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Old 08-03-2009, 08:55 AM   #1
TX Spike OP
Joined: May 2007
Location: Houston/Galveston
Oddometer: 55
In Search of Vietnam Vespas or When You Pay in Peanuts You Get a Monkey

I have been a long term lurker, occasional poster, but this is the first time I have ever had a reason to start a thread. I now have 2 week smug mug account. Hopefully I will be able to post some pictures, and will provide an interesting read.

The Story

I have seen the Vietnam Vespas advertised over the years and followed the various on-line commentary, where the consensus has been “there Cr*p” – but they sure look good in the internet. Now I’m pretty well traveled, and know for a fact that there are expert craftsman all over the world – so I know that there are definitely some folks in Vietnam that could do excellent Vespa restorations – so the illogical side me thinks could there really be some good restorations in Vietnam at excellent prices?

So after several years of reading the online dialogue, I find myself in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) on business – and I am going to find some Vietnam Vespas.

This is actually my second trip to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). I was here in June, and sent some emails to some of the EBay vendors, and sites I found on Google, saying that I was interested, in town, and could I go visit there shop? I think I sent six emails. No response to three of them. One guy said his shop was outside of HCMC, but to tell him what I wanted and he could deliver to my hotel. The other said I could come see his shop, but only when I was working. The final guy gave me a number to call, but when I called, no one spoke English. Obviously I needed a better plan.

The first step in my plan was to talk with one of my colleagues (now known as BBB), that has a couple of bikes, and is spending much more time in HCMC than me.

Me – Man those Vespas around here are really cool
BBB – yea, I really like the lines of them – have you seen those with the chrome spare tire racks?
Me – Yea those are cool, Hey - I hear they restore them here, and they sell them for cheap, and help you export them to the US
BBB – really? Hmm, maybe I ought to check them out. Might go good with xr650…

OK – he’s hooked. A few weeks later I get an email, saying that two Vespa shops were found. Pictures were sent. Miss H, our receptionist went with him to see and translate, as these shops were in District 3, as opposed to District 1 where we spend most of our time at. He said they were between $1 and $2k. So I say, “When I come back – lets go check them out.”. Below are some pics. Could these be legit?

Back to the present (relatively speaking)

So it is Friday night in HCMC, and me, BBB, and Miss H are on a Vespa hunt. We get a cab and head for District 3. I am going off on a bit of a tangent here. I’m sure most readers of this forum know that there are billions of scooters in SE Asia, but if you have never seen them in action it is something else. Men/Woman/kids of all ages are on scooters. Most I have seen on one was 6. I have seen guys carrying 10, 5 gallon water jugs on one. These guys are fantastic riders, and it is amazing – but there seems to be few accidents. (Actually the only accident I saw was when BBB locked up his rental scooter in Vung Tau – but that is maybe a future ride report). There are few traffic rules. Lanes don’t mean much, sidewalks are open for traffic. Amazingly though – it works. Basically it is like skiing where the downhill skier has the right of way – everyone watches out for the scooter that is ahead of them. These are some general traffic pictures, unfortunately I did not take any pics of the ride to the shops Friday night, but these give you a general feel for things.

OK back to the Vespa Hunt. The second part of the plan was to find someone that could get us to the Vespa Shop and talk to the guys selling them. Miss H our receptionist graciously volunteered. (again). After about a 45 minute cab ride, we are in District 3. We get out of the cab, and Miss H leads the way (sorry Miss H did not volunteer to have her picture online)

This is district 3

Nothing to do with the story, but I like dogs

We go to the first shop, after about a 10 minute walk Miss H looks around with a puzzled look on her face. The shop that was there a few weeks ago is gone. Hmm. We have a business card, and Miss H calls the number. Apparently the shop has moved, but a guy will meet us in a few minutes, and take us to the new shop.

So we decide to go to the second shop. We walk about 10 minutes more, and…

Pay Dirt – Our first Vespa Shop

We walk in. As you can see by the pictures below, there were various models crammed in a very tight shop. We could not roll any out, and when we started asking questions, Miss H said the owner was not there.

Is this too many pictures? Here are my observations, but first let me tell you my qualifications. I have had a ’74 Primavera basket case in my garage for couple of years that I am going to restore some day. I have read some Vespa books. I am reasonably mechanically inclined and I can kind of spot bad bodywork. Most importantly I regularly read the scooter threads on ADVRider. Ok to the observations in this shop
  • It appeared that they had various models. You guys can confirm that from the pictures
  • Most of the expendable looking parts had been replaced (grips, tires, chrome accessories, seat etc)
  • I could drag my hand across the leg shield and frame. Some had lots of waves, others not as much. All had some.
  • Paint looks good from 10’, but you can definitely notice some imperfections when you get close. Orange peel mostly around where the body parts join.
  • It seemed like some of the components were loose on some, especially around the cables and brake levers
But wait – there’s more (Is anyone wondering where the monkey comes in?)

Miss H’s phone rings and it is the guy from the first Vespa shop. We thank the guys in this shop and head to the next one. Interesting walk through what is probably a pretty typical working class neighborhood in HCMC. Miss H leads the way with BBB

We arrive at the 2nd shop (which if you had made it this far – this was really the 1st shop that we tried to find but had moved). The owner and his son look on as BBB checks things out

This shop seemed pretty similar to the other shop, and my observations above were pretty much the same for this one. The main difference was that the owner was there and his son spoke some English.

A few more pics

Since the owner and his son were there we started asking questions about the restoration process. Where there is rust, they cut out the metal and put in “new” metal. Yes they use “plastic” (bondo). The son also talked about making “replicas” verses the originals. The “Sprint(?)” with the Ferrari paint job he said was a replica. They could make whatever we wanted. Price was between $1000 and $2000. One of the originals was $1,300. If we bought two there would be a discount. Yes they ship them to the US, California and Texas (ask someone on the streets in HCMC to name two US states, and I suspect they would say California and Texas). Could we see their shop? It was closed (it was Friday night…), but maybe we could see it next week.

Next I started asking about the owner’s son about the engines. He said his name was Dave. The conversation went like this

Me – Tell me about how you rebuild the engines
Dave – we replace with new parts, carburetor, and silencer.
Me – Do you replace the bearings
Dave – we replace with new parts, carburetor, and silencer.
Me – No I mean the bearings or bushings like those around the crankshaft
Dave – we replace with new parts, carburetor, and silencer.
Me – Miss H could you help me please?

Miss H, and the owner walk over. I start asking the same questions with Miss H translating. I get about the same answers. I keep on pushing, and we have about a 5 minute dialogue. Still got the same answers.

I ask Miss H to ask him the same question again, but phrase it slightly different (what I really want to know is “do you guys make shims from beer cans?”)

Miss H – (10 second question in Vietnamese)
Owner – (5 minute response in Vietnamese)
Me – Miss H, what did he say

At last, I now have my answer on Vietnam Vespas, if you pay in peanuts you get a monkey. Just like anywhere else you get what you pay for.

We thank the shop owners and start our walk back to where we can catch a cab. In our disappointment, that we did not find Pebble Beach quality restored Vespas for $1,000, we see this


First and foremost, Vietnam is a beautiful country, with some of the friendliest people I have encountered in all my travels. Excellent food, reasonable prices, nice accommodations etc. If you ever get a chance to visit there go. I always felt safe, unlike some other places I have been.

Are their Vespa’s as advertised? From there perspective they probably are. From a western perspective, maybe not. They definitely are restored better than what I could do, without writing lots of checks. Keep in mind, Vietnam is still a developing country, and most of the people do whatever they can to make a living. In some places, the yearly income is less than $300/year. A Japanese scooter starts around $2,000. Chinese scooters slightly less. There were lots of Vespas that were imported into Vietnam. I suspect most are being refurbished (maybe a more appropriate word than restored) for the local market. Then somewhere along the line someone found out you could sell them for $4k in US.....

Can you get taken buying a Vespa online in Vietnam? I would be pretty leery sending money, without having the product. I might send half. Are there internet scammers in Vietnam? No doubt, but there are lots more in Nigeria

Would I buy a Vietnam Vespa? At this time, probably not, mostly because I don’t want the hassle of import, and being disappointed in all that is wrong or could go wrong. If I ever come back, I will probably go look at them again. But I will always remember “IF YOU PAY IN PEANUTS YOU GET MONKEY!”.

Finally, my latest conversation with BBB

Me – Have you ever seen one of those Sach’s Mad Ass
BBB – What’s a Mad Ass
Me – Its kind of a scooter. They got them in 125’s and 50’s. Let me send you a link. I think they cost a couple of grand.
BBB – Man those things do look cool. Might go good with the XR650
Me – Lets go check those out sometime

And the story goes….
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Old 08-03-2009, 10:38 AM   #2
Vesperado !
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Enjoyed the story
'99 Road king
'09 XR1200
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Old 08-03-2009, 01:56 PM   #3
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So... I guess the moral of the story is if you are looking for a VESPA... don't go shopping with peanuts in your pockets or you may end up with a monkey on your back.

AKA... Buy from a reputable source with local or verifiable source.
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Old 08-03-2009, 02:01 PM   #4
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Neat story...and the more pics, the better.

I was in HCMC in '95 and loved every minute. I didn't get a chance to check out the Vespa shops but spent some time on some Cubs and a few generic other scoots that are popular over there. I hope to get back there some day.

If you have more pics, by all means, post 'em!
Only an XR1200 owner knows why Cthulhu hangs its head out a car window.

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Old 08-03-2009, 10:31 PM   #5
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Great story, great pics. I like your writing style, keep going.....
bikeless. And doing ok with it. For now.

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Old 08-03-2009, 10:32 PM   #6
wanna bECO
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I love the story, but I didn't hear anything about you getting your nails done (love Dat Fan)

Why buy a vespa though when there were a ton of honda cubs everywhere.. Look at your pics... cubs are the way to go if you want dependability and part availability. I am so jealous of your time their... great write up.
Just cuz my bike is shiny, doesn't mean that I'm a hiny

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Old 08-03-2009, 10:41 PM   #7
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Ha! Nice writeup. Sounds about like what I would've expected.
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Old 08-04-2009, 06:27 AM   #8
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really great story and photos :)

"IF YOU PAY IN PEANUTS YOU GET MONKEY!” LOL! I'm using that one for sure.

I went on a similar quest in Japan to find what turned out to be the one shop in Tokyo, and one shop in Osaka that carried Takegawa parts for my Madass. My translator helped out with internet/phone calls only, finding the shop in Tokyo was my task alone and although not easy it was fun.

some photos here of my quest if interested.

BTW - I spent a month in Thailand (1 month before the tsunami hit), also have visited Thialand and Hong Kong. Vietnam is next on my list of S. Asia visits. Love the food :)


if you're looking for the Takegawa place in Tokyo, print this out and be prepared to spend a couple hours wandering the neighborhood around Hamacho station

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Old 08-04-2009, 07:34 PM   #9
ernest t bass
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I Un-Crated this one for a friend:
She has spent about $4500 so far.

Only problems so far in 6 months & 350 miles:
In-operative choke & in-operative fuel petcock - So it floods & is hard to start without ether.
Front brakes need adjustment or new pads - They don't do much.

Expensive, but at least a happy ending

If A Duck Stands Still, You Can Catch Him By The Bill.
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Old 11-23-2013, 06:29 AM   #10
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Funny that I came up on this thread through FB link, good read, wonder if there is any followup?

$4500 for a Vietnam resto and 350 miles in 6 month hardly happy ending. As someone who has been involved with vintage scoots for over a decade I would say that if it came from Asia there is no happy ending, yet to see one that was done properly.

here's a collection of pics/horror stories
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Old 11-23-2013, 07:04 AM   #11
Joined: Jul 2009
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One of the reasons I ended up with a Stella is because I was afraid I would wind up with a Vietbodge if I went looking for a vintage Vespa. I grabbed the Stella because it was the last of the 2 strokes, and was OTD priced way below MSRP. I have since found a local vintage Vespa/Lambretta shop. They do mostly mechanical repairs and restorations, but have someone available to do cosmetic work. I may eventually wind up buying a vintage Vespa from them. But I would never get one off eBay.
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Old 11-23-2013, 07:08 AM   #12
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Some pretty cool scooters in those beautiful pictures. Cool Story! Makes me want to go check out Vietnam.
2013 Honda Super Cub
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Old 11-23-2013, 07:20 AM   #13
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Stella is a fantastic bike, have a Stella motor in my Allstate and complete Stella in pieces... some day it will run. One thing that is a common failure on them is big end rod bearing, cage falls apart, some happen in first 5,000 miles, some last 15,000+ If you are familiar with engine repairs it's an easy fix.

If you want to know more about VN here's my favorite Top Gear episode
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Old 11-23-2013, 07:21 AM   #14
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Thanks for taking us along.
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Old 11-23-2013, 09:03 PM   #15
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epic post and good job of putting us there with you, OP
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