The British “Mod” subculture was born in the early 1960s. It was a response to the conservative and bleak class based culture of post war Britain. They embraced style, fashion and all things modern. Mods made it socially acceptable for men to show interest in being fashionable. Italian and French styled clothing was accessorised with the Union Jack or the Royal Airforce roundel. Sophistication and flair brought relief from the greyness of working class Britain. Their music choice ranged from progressive jazz to soul but never pop music.
Being involved with mod culture meant that even daily transport became a fashion accessory. Italian scooters with their flowing lines and European styling suited the mods’ need to look cool at all times. Riding a scooter was also the antithesis of the mods’ archenemy, the Rocker and his motorcycle. The animosity between these two cultures was greatly exaggerated by the British press but on occassion the two groups did have some memorable clashes. As is normally the case in life, romantic or emotional reasons for an action or choice are in reality driven by far more practical reasons. Scooters were cheap to buy, could be financed, were cheap to run and owning a scooter meant a mod could stay out later without having to catch the last bus home. When you are spending a large portion of your disposable income on trendy clothing, the enclosed nature of a scooter’s bodywork prevents unsightly oil or mud stains. The trend of riding with a parka also came about in order to keep mod’s clothing clean. I personally prefer the “scooter’s are cool and so is riding with a parka” reason over the practical reasons.
Whilst rockers modified their bikes for more performance, mods modified their Vespas and Lambrettas for visual appeal. Chromed accessories dripped off their often flamboyantly painted scooters. Luggage racks, crash protectors and up to thirty mirrors would be installed along with extra spotlights. A mod’s scooter was always a fashion statement in motion.
Our featured mod scooter belongs to Gerard from Johannesburg. It is a sought after 1963 Vespa GS 160 which was one of the most popular mod scooters of the 1960s. The first Vespas were produced in 1947 as basic transport but as more and more Hollywood stars became Vespa riders, it became a symbol of freedom and choice. By 1960 two million Vespas had already been sold.
Gerard has nailed the mod look with his interpretation. The leopard skin pattern on the seat, spare wheel cover and backrest are wonderfully over the top yet correct for the era. In true mod style, Gerard has thrown the accessory manual at this scooter. Up front there is the luggage rack with long stem mirrors and 1960s spotlights. A small windscreen was a must. The wrap around rear mudguard protectors are known as Florida Bars and include passenger footrests. The red inserts on the bars are called gems and were also available in blue. The rear luggage rack and integrated sissy bar with spare wheel holder are all Vespa accessories, as is the chequered mudflap. Most of the accessories are genuine 1960s items or perfect reproductions of originals. Gerard says that the cost of acquiring all these accessories can far outweigh the purchase price of a scooter. Money well spent!
This Vespa is fifty years old and still as stylish as ever. At a time when so many owners and builders are trying to recapture the rebellious spirit of 1960s Britain by building cafe racers, it is refreshing to have another icon of the 1960s grace our pages.