DAVID DRY'S - MY GENERATION
THE ADVENTURES OF AN ORIGINAL 60's MOD.
image of Paul Honor - Buyer of David's original GS - 480 TPU
As part of our 'Lockdown' Long read season we welcome a great friend of Suit Yourself, fellow writer and original 60's Mod David Dry. David has been kicking around the scene since the 60's and recently published his memoirs in the fantastically written 'My Generation' a light hearted glimpse into a world original Modernism. the book is still available from the link below, in this long read David opens up his book to give us the first 3500 words to digest, we won't tell you too much as it will spoil the fun but after you've read it jump on the website and buy the rest of the story.......Over to you David.......
Now, Rick Jones was not the prettiest kid in town – Nose too big, legs too thin, but there he was large as life. At eighteen, two years older than me, a smart dresser, page boy hair style,hand-made shoes and, above all else, he rode a Mod boys’ favourite scooter – The 160 GS!
To those who are perhaps not old enough to remember (or is it – still jealous that they never owned one?) let me let you into a not very well kept secret…There were very few scooters that everyone wanted in the 60’s and one was the remarkably beautiful GS. Some may put forward the Lambretta ‘GT’ or, more correctly the TV200, as the ‘must have’ and they do have a point, but for what the French call pure panache, the Italians call style and the Brits ‘drop dead gorgeous’ – The GS had it all.
Let’s get it right, the GS wasn’t the fastest piece of Italian metal around (The GT was that – and some!), but for sheer pose value speed was not the essence. You had to be seen! And, might I add, seen on the most glamorous and, because of this, the most desirable item of two-wheeled transport ever made. That’s what the Mods were all about – style and visibility. It’s no good knowing you’re the greatest, everyone else had to know – and no mistake!
To return to the plot and, not to forget, Rick Jones…. The young birds (sorry, they really were called that then) drooled over Rick. He was fabulous in their ‘speak’ – Just right! Try as hard as you could with the boutique clothes, shoes from Toppers or Raouls, or leather coats – You just could not compete. The ‘ace’ up his sleeve was his white GS with chrome plated side panels.
Now, new GS’s were about £200. You earned something like £10 a week. Where could you get that sort of money to copy Rick and his GS? Selling drugs was out – Too many doing that! Borrowing the money, by HP (Hire Purchase) was a possibility, but needed parental guarantees if you were under twenty-one. The societal outlook was one of extreme austerity coupled with a hand to mouth existence and, because of this, no one, but no one borrowed money. Very few even had a bank account, either. Borrowing had to be discounted. As my old man said: “Yes, you can have a scooter, but you are going to have to pay for it with your own money!” This was supposed to block the whole idea. Kill it ‘stone dead’, as they say.
This was an unacceptable option, however! How had Rick done it? HP, that’s how. Some adult person, rather more gullible than my dad, had signed the loan paperwork. Bugger! A ‘Plan B’ was needed….. Was there a more affordable alternative? Perhaps? There was, however, a predecessor to the 160 GS – The 150 GS. Hmm, let’s see about this. Looks similar. Loads about. Been made for years, too. Could this be the answer? The Thursday weekly advertising journal, Exchange and Mart, was duly purchased and the Vespa column (actually, and to tell the truth, all the scooters were dumped in the same section) was
scrutinised. Blimey, you can get a 150 GS for 80 pounds (80 quid that is)! As it panned out, the proposal to purchase the older GS model was, perhaps, not the best idea ever? The cognoscenti will know what the problems could be. You see, the Vespa
people didn’t stop making the 150 GS out of sheer contrariness; the machine had a few quirks. The 160 GS, with the benefit of hindsight, was just about bug free, to the extent that you can actually take the engine from a modern geared Vespa and fit it into the GS 160 – That’s how little the design has been tweaked over the subsequent years. The 160 GS was a good’en then?
The above mentioned ‘quirks’ were seen not to be an issue – money was, however…. A 150GS it would have to be!
The money remained a problem, but on further consideration, not an insurmountable one. First thing to do: dispose of all assets of monetary value. Primary asset: The very elegant racing bike built by Fred Dean of Fulham with full Italian fixtures and fittings must be worth £20? It was actually sold for £25 to a school mate! A similar amount had been saved up, but tax, insurance and, we must not to forget, a provisional motorcycle licence would also be needed. The deal to complete the purchase was still short of an extra £50.
Now, we must delve into family conspiracies and even the best families have these under currents. Authority figures spawn resistance, the tougher they are the more overt that resistance becomes. This was the case in my family. The one ‘in charge’ was something of a dictator – The Old Man, or my dad, was an ex-boxer, ex-miner and - at this period of time - an engineer in a factory. He wasn’t regarded as a ‘bad bloke’ by any of his friends and casual visitors, but he ruled with a rod of iron on the home front. Guess what? I didn’t like the strict regime one tiny bit, and, as it happened, neither did Jim, my elder brother.
The stage was set for a minor coup on the home front. My brother was, somewhat surprisingly, prepared to loan me the missing £50. What was in it for him? He just wanted to see the look on Dad’s face when he saw me on the scooter that he had effectively blocked by refusing to sign for my loan (My brother couldn’t do this as you had to be over 21, by the way). After due consideration – of at least one second – I happily accepted the dear boy’s offer. “Ta, Jim!”
The money side now being settled, what did the Exchange and Mart have to offer? A bit sparse on the GS front - Just one: Maze Hill, Greenwich (South East London). This made it, by contemporary measurement, not far short of a trip to the Moon, as far we West London kiddies saw it. Needs must and I duly arrived at the advertised address accompanied by Rich, an inquisitive mate, who also wanted to see the look on the old man’s face when he saw the new scooter. My old man must have had quite a reputation to become the focus for a local spectator sport - don’t you think?
The GS looked OK. It had an unusual dark Jaguar blue paint job. (The 150 GS came out of the factory in silver grey). The GS ran OK and we both had a ride as pillion passengers. I’d forgotten to mention the two slight problems that, not only did we not have a licence between the two of us, but also neither of us could ride a scooter. Very insignificant points at the
tender age of sixteen.
The deal was done. The money was coughed up and it was agreed that the GS was to be ridden back to Acton by the now ex owner. Just as well under the circumstances. The ex- owner described himself, by the way, as one of the ‘original Mods’. I’m not sure quite what that made us. Had we missed a generation or something?
The overall effect of seeing the look on the old man’s face was a trifle lost on us as, sadly, the scooter arrived some time before we did thanks to our long journey back across London by public transport. The poker face later displayed by my father on seeing number two son hugging a scooter in the back yard was only let down by him giving away his feelings slightly by the raising of an eyebrow and a barely hidden pursing of the lips. I suspect even a person as stubborn as the old man ‘knew when he was beat’, as they say. “All right, but you can’t ride it until you get a crash helmet,” were the only comments indicating almost total surrender. Dad had worked out that the helmet deficiency would delay my fun and games for a short period – not to mention costing me even more of the money that I didn't have in the first instance.
I now had the desired scooter that was so necessary to complete my coolness and my brother was basking in the warm feeling that comes from the joy in the misfortune of the mighty being out manoeuvred. That made at least two people happy, at any rate
Now it was necessary to learn to ride…… There was a Pitman’s do it yourself style book on the subject that had been so long overdue from the library that the text had been memorised by most of the local youth who lusted after two wheels plus an engine. Riding a scooter was, therefore, dead easy if you could pick it up from a book?
Firstly, wheel the highly-polished object of desire out of the back gate into the alleyway. Turn on the petrol, pull out the choke and switch on the ignition. So far so good. Now kick it over. It starts with the signature cloud of blue smoke and whiff of two-stroke oil. Wonderful! Now, it’s possible that those in the know might feel a little apprehensive at this point. Those who may have lived a slightly more sheltered existence may be rather more optimistic. An explanation to the latter crowd will now be given:
GS stands for Gran Sport, which in English means ‘goes like a cat with a banger up its bum’,or words to that effect. The ‘Sport’ part also gave it, by definition, a light clutch and a fast pickup with a very high revving engine. Arguably, not the best machine for a complete novice rider to learn to ride on?
At this time, being a learner motorcyclist was dead easy – In fact, so easy that a not insignificant minority ended up dead! All you needed was to cough up the small sum of 25 bob for a licence, pay for third party insurance of around a fiver, fix ‘L’ plates to the front and back and off you rode…. Dead easy;Dead, perhaps, could end up being the operative word?
Now, even as a new boy it was quite obvious that to attempt to ride off in an alleyway that was about 30 yards long was not the best idea on this planet on the grounds that, if you needed to stop at the end and you weren’t positive about how well the brakes worked, you might end up in a sticky mess, so the new cult symbol had to be pushed onto the street adjacent.
Again, a slight digression… It being lunchtime and a nice day, the factory workers, as usual, had spread out onto the adjacent streets and made themselves comfortable on the low garden walls of the local houses to eat their sandwiches. This impromptu seating included the walls at the end of the alley adjacent to the house. In fact, the whole street was infested with these workmen enjoying their midday packed lunches. The Salvation Army band, to add a little more interest to the scene unfolding, was enthusiastically entertaining this captive audience of the ungodly with music, whilst saving the occasional soul at the same time.
Ignoring all this the GS was fired up under the gaze of at least 200 mildly interested persons. Push in the choke knob under the seat hinge. Sit on the saddle. Move twist grip back and forth. Just like it said in the Pitman book. Now the clever bit…… Pull in clutch lever; twist the same wrist so that the neutral mark lines up with the number one. A satisfying clonk emanates from the gearbox indicating that first gear is now engaged. If the expression, ‘Now this is where it all goes wrong’ can be slipped into the narrative, perhaps we should do that, now?
The throttle was twisted open. The engine reacted and revved through the roof. The clutch lever was not so much released as dropped. The noise of the engine had attracted a now very attentive audience who were about to witness an epic sight, perhaps second only to a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral…3, 2, 1...We have lift off! The front wheel left the tarmac like a November the fifth rocket, tilting the seat to a crazy angle and enhancing the novice rider's death grip and increasing more unwanted twisting
movement to the throttle. As the GS leapt towards the vertical, the inevitable happened…..Out of balance and now balanced on one-wheel, machine and the intrepid rider toppled to one side with the accompaniment of rousing cheers from all bar the Sally Army band (who continued playing like the consummate troopers they were!).
For anyone reading this that may have been in a similar situation they will know that these episodes actually take place in mere seconds. To the individual experiencing the event, time enters a notable continuum to drag the incident out for what seems like ages and, to add the cherry to the cake, this was inevitably going to hurt…
Then you hit the deck. Pandemonium results and we return to real time... The Italian manual on the subject will tell you that a GS 150 weighs 98kgs – No lightweight, then. Add the weight of the rider and the momentum of the scooter and you have an idea of
the sort of impact being discussed. The pain and embarrassment go without saying. The damage to the once pristine machine had to be seen to be appreciated. Not to forget the noise from the screaming engine, now no longer under any load, as the rear wheel was now rotating free of the tarmac, the scooter having landed on its side, and now running at full tilt.
Greater damage to the GS was saved by the simple expedient of having trapped a desert booted foot under the foot board edge. This factor, however, made standing up a little difficult - In fact, impossible due to the not inconsiderable weight of the scooter restraining movement.
The time for audience participation had arrived… Some kind soul lifted the GS onto its wheels and into an upright position. This at least stopped the racket from the engine as it immediately stalled as the back wheel returned to the road surface, leaving a somewhat dishevelled and very embarrassed teenager to push a grazed scooter back home. Interestingly, people do not hobble away from accidents, that’s saved for later when no one’s looking.
The art of clutch control and gear changing was of necessity practiced at a later and more solitary venue and quickly mastered. This time without an audience apart from the nosey grandmother, A.K.A: The Acton Gazette watching from her eyrie in her first-floor kitchen.
Thus, were the very basic first rites of scooter riding achieved and understood. Time to return to the GS 150’s ‘quirks’…. On the third day of riding around the meandering local back streets – speed trials on the open highway were thought to be in order. The
nearest bit of suitable dual carriageway was a mile or so up the road. The Western Avenue (A40) is a very busy arterial road leaving London for Oxford and all points west, as its name suggests. It twists through the rougher parts of west London’s suburbia through East Acton and, at Hanger Lane, dips down into the bowels of the earth at an underpass under the North Circular. Just the job! Turn onto the ‘Western’ at North Acton. Through the gears – second – third and then into fourth. Throttle opened in a death grip, tight against the stop. The two-stroke purrs into its element. Engine quickly accelerating up to fifty-five miles per hour. There’s a bit more in there somewhere.
The GS swoops down into the underpass, gathering yet more speed as its momentum takes even faster down the incline into the brightly lit tunnel, tiled walls passing in a blur. Sixty, sixty and a bit. The engine is positively screaming like banshee. Raaaaah! Going too fast to watch the clock now.
Up the GS swoops towards the daylight at the end of the tunnel. Then, something happens. Something that was not supposed to happen….. Suddenly the GS is insisting on travelling sideways. The unnerving sensation of suddenly losing focus on the bright sunlight of the underpass exit and, instead, watching the tiled walls of underpass shoot past face on becomes, very quickly, quite unnerving. The ‘penny drops’. The GS had seized up. Quick! Haul in the clutch. The machine flips straight and is now freewheeling at sixty miles per hour and, more by more luck than judgement, is now pointing towards the original direction, mercifully, flying silently towards the tunnel exit at the speed of a cannon ball, or so it felt. Gradually, after about a quarter of a mile, and after what seemed like a lifetime of heartbeats frantically trying to hammer through the chest cavity, a strategically situated lay- by, came into view as the freewheeling GS lost momentum and slowed to a halt. Thank God for that!
Yes, and in way of explanation, the quirky 150 GS had managed to do what they all tend do when roundly thrashed – It had seized solid. The piston had given up expanding with the heat of its journey up and down the barrel until it was too tight to continue onwards in its path. It had reached the point where friction and expansion made movement impossible and locked up both the engine and the back wheel. Whew! As the motor and rider cooled down by the side of the road, the piston gave up its death grip with the engine innards allowing the GS to be, once again, kick-started. It innocently ran like nothing life threatening had occurred. Obviously, feeling no sense of guilt? Thought for the day, “Perhaps a crash helmet was in order? Might be better wear one next time, only perhaps?”
Sadly, the GS 150 had even more quirks to share with the uninitiated. They can quite simply stop, with a dead, unresponsive engine and refuse to start. This quirk is caused by a flat battery, apparently, so charge it up and off we go again…. Sixty or so miles down the road and, once more, it happens again. Something was not right. ‘Not a lot of cop’ if you can only travel sixty miles before needing a re-charge – Might as well have bought a milk float? To explain, the Vespa GS’s shared something of a racing pedigree and like many racing engines of that time had a ‘coil ignition’ system that needed ‘exciting’ (nice expression to use
for an inanimate object) by a charge from a battery. So, no charge – no go! The problem lay with the antediluvian Italian electrics – In this case the ‘vane’ rectifier in the battery charging system, which is slowly killed by engine vibration and, once totally dead, refuses to allow a charge to the battery. The sting in the tail with this sort of fault is that, if you continuously charge and then flatten a lead-acid battery, the battery itself becomes damaged with plate distortion. After a time, not only is the rectifier in need of replacement, but so is the battery. At this time a suitable rectifier cost £5, or thereabouts with a battery costing slightly more. It might have already been mentioned that the hero of this tale of near death experiences only managed to earn around £10 per week, so rectification (If that punning term dare be used?) of this fault was not a cheap matter lightly undertaken. Twice the
rectifier and battery were replaced in sequence. Time had come to draw a line in the sand and sell the wretched and unreliable scooter.
Such a cult surrounded the GS marque, and such an impression had been made with the local Mod community, that selling even an ailing beast of this type was no problem. And sold it was – For fifty quid – And very good riddance! This was, actually, only the beginning, as the scooter bug had bit. To be absolutely truthful the GS was sold to finance the purchase of a ‘dream machine’ – A customised Lambretta GT, but more of this later. The GS had served its purpose, after all. Rick Jones and his GS? Strange you should ask? The last we heard of the catalyst to this story was, actually, quite sad, or, perhaps, quite funny, to relate….. It appears that Rick was hammering down the one-way street system on King Street, just off Hammersmith Broadway, when he saw two sorts. He turned to give them a cheery wave and rode slap bang into a traffic island in the centre of the road. These illuminated warning bollards, which were substantial cast metal structures, were demolished and so too was the once lovely white GS160 with its chrome plated side panels! Rick sustained a broken leg and ribs. The scooter was reduced to scrap. Sadly, it was only insured on the cheap for third party damage and that would pay for the bollards, but not to repair the scooter. Rick saw no
necessity to pay off the remainder of the HP loan on an item he no longer possessed and was last heard of living in north London trying to avoid the ‘heavies’ who were sent out scouting after the finance house’s money. A hard lesson in life…
A little taster from MY GENERATION the hilarious memoirs of original Mod David John Dry.
Available now from www.suavecollective.co.uk
Only £9.99. Don’t miss out on more tales of youthful misadventures