Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why do Mods have so many lights and mirrors on their scooters?

The simple answer to that question would be: to be different. It’s undeniable; Mods are sometimes contradictory in their way of thinking. We want to be noticed but still want to be an underground subculture. We want to stand out but we can’t stand being mainstream. We are all about the “Modern World” yet this generation of Mods exclusively rides vintage Vespas and Lambrettas.

So why all the shinny accessories and chrome? Back in the early sixties, the Mod scooter was a lot less extravagant. Paint seemed to be the main focus. Relatively cheap to do, you could easily customize your ride. The two-tone scheme was a popular choice, usually a light color with a dark one. It was easy to just take the side panels off a Lambretta and paint them.

By ‘63-’64, mirrors and fog lights were added on and soon every conceivable, bolt on accessory became part of the Mod myth. Spare wheels, wheel covers, cowl protectors, pennants, aerials, seat covers, back rests the size or ironing boards, fly screens, whip antennas, fox tails, automotive badges, jag lights, bumpers, Florida bars, baskets, side panels embellishers, headlight peaks, fork covers, crash bars, spinners, mud flaps, flashes, grips, lever covers, leg shield trims, tassels, horn covers, floorboard extensions, leg shield toolboxes, air horns, mats were all part of the arsenal.

Companies like Vigano, Ardor, Biemme, Ulma, Falbo, Super, Feridax, Stadium, Cuppini, Metalplast specialized in personalizing your ride. Since a Mod’s scooter was his favored accessory, you ended up with tons of accessories for your accessory.
They would also borrow gadgets from cars. Car badges from the RAC (Royal Automotive Club) and the AA would be lined up on bars. The leaping jaguar from the British car of the same name would also be proudly displayed, front and center. Mascots of every kind had its place. You could see jet age chrome planes fixed to the front wheel mudguard. Subtlety was not the norm.
Chroming scooter parts also became very popular. Almost every part that wasn’t tied down or permanently fixed could be chromed, from side panels to mudguards.

The chrome luggage rack is probably one of the most convenient and practical aftermarket accessory a scooter can have. Toss in a few bungee cords and you can carry a spare scooter with you. But not for a Mod! A leg shield rack is just another excuse to strap more stuff to your 2-stroke machine. This is where you basic ten mirrors and six spotlights are secured. Where would we be without those trusty front racks?

When I cruise along the downtown streets of Montreal on my ‘59 Vespa VNB, with its nine mirrors and nine spotlights, I have my fair share of comments. But what I mostly get are smiles. The majority of people might not get it but their faces light up. And when a smart ass asks me sarcastically why I have so many mirrors, I usually respond: “I just love to look at myself.” Now that’s being a Mod!


  1. Actually Pat, the REAL reason for all the mirrors has absolutely nohing to do with any of that, or even being a mod.

    A British law passed that all motorbikes/moorcycles had to have at least 1 mirror. Adding a bajllion mirrors was youth's way saying "screw you, you want 1 mirror, we'll give ya 10" to the old bill.

    Accessories (in chrome or otherwise) for scoots came well before the advent of "mods" or any British youth scooter culture. For example, the flashiest and over the top accessories are for the Ser.2 Lammy...produced from '59-'62 or '63...can't remember exact off the top of my head. Even the mid-1950's LD's had wicked chrome accessories.
    But a "mod" wouldn't be caught DEAD on an LD or Ser. 2, right?

    Also...planes are Jet Age...not Space Age. The "Space Age" pretty much began in '68/69 the peak of it culminating with the moon landing in '69, when everyone went space crazy.

    1. Britain has never had a compulsory mirror law on motorcycles... Not then and not now.
      You can buy a brand new bike here and remove the mirrors legally.

  2. Here is a very compelling exchange from a very credible Mod on another forum.

    Reply by Reid Trotter

    Hi Patrick, I have spoken to my Dad and Uncles about this dozens of times in the last 32 years(my God! 32 years!!) since I first became a mod. You can`t beat getting it from the horses mouth. This is what they told me. Back in the late 50`s, the scooter was a very popular form of transport and there were many scooter clubs, nothing to do with mods. These scooter enthusiasts were the originators of the accessory adorned scooter, racks, bumpers, pennants, motoring badges and yes, spotlights too. When mods took up the scooter as a way of getting about they "borrowed" the look. At first it was a different paint job with a rack,here and bumper there, but ,mods being what they are, they had to go one better than the next bloke. My Dad particularly remembers 10 foot tank arials as being all the rage at one point `cos they were cheap! As I`ve mentioned before, he and his brothers were mods in `62. The look then was a good non-standard paint job with pinstriping, front and back racks, florida bars, etc, no lights. He says that putting loads of lights on was a south London thing. Eventually, the lights and badges etc look spread and reached it`s peak in the summer of `64, by then the latest trend was taking your panels/mudguard off and painting racing stripes and numbers on your "street racer". This is when skellys first started appearing. Original mods NEVER had loads of mirrors, maybe four at the most. If you look at any pictures of mod scooters from `62 to `65 you won`t see loads of mirrors. I think this look originated from "up north". As mods died away in London and the south, it still carried on in the northern cities like Liverpool and Manchester. Back in those days fashions spread more slowly than nowdays. The northern mods adapted and added to the look and this is when you start seeing lots of mirrors, ironing board backrests etc. Personally, I don`t like lots of mirrors, I only have two, I try to stay true to the early London mod look.

    Reply by Patrick from Parka Avenue

    Thanks Reid!

    How I wish I had family who lived it all and to tell me all those stories. Maybe you should start a blog too! ;)

    I think we're pretty much saying the same thing. I'm certainly not implying that the Mods (of any generation) came up with the idea of adding tons of accessories to their scooters. If you look at the Lambretta LD or the series 2 Lambretta, loads of stunning accessories were sold for those scooters. Scooter Clubs in the 50's were big on the accessories. In fact, I think that more accessories were produced for those models than for the series 3 or the Vespa VBB. And a Lammy LD was the last choice of any Mod.

    The point I'm really trying to make is to explain why they loaded their scooters (now and then) with ridiculous amounts of stuff. I think your example of your dad with his 10 ft tank arial (how cool is that!) illustrates my point. It was coming up with the next cool thing and trying to outshine the other. That is pretty much what happened with fashion too.

    As for the mirrors, if I remember correctly, in Richard Barnes Mods!, Mods started adding mirrors to their scooters when the British government passed the law that required motorbikes to have one. It was the youths thumbing their nose at government control, a form of protest. (Thanks Aisha for reminding me!)

    And one influence that we can't deny, even if it wasn't historically accurate, is the Quadrophenia look. That sort of threw all the different styles in one big pot. As for my own personal preference, with my Vespa, I'm going all out. With the TV175, that I'm about to put on the road, I'm more subtle. It doen't even have a single mirror yet!

  3. Here's another comment Reid left that I think is very relevant.

    Also, thank you Aisha for correcting me about the "space age". It's true, I used the term without thinking about it and I made the correction.

    Reply by Reid Trotter

    I don`t buy that story about fitting lots of mirrors because of the law. I`ve heard it before (didn`t know it was in "Mods!", I`ll have to read it again instead of just looking at the pictures!). I think Richard Barnes is reading too much into it, the simple fact is, back in the 60`s when the scene was still evolving and coming up with new ideas, if one mod saw another mod with four mirrors, he would have to have six, then the next bloke would have eight, just like centre vents going from 5 inches to 11 inches it`s about going one better! Skelly`s were a reaction to over the top accessories, if all the mods on your manor have got 25 lights and every rack and bumper you can fit on, how can you be different, one step ahead? take everything off! Being a mod in those days was completely different to now, nowdays we are trying to recreate a look from the past (as accurately as possible in my case). Although I don`t like the commercial mod look that encompasses everything from `62 right through to Quadrophenia and the mod revival, I am glad these people choose to be mods instead of anything else, I suppose I`m just a bit of a mod snob! p.s. You`re welcome to use my comments.

    1. The space age began about 1957 with the first Sputnik.
      ..and Britain has never had motorcycle mirror laws.. The book is mistaken.

  4. P.S. Rimini is a shop...not an accessory brand.

  5. That's right! I meant to write Cuppini. Thanks.

  6. My girlfriend's father has a similar account, as 'original'.
    He claims they went for speed (on the Isle of Wight at least).
    He calls the typical accessorized mod scooter too 'quadrophenia'. (he even says this of my blue '69 GTr, which just has a front rack with 3 spots on it)

    He started with an early Vespa GL/GT(or maybe a GS, he's not sure) ditched it for a Li150 series II. His claim is that the vespa always had battery driven electronics problems. The lambretta was more prone to mechanical problems which were easier to fix.

    Anyways, he said he used to ride the Li with the panels taken off.
    He also mentions his friend had a Vespa painted a dark green with coppered cowls. They didn't cover them in spots and mirrors.

    He said his ideal 'mod' scooter is an Li with just a backrest on it.

  7. My take on the "christmas tree" mod scooter has been this:- in the 50's lambrettas and vespa were acessorised according to the taste or requirements of the owner, the mods just took it a stage further, whether by the lights/mirror look, two tone paint jobs,the later cutdown/skeleton look it was to make their personal ride stand out from the rest,
    part of the essence of Mod through all its incantations is to subvert the normal or accepted,in clothes, music and transport Mods have and do this, the culmination of this is the scooterboy scene with full blown custom artwork, engraving etc, spending thousands on what is at the end of the day, an italian or indian commuter bike

  8. Interesting reading guys - my initial interest in scooters and the mod / skin / suedehead style started in the early seventies.Although short lived as I drifted quickly into the Northern Soul scene. Some 40 years late I still find myself mixed up in the growing young Asian Mod Culture & producing high quality remakes of vintage 50's & 60's scooter accessories for the buzzing scooter scene over here. I feel a bit silly nowadays riding a full modded up scooter & have recently re modelled my 68 SX200 for a more retro look , but to see the youngsters here in Jakarta bombing around on full modded up scooters still looks as cool as f--k for the 18 to 25 years age group & long may it last.
    KTF cheers beers & pills Uncle Dave

  9. Hi Patrick - this is my late 1968 SX200.
    Like I said I have gone for a more retro look without loads of mirrors, but still added a few one off classic style accessories with unique badging, all made in house.


  10. Sorry Patrick - I tried to post a photo there so you could see my SX - not sure what went wrong but I cant see a way of deleting it.
    Here is a link to the album on Photo Bucket

  11. Patrick

    You may have already read them, but for an insight to the ever changing fashions in scooters throughout the original mod period then 2 books, Mods! by Richard Barnes and Mod: A Very British Phenomonen by Terry Rawlings are invaluable. They both have great interviews with some of the original faces discussing the trends in different areas of London as well as fantastic photos of original mod scooters. Both are available on Amazon and are worthy additions to anyone's collection.

  12. I just remembered the rubber mats shown on the Nannucci catalogue were produced by an Italian company in Italy called Diamant. Those of you considering buying old rubber items over the internet or Ebay beware that once rubber items are subjected to the atmosphere they start a long degradation process. Unless one of these Diamant mats has been kept sealed in an air tight plastic bag it is likely to be hard brittle & tear very easily.

  13. @ Dave: Thanks for that info. I was considering buying one of those mats. I love the Diamant logo and have a thing for the mats with the cut outs.

    @ Ger: No need to worry because I already have those 2 Mod bibles already. Quick anecdote. Last week, I bought a small lot of Northern Soul 45s on eBay from a guy named Richard Barnes. I almost had a heart attack! I wrote him and asked him if he was Richard Barnes, the author, by any chance. Sadly, he wasn't.

    If you like that type of book, you should check out I'm One: 21st Century Mods by Horst A. Friedrichs. My copy is signed by Dis from the great Brighton store Jump the Gun. It came out last year and it only has photos. A few of them are of stunning SX200s.

  14. original mods DID have loads of mirrors btw. watch quadraphenia for example. ive seen books of mods in the 60's and they had loads of mirrors....

  15. Hello all. Great thread with some fascinating theories. I have a practical question which will do nothing in terms of adding to this dialogue so please forgive this misplaced question: by law, must any additional lamps be functional or did (do) folks just add spots to racks for appearance only (I.e. not wired up)?

    1. No requirement for extra lamp functionality in UK law.... I doubt the bike's charging system would have kept up with any more than the standard headlamp and tail lamp either!