Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Monday, February 25, 2013

What is the ultimate Mod scooter? Vespa vs Lambretta

I'm not necessarily the type to start fiery debates but I feel that I'm ready to tackle this one and settle it once and for all.  That uncontrollable urge to want to debate has suddenly taken me over. I call it the DJ Warren Peace Effect. Listen to the We Are The Mods radio show and you might be afflicted too. Oh, oh... Will I start writing blog posts a scotch snifter in hand? By the end of this article, you'll get a definite and clear answer from me. Parka Avenue will declare a winner! Who said I can't take on important issues?

First, most Mods fall into two camps: Vespa or Lambretta. Just like the age old Coca-Cola vs Pepsi rivalry, the two Italian scooter brands have been trying to outshine each other since the start. (I'm a Coke fan by the way) Whether you like the feminine curves of the seductive Vespa or the streamline, bullet shaped modern design of Innocenti's Lambretta, most have a preference. If you are part of the few that would rather stroll along the seaside on a bank holiday on a German Heinkel Tourist or a Zundapp Bella, then more power to you but you're certainly in the minority. 

And  if you have a Union Jack tattooed on your heart and are British to the core, you might want to seek out a UK made scooter. Show me a photo of a 60s Mod on one of these and you'll  see a bunch of his mates laughing in the background.

Personally, I own both a Vespa and a Lambretta. They are just like my children. It's hard to pick one over the other but let's see if a victor will emerge.

My 1959 Vespa VNB on the right
The Vespa 

The look: 

Can someone remind me again what the Ace Face was riding in Quadrophenia? Yes, that's right, a Vespa. The Vespa has curves and is sexy. The classic design has endured the test of time and is still relevant today. They preceded Lambretta and you just need to compare the first model of each make to see that Vespa is the clear winner. There's nothing cool about riding a Lambretta D Model. I also give Piaggio an extra point for being the first to have the headlight mounted on the handlebars. For a Mod, that's crucial because it frees up space to add a rack or a badge bar. Where else are you going to put all those mirrors and lights?

The performance: 

The Vespa is a workhorse. With its direct drive engine, it has a well-deserved reputation for being reliable. So when you're dressed to the nines in your favourite mohair suit, the last thing you need is a scooter breakdown and having to get your hands dirty. We leave that to the Rockers.

The Lambretta

The look:

The Lambretta screams "modernism". Just look at it! What a thing of beauty. The front fender of the series 3 model looks like the head of a missile. The legshield is sleek and narrower than the same year model of the Vespa. But what does it for me, are the side panels, especially the arrow shape chrome flashes of the SX200. Could it possibly be more Mod?

In the looks department, my choice is definitive. Lambretta takes the edge.

The performance:

The Lambretta won many speed records and was generally always ahead of his rival when it came to engine size. The tubular frame and centred engine makes it more stable to ride than the Vespa with the motor mounted on the right hand side. Innocenti also came up with some technical advancements that might tip the scales in their favor, mainly the disc brake found on the TV and SX models.

On the negative side,  the engine is often temperamental and notoriously prone to breakdowns. So if I had to chose between reliability and speed, I go for the Wasp. Mods are more preoccupied with cruising down the boulevard in sharp clothes than going from point A to point B in record time.

Before we declare a champion, we must determine which two models should square off. To base my decision, I picked the two scooters that were offered at the pinnacle of Mod popularity in the mid sixties. The were widely considered the two most desirable scooter models of their time and many Mods were ready to make pacts with the devil to put their hands on one. Sure, the Lambretta SX200 or the Vespa SS180 would make for great candidates but they came at the tail end of the 60s Mod craze.

The ultimate Mod scooter face-off:

In the red corner, weighing in at 242 lb, hailing from the Piaggio plant in Pontedera, Italy,  the scooter that rides like a butterfly but stings like a wasp, please welcome the Vespa GS160 Mark 1!

Posing on my friend Jean-François Bourque's immaculate 1962 Vespa GS Mark 1

The top of the line Gran Sport 160 was produced between 1962 and 1964 and it is considered to be one of the best scooters Piaggio ever produced. The GS160 represented an evolution on many levels when compared to earlier models. The engine, suspension, electrical components, frame and styling were all reworked. In 1963, the model revered by many Mods would cost you a little over £196. For its beautiful lines and classic style,  it's a serions contender to claim the title.

In the blue corner, weighing in at 242 lb, hailing from the Innocenti plant in Milan, Italy, please welcome the Italian Stalion, the Lambretta TV175 Series 3!

Unrestored 1965 Lambretta TV175 Series 3  that recently sold on eBay

The Turismo Veloce ranks as one of the best scooters ever produced, period. It was also the first two-wheel vehicule to ever use a mechanical disc brake. When compared to the 160cc Vespa, it doesn't take Einstein to figure out that it can't outrun a 175. (And believe me, I'm no mechanical genius) It can reach a top speed of 65mph and that's plenty of veloce for me. It does have slightly less power at 8.75 hp at 5300 rpm when compared to the GS at 8.9 hp.

One thing makes me all goo-goo ga-ga for this two-stroke marvel: the side panels. The early TV175 Series 3 models had the same flat cowls as the LI's. The later TV's had the coved side panels with the famous "knuckle" flashes that give them a distinctive look. Another noticable feature that I like when compared to its nemesis, is the extended floorboard. When you are riding to your local Soul club, you want your lovely lady to have somewhere to rest her feet. You don't want them dangling on each side like on a Vespa!

This my 1965 TV175 in the midst of a complete restoration at Scootart, Montreal's premium scooter shop. It should be ready to hit the pavement in a few weeks. More on the ground up restorations in an upcoming post.

And the winner is...

The Lambretta TV175 series 3!

"Pat, you're biased. You chose a scooter you own as the winner." I can all hear you saying. Yes and your point being? That is precisely why I always wanted that exact model. It's the ultimate Mod scooter!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Top Ten Garage And Beat Parka Avenue Finds of 2012

I must admit, I'm more into Soul and RnB records these days. But that doesn't mean I turn my back on some hypnotic fuzz or a hard driving beat. As a Mod DJ, it's always good to mix it up a bit. A foot stomping crowd will appreciate you for it.

I'm often asked why I only buy 45s. Does everything have to be logical? What can I say, I like them. Mod DJs are an odd and peculiar breed. When you go through the trouble of looking for a record for months, it means you are committed to it and it's not something you burnt onto a CD the night before. Some can't believe that I'm going to carry a few boxes of 45s for a DJ gig at the Las Vegas High Rollers Weekend. If you take into account the suits, the shoes and the records, it hardly leaves you any place for your toothbrush. At least I have my priorities straight. A toothbrush and a razor you can always find in a hotel lobby.

So here you have the Top Ten Parka Avenue Garage finds of the last 12 months. You can have a look at last year's list here. You can also listen to the entire list on the Parka Avenue Podcast on Mixcloud.

Some of these 45s you can have for the price of a good pint while others, you must dig a little deeper in your pocket to get.

1) No Place Or Time - The Echoes Of Carnaby Street - Thames

When I visited New Orleans in February 2010, I bought a CD of rare 60s Louisiana Punk. One of the best songs on it was a track from The Echoes of Carnaby Street. "Quite the Mod sounding band name...", I thought to myself. The reason why I bought the CD was because the record shop employee convinced me that I will never be able find the original 7". I took that as a challenge. Here it is now, part of my collection. If only someone out there can hook me up with a 45 from the Gaunga Dyns, I could make it worth your while.

2) Fortune Teller - The Hardtimes - World Pacific

Speaking of Louisiana classics, it's hard to beat Benny Spellman's Fortune Teller. This garage cover version by California band The Hardtimes can legitimately claim second place in my book. DJ Papa Bill is responsible for selling me this one.

3) Detroit - The Nocturnals - Embassy

From New Orleans, lets head north with this Canadian band from Vancouver, British Colombia. When you have a track that starts off with some heavy fuzz followed by soulful horns, you are in for quite an enjoyable ride. How I wish I could have seen them when they came to play Expo 67 in my hometown of Montreal.

4) Mal - Jenny Rock - Action

A second cover song making an entry in the Top 10. This French-Canadian version of Billy Joe Royal's Hush was popularized by British band Deep Purple in 1968. More psychedelic then Garage or 60s Punk, Jenny Rock's rendition is by far my favorite. In my opinion, this version is made for the dance floor. Even if it came out in my province, it's not an easy single to put your hands on. In demand on the 60s DJ circuit in Europe, it can fetch a pretty penny. Thanks Michel for finding me this copy!

5) Oh! Non - Les Internes - Match

Staying in the French-Canadian Garage well, this 1966 rocker is actually a cover of another Quebec group, Les Hou-Lops. Very little is known about Les Internes. Interesting fact, the B-side is the song Guantanamera by female singer Céline Charlot.

6) Doin' The Mod - Vandyke And The Bambis - Picccadilly

With lyrics like: "You gonna make, like you don't care. Put on the gear, man! A sharp suit and a cool, cool haircut. And a little bit of eye shadow too", it's hard not to like this 1964 UK release.

7) Low Man - Don Norman & The Other Four - Sir John A

There are a lot of reasons why I love this 45. First, the label has to be one of my favorite designs ever. Based in the Canadian Capital city, the label also bares the name of our first Prime Minister. The record with the original picture sleeve is extremely rare and one recently sold for $760! Unfortunately, mine doesn't have one.

Second, Low Man offers a healthy dose of fuzz and is a pure garage gem. As an added bonus, you'll find Otis Redding's Mustang Sally on the B-Side. The guitar solo in that version makes it worth owning it.

8) Somebody Stole My Thunder -  Georgie Fame - CBS

What does Georgie Fame do in a 60s Garage Top 10? First of all, it's hard to deny his Mod appeal. This 1969 floor shaker offers plenty of fuzz guitar (can you tell that I like some good distortion by now?) and falls on the heavier side of the Fame repertoire. I have to thank my friend DJ Midnite Cowbwoy for hooking me up with this one.

9) Don't Do It - Micky Dolenz - Challenge

Here's a cheapie for you. Micky recorded this hand clapping screamer in 1965 prior to being cast in The Monkees. But it was only in 1967, once The Monkees had acheived national acclaim, that the single was finally released. It reached #75 on the Billboard charts.

10) I Need Love - The Third Booth - Independence

I needed at least one record in the Top 10 that had some great organ in it. Here you have it!

You want to share your favorite 60s Garage or Mod track? Tell us about it in the comment section or join us on the Parka Avenue Facebook page.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Carnaby Street Style: When Mod Hit The Mainstream: Part II

Back in May 2012, I wrote a piece about the commercialisation of Mod fashion in the 60s. A few people commented on the fact that what was being portrayed, wasn't what a Mod would have worn back in the day.

I know. I thought I had made that abundantly clear. My intention here is not to describe or accurately  depict a "real" first generation British Mod from the early 60s. I'm more interested in exploring all facets of Mod: the good, the bad and the ugly. My goal here is to draw inspiration from what was globally accepted as Mod and see if we can learn some lessons from the past, discard what doesn't stick and see if we can improve on what looks good. Trust me, there's a few pairs of shoes here you wish you could put your hands on!

I go through great lengths in finding period photos you have never seen before. This is my vow to the loyal Parka Avenue readers. Take this 1966 fall-winter Eaton's mail-order catalog for exemple. Eaton's was once Canada's largest department store retailer boasting that it was the "largest retail organization in the British Empire". It operated for 130 years before filling for bankruptcy in 1999. I visited many Eaton's stores in my day but I don't remember ever buying any clothes there.

Eaton's had buying offices across the globe so it's no surprise that you'd find a few pages dedicated to the "New Mod Style". The advertisers did their homework because you'll find "Mod" and "Carnaby" affixed to every other item in the youth section.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

You have to admit, you just don't see rolls on collars like these anymore, except maybe from DNA Groove.

The Tee*Kay brand was geared towards the hip and young crowd. They had an extensive line of sta-press style trousers. 

Aside from the nice array of colours and stylish stripes offered on these Ivy League inspired cardigans, I'm particularly drawn to the black knitted tie. I've never managed to find a slim knitted tie like this one. Even the vintage ones that I own are usually larger then that.

Who doesn't like a classic Harris Tweed jacket? The one in the top left corner has caught my eye because of the concealed button placket. The cut seems right on any of these fine examples.

Now, let me leave you to drool over these desirable pairs of shoes. You'll recognize the time-honored desert boots and the chelsea boots, another Mod favorite.

"Our new models for the modern generation"
"Mod style with high heels - You'll be in, no matter the occasion."
"Mod" style for the modern foot.