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By Matt Cuddy

My first bike.

We all have our “first bike” memories; Of riding places we shouldn’t have ridden. Being broke down in strange towns, miles away from home. Odd tricks that made the bike move forward, instead of pushing it forward by hand. That made the bike “special” to us, and the stuff we learned served us well into our life as a motorcycle rider.

When I was fifteen, I hung out with an older, faster crowd. Most of them rode big bikes like Yamaha 180 twins, CT175 Yamaha Enduros, 305 Hondas and the like. I didn’t have a bike, but salivated every time I saw one motor by.  One of the guys knew of a garage sale on Hyperion Avenue that had a few motorcycles on the block, so we doubled up on his 180, and boogied on over there.

Turned out the garage sale guy had sold most of the “real” motorcycles, and all that was left were a couple Italian scooters in terrible shape. The guy did have a bunch of new spare parts, which helped the sale.  A 1957Lambretta 150 Innocenti, and a Vespa P125.  Each one priced at $5.00 each. I forked over a new crispy ten dollar bill, and proceeded to inspect our purchases a little closer.

The Vespa was shot, all the cables were either frozen or broken, the body was smashed, and the motor was seized. Both tires were flat, and the rims were dented. My new buddy Rick and I towed the Vespa to the nearest vacant lot, and dumped it into the high weeds, after salvaging everything that might work on the Lambretta, with a rusty set of vice grips (our favorite tool.)

We went back and picked up the Lambretta. It was missing the entire body, and only had the center section sheet metal, with two giant bicycle seats, and a spare tire bolted to the back. It had no tail light, or license plate. The motor wasn’t frozen up, and the cables were all there, and intact. The bike kicked over, and the three speed hand shifter worked OK. After the inspection, the previous owner handed me a box full of old and new spare parts that might or might not fit the Lambretta. I took the box, mostly because of the 30mm DelOrto square slide carb, new in the box. That would come in handy later on.

After towing the Lambretta back to my Grandparent’s house in Silverlake, we propped it up on the side of the house, and commenced to wrenchin’.  The carburetor was some DelOrto tiny setup with a remote float bowl, and shut off switch with a tiny tube connecting everything.  It looked like a whisky still. And it was clogged solid.  So out came the hack saw, and we cut the intake manifold back to where the spigot mount DelOrto could clamp on.  For some reason, the ignition coil was mounted on the frame by the back wheel, which left for a spark plug wire about 4 feet long.  Everything  else checked out, we changed the transmission and primary case oil, dumped in some 20.1 Francisco bean oil mix and started kicking.

After about the third kick, the kick start lever broke off at the case, and clanged to the cement. Not good. So we bump started the scooter, and wonders of wonders , it started!  1st gear was all right, second gear outa sight, and third gear….where was third gear?  Third gear was shot, but if you torqued on the hand shift lever, third would kinda hold. Top speed was about sixty, but the motor made a horrible rattling noise at all rpm’s. 

So off came the top end, and ick, the rings were shot, loose in the piston grooves, and the wristpin had a big taper in the middle! I don’t know where the roller bearing went, maybe got spit out the exhaust port, who knows? The piston moved up and down at least a half inch on the small end of the connecting rod, with no bushing or bearing.  Shot!  It would surely blow within the next ten minutes of riding.

So we buttoned it up, and decided before we dumped it into the vacant lot, next to the Vespa, we’d try to get some miles out of the $5.00 bike, before it exploded.

Now I don’t know what the Italians make wrist pins out of, but this one was atomic. It rattled and clanged and slapped around in that cylinder until you thought it would exit the motor and take off a leg. But it just kept going. And going. On and on.  Could the Francisco bean oil have saved it with its superior impact protection and lubrication? Who know?

I rode that damn scooter for about a year, rattling wrist pin and all. I even beat my Uncle around the big corner next to the Silverlake reservoir when he was in his Mini. A real one, not the BMW 4000 lb. imposter.  

One time while tooling around in Pasadena I came upon a derelict Vespa, complete with tail light and license plate. Within ten minutes it was safely wired to the rear of the Lambretta, and I was on my way again without a hiccup. 

One very odd thing about the Lambretta: When it wouldn’t push start, I found by accident that if you cut about an inch off the plug wire sticking out of the coil, it would start right up (?!?) Maybe that’s why it had a five foot long plug wire…who knows?

One time a friend of mine was making a move about the birth of Natzel Oldsmobile in Pasadena, and somehow we got nine people hanging off the Lambretta in the closing shot of the high school movie. That cinched the 1st place award, and the Lambretta never ran better.

It’s funny how time flys by when you’re that young, and it seemed like just a few weeks went by until I was seventeen years old, and joined the Navy. The Lambretta still ran, and I sold it to a close friend who lived in San Marino, and for all I know it still runs, pranged wrist pin and all.

Maybe it was the “first bike” magic that kept it from blowing to smithereens, some unseen spirit that wouldn’t let it die. Maybe it was Tazio Nuvolari reincarnated.  Or Atilla the Hun, judging by the gearbox.

I kinda miss it.