s body.
Dodging rabbits on the SX200 in the dark
“I went on a practice run, but the roads are so bumpy I hurt my back,” he remembers. “I never knew there were so many unmade roads on the island.”
In the autumn, Ian made the short trip to Snetterton for the 12-hour night trial, which involved timed laps of the old circuit, not much of which remains today.
“We weren’t flat out racing – I was never into that,” he says. “You had to be in the right time window on each lap or get penalties for being too slow or too fast.
“I remember dodging rabbits and things like that in the dark, but we didn’t actually get to finish the event because of a bad accident.
“There was a big pile up on the pit straight, with some bikes slowing down because they’d done the lap too quick and others piling through the back speeding up. We thought, no, let’s forget it.”
Ian also found time that year to win a road safety event in Ipswich – “we had no idea what we were going in for but I managed to win the overall prize”.
But within a couple of years, a Mini van had taken over as the main mode of transport, and the Lambretta was consigned to his father’s garage.
Rebuilding other Lambrettas
“I went more into repairing and rebuilding bikes, always Lambrettas,” says Ian. “Rebuilding was a necessity with the first scooter because I could not afford to put it into a garage. I learned quickly how to do things and built up a 150 Special for my brother to go to the Isle of Man on in 1970.
“I’ve probably owned 10 or so Lambrettas over the years, including a 75cc Vega that someone gave me about 10 years ago that I’ve still got and am slowly restoring.”
After leaving Eastern Gas and starting work as an apprentice plumber, Ian started his own plumbing and heating business, and three children – two sons and a daughter – followed.
All of which meant that the SX languished in garages for the best part of 46 years.
“I used it on the road until about 1972 and then it just laid in my dad’s garage,” says Ian. “He was getting sick of it and all the other bits of scooter in there.
“I always knew it was there and I wanted to get it on the road, but pressure of business and pressure of family meant it didn’t happen for a long time.
“Eventually, it came here (to my house) in about 1990. It was running at the time, and about once a year, when I remembered, I’d clean the spark plug up and start it.
Taking the SX200 out of storage
“The last time I did it was two years ago, I went down the slope in my garden, pulled the clutch and it didn’t disengage… panic!
“Luckily you can knock them out of gear, but I still went into the fence. I didn’t do any damage, but I then decided to strip the thing right down.
“I gave it a total engine rebuild, new clutch, new cables, and new tyres. They tyres looked OK, but do I want to be riding on 50 year old tyres? No. It’s been back on the road since May this year.”
Externally, the only hint of newness is the re-covered burgundy seat, the rest of the bodywork still bearing its original blue and white paint, and its fair share of scars.
The question now is to retain that unique patina or bring the whole scooter back to as-new condition.
“There are two ways of looking at it aren’t there?” says Ian. “Half of me says leave it alone because there’s nothing really wrong with it now and it’s very original, another part of me says it will be nice to have it looking like new because it will be an investment.
“But if I do it up it might not get back on the road again!”
So what does the future hold for a machine that holds so many memories in its well-worn frame?
“I’m cutting my workload back now,” says Ian, who has spent the summer sweating over a new extension to his house. “Ideally, I want to be totally retired really and riding it all the time. My sons aren’t really interested in the scooter and, while my daughter comes with me to parts fairs in Kettering, she doesn’t have anywhere to keep it.
“So I suppose it will have to go eventually.”
But not before Ian has spent a few more years reliving the carefree days of his youth.
If you enjoyed Ian’s story, read our post about Pete’s love of his Lambretta Li150 Special.