Saturday, April 07, 2007

Steampunk Vespa

A poor soul going by the handle Digit, recently asked for advice about modding a Vespa to be Steampunk, on the Steampunk Forum. They received, of course plenty of stellar advice, and was also subjected to my verbose musings on the topic. In fact, these musings were so verbose, and I spent so much time preparing them, that I figured I would share them here.

I've been thinking about this for about nine months, now... so I'll throw some ideas out, and address some of the other ideas that folks have tossed around.

Wood and woodgrain-- replacing those floor rails can be a big headache, depending on how extensive a shop you have, and how much time you want to devote to the project. Some discussion here. Learning riveting could be seen as pretty steampunk, so maybe you wanna go that way... I'm sure you could find them in brass or copper... Some folks use small nuts and bolts. Not as "pure" from a restoration point of view, but much easier. Another thing to consider about floorboards, is that this is where frame rust usually begins, so you want take into account preventing moisture buildup here. Also because this is a horizontal surface where moisture collects, you will want to seriously protect any wood you use (coat with urethane or epoxy, etc.) My solution to this is going to be to just paint woodgrain (not on the floorboards, though). Another option I've considered was applying a veneer and then coating it with a clear urethane. For my floorboards, I very carefully masked off the the floor rails, did some indepth treatments to the surface rust, and gave it a few coats of that rubberized truck bedliner stuff. I'm also going to coat the underside of the frame with this, to protect against road debris, and the inside of the glovebox and cowls, to cut down on vibration/rattle.

Painting-- some general "cheap painting" tips.

If you don't have access to professional auto-body facilities/equipment I'd just use "rattlecans" (spraypaint.) Sounds like you want flat black, so just get some inexpensive (not cheap, if you see the difference) flat black primer. The advantages of this are many... it's easy and cheap to repair future dings and scratches, and if you ever decide to restore the scoot, or really turn it into a "show" custom, you don't have to strip it down. The main thing to keep in mind with painting, is the prep. Really take your time masking EVERYTHING. And you don't need to strip the factory paint off, just deal with any areas that are chipped, scratched, or flaking. You'll want to sand or scotchbrite every surface that will be painted to improve the mechanical bond of the paint. And please, be careful about those fumes.

Here's a photoset of my painting progress.

I used Rustoleum antique brass and black night metallics.

Another fairly simple custom paint effect you might consider, besides cogs, would be painting it to look like panels riveted together.If you are going to get very intricate with stenciling I'd recommend a roll of either "sticky Mickey's" or Automask, available here.

Also, depending on how intricate you wish to get, you might want to look into airbrushing... that's whole other can of worms, but I'd be happy to post on it later, if you like. If you don't want to invest that much time and money into gathering equipment and skills, but still want to do some painting check out Montana spray paints. They make paint for graffitti artists, it's supposed to be really high quality and is available in a lot of colors.

Bluing-- When I sold art supplies, I had a customer, this wild old mountainman/hippy/hillbilly, who used Prussian Blue oil paint for gun bluing. I'm pretty sure it was oil paint, though I'm positive it was Prussian Blue (Pigment Blue 27, ferric-ferrocyanide). He had some esoteric process he used, which I can't remember, and haven't been able find online. (If you try searching for this beware, there is a Aryan hate-band named Prussian Blue.) But I think if you stripped your parts down to base metal, coated them with Prussian Blue oil paint thinned with an alkyd medium for greater transparency and faster drying, and then clearcoated this, you'd have a pretty nice blued surface that should be pretty durable... Anybody else heard of this? Ferric ferrocyanide is pretty interesting chemically, but unfortunately my chemistry knowledge is limited to art supplies...

instrument panel-- Some good suggestions here already... what I'm going to do, and what you might consider is installing a glove box on the inside of the legshield. This gives you a great surface for installing gauges, switches and such (or just painting them on which is what I'm going to do.)

seat-- While HAC is right that the solo seats look more "vintage," I've got long legs, and find that the solo seats force me into a riding posture that is uncomfortable for extended riding. I like the longer seats where I can stretch out more, creating a comfortable ride which is one of the great appeals of scootering over other forms of two-wheeled transportation. Your mileage may vary.
Headlamp-- I'm not sure about this, but I think it could be a real PITA. You should be able to find a wire grill to go over it though,(the black rat-Vespa in Hac's post has one) and that could probably be plated or painted to copper or brass. What model do you have? Does it have a battery? You can find all kinds of interesting aftermarket turnsignals and taillights for Vespas, and a lot of motorcycle ones will work as well. If your scoot does have a battery, I'd lay dollars to donuts it's 6 volt, so keep that in mind. Of course, it may have been upgraded to 12 volt, or you may want to do that yourself.

other mods-- crashbars are your friends! If you know resources for scooter parts, then I'm sure you've seen 'em. Mostly just available in chrome or powder coated black. I'd go with the powder coated, because it would be easier to treat/paint to look brass or copper. There are a variety of ways to go about this. You could just paint them to look like patinaed brass/copper. Or you could paint them with a "bronzing" paint which actually uses ground up metal as a pigment, then expose it to vinegar, and get honest to goodness patina.
You can also find thin sheets of brass with an adhesive on them at craft stores, that can be easily embossed and cut with tin-snips or a jewelry saw... this opens up all kinds of possibilities for cog and scrollwork embellishments without requiring much expense, equipment, or technical know-how. Another option for graphics is adhesive reflective vinyl film, like is used on highway signs. I'm using this to add some cogs to my scoot, it's available in lots of colors, and will dramatically increase your visibility to the "cagers" which is always a plus.
You might also want to watch ebay. I'm not sure where you are located, but I've seen some really cool aftermarket stuff from the UK there, which you just can't find on this side of the pond. Cool badges and fender crests.
a cool Vespa badge I found while digging around for this reply.

Anyway, Digit, good luck! And keep us up to date on your project... sounds like fun!

1 comment:

digit said...

thanks again for the advice, im going metal shopping this weekend!