This article was destined for the pages of the next JOURNAL. However, the text and images, which need to be viewed at a decent size, are better suited to being published here on the VVC website’s News Page….
PROJECT:E – Electric Conversion Kits for Classic Scooters
PROJECT:E is the name given to the world’s first electric motor conversion for classic scooters, designed by London based Retrospective Scooters.
The statistics and data provided by our warming planet are becoming harder to ignore. Governments worldwide are attempting to curb emissions; London’s new ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) being the latest example. Despite arguments to the contrary, I don’t think even the leader of the free world will be able to deny it for much longer! I wonder if time will ever be called completely on classic petrol vehicles, notwithstanding the many suppliers and industries that keep them on the road. If we are to be denied in an electric powered future though, my choice would be the alternative that Retrospective Scooters are already offering.
Retrospective began the project in September 2017, when they took an original classic small frame Vespa and converted it from petrol to electric power. Before we cast Retrospective owner Niall McCart and his cohorts into a pit, note that their electric Vespa can be entirely converted back to its original petrol powered design. I got an early look at their prototype small frame Vespa back in March 2018, when I visited to shoot some ‘lifestyle’ photos of it for the new Retrospective website. Sworn to secrecy at the time, extensive reviews have since been published online and in the wider scootering press. Niall also took the bike to Belfast for World Vespa Days, where it received plenty of attention and willing test riders, including one guy who pointed out the ‘Electric’ type on the side panel was misspelt and should be ‘Electronic’, before the penny dropped! Subsequently Retrospective has completed conversions for large frame Vespas and Lambrettas. I photographed the pictured Vespa smallframe in late August 2019, before being collected by its new owner. Nice as it is to ‘break’ a story, patience in this instance has been a virtue, as Niall’s team have in the last year perfected their electric conversion kit, following its debut in Spring 2018.
Niall with some details and costs..
“It's any scooter that was ever made that I can and will do this to. If it's a nice scooter that is worth resurrecting, that’s the real potential of the E-kit. Dig out your old, rare scooters from the 1950's and 60's that you thought would never see the road again and I will stick this kit in one. The application of the kit not only requires no modifications to the existing classic but also the original control cables and loom can stay in the frame for a swift reversal of the engine swap. So much so, I now sell classic scooters with either engine option available to them.
Currently made and available E- kits, are the Vespa small frame, large frame, wide mount and the Lambretta range from LI 1,2,3, to GP and J range; that's the five main models. We have not done an LD or 8" wheel Vespa as there is no 8" wheel version of the electric hub motor (not practically fast enough anyway); you can put a 10" wheel 300x10 tyre hub motor on the rear and lower the suspension height to make it workable on 8" scooters, but then I’m not sure that's what we, the scootering fraternity, want. It wouldn't look right but it's possible and it'll get those Faro Basso's very user friendly!
I've had more interest outside the UK than I expected to have had from the British scooter scene; we are not yet EV (Electric Vehicle) converted. The thing with EV is the change over educational route; you need to try one out - I’ve heard it described as like "floating on a magic carpet". No more searching for a petrol station, it's a normal plug socket, how many of them are there around?! The range anxiety people have is not viewed logically, 30 mile range per battery, two or three batteries on board; I ask "where do you intend going when you step out the door every morning - 90 miles plus, nonstop..?” We need to get used to "plug in charge” - we did it with our phones ....
Most of those reading this will have more than one scooter, why not put one of those scooters over to electric and have a play with it; the kit can swap into anything (change of swing arm from model to model of course). I have a few orders where the scooterist will have their Sunday best scooter rally going bike and then another electric converted scoot.
ELECTRIC CONVERSION COSTS
We offer the electric motor Vespa and Lambretta as a conversion to customers who already have a classic scooter, or as an engine option to customers who are looking to buy a newly restored scooter from us. A limited batch of DIY electric conversion kits will be available soon which we can ship worldwide, orders are being taken now. Full installation instructions are supplied which you can either do yourself (medium skill level required), or get your local Vespa garage to do it for you.
Electric conversion kit price (excluding batteries) - £2,495
(Kit contains Hub motor - with choice of tyre fitted, controller, battery tray/trays, throttle sensor, DC/DC 66v to 12v convertor, new loom, converted light switch - for each model, DC horn, plus various fixtures and fittings, as well as diagram and fitting instruction manual)
High powered removable Panasonic lithium-ion battery pack - £950 each
(Depending on model, scooters can fit up-to 3 batteries to increase speed or range from 30-90 miles)
Battery charger - £125 each
Fitting of the kit to your scooter at our East London garage - £500
(Costs exclude delivery charges or import taxes that may be due outside of the EU).”
Further to the above, the Vespa small frame has one battery under the seat, while the Vespa large frame can have the under seat and the engine side area, under the panel, as a second battery compartment. The spare wheel side, or toolbox side on the large frame Vespa, is left as it was. However, on request a third battery may be placed here but would be non-removable and would have to be charged onboard – this might not be a bad thing, as it could act as a backup battery. Lambretta models LI to GP can carry three batteries, J range one.
It is worth noting that "the battery" is one size fits all; specially designed to be as big as it can be, yet still fit into all areas of the scooters. Fitted with a handle for insertion/removal and carrying, it sits on a tray fitted into the specific space. Superior quality batteries and management systems from a UK manufacturer are used; producing a more compact battery with high grade cells for a substantial increase in power and range. This allows Retrospective to keep pace with improvements and technology advances - unlike a lot of modern electric bikes, including Piaggio’s new Vespa Elettrica, which have non-removable integral batteries - once these batteries are finished, that’s it! A year from now, the current battery cells could be replaced with more efficient ones, if things have moved on. People forget or don’t realise when questioning the battery cost, that you are buying your ‘fuel’ in advance for the next three years or longer, dependent on usage - good value when viewed that way. The 3KW electric hub motor is produced by Chinese manufacturer, QS Motors; it has been extensively tried and tested and been widely in use there for the last ten years. The engine is a maintenance free sealed unit, so no clutch lurching, no carb jetting issues, jumping gears or compression loss and hard to start issues. Niall adds: “I would go as far to say these electric scooters are bullet proof reliable, there is nothing to go wrong except misuse, the maintenance is tyres, brakes and suspension. The kits are ready, they are on sale and being sold, it's a finished product readied for market.”
I took the PROJECT:E Vespa for a spin up and down Lockwood Way in E17, where Retrospective are located. It was definitely an unusual, but not unpleasant experience. The overriding impression I came away with was just how easy it is to use. The clutch lever is fixed and no longer in use, while the front brake lever and rear brake pedal are the same as before. All I had to do was turn the key, the Vespa now being ‘live’, twist the throttle and off I went. The initial acceleration and pick up was very good before it settled into its rhythm. The strangest thing was the noise, or lack of it; just a very gentle thrum. I wasn’t wearing a helmet and don’t think I would have heard anything if I was. I do love the pop-popping sound and smell of a 2-stroke Vespa engine but could quickly get used to the electric alternative.
If you are considering an electric conversion, visit Retrospective Scooters, ride their demo models and take your time to go through the many varied choices and options with Niall - reviews and videos are no substitute for the real thing. Thanks to Retrospective Scooters owner and VVC member, Niall McCart, for his help with this feature. You can get an overview of the PROJECT:E Vespa on Retrospective’s website here – www.retrospectivescooters.com
Words by Paul Hart and Niall McCart, 35mm film and iPhone photos by Paul Hart.