Barry Synoground's 1962 Li150 : The Purple Monster
Barry Synoground and his little purple monster, a 1962 Lambretta Li150.
Barry is in love with vintage motorcycles in general, but he really loves old scooters. In fact, he was the publisher at Scoot! magazine, and is instrumental in many vintage scooter and motorcycle events in addition to his day – make that night – job as one of the owners of San Francisco's famous SOMA nightclub DNA Lounge.
Synoground started out with a '62 Li150 Series III. The Series III was more of a mass-market product than Diego's TV, an improvement on the popular Li Series II with alterations to styling, motor and electrical system. But like any red-blooded American, Barry needed more power, handling and brakes.
The original drive unit got the boot, replaced with an Indian-made GP200 engine of uncertain vintage. He souped it up with a TS-1 225 cylinder kit, a reed block intake, a 32mm flat-slide Keihin racing carburetor and a Jim Lomas expansion chamber and muffler (yes, you can still buy them, in several different versions from sport to full race). "I jetted conservatively because I was tired of blowing up top ends," Barry tells me. He left the cases alone. It's all good for "maybe around 22 horsepower," according to Barry's butt-dyno – over double the stock output.
To help handle the extra power, he also upgraded the chassis. In addition to new dampers, he retrofitted the disc brake from a later TV model – the first disc brake on any production land vehicle, according to Barry.
Synoground rides the living heck out of his scooter, going on 1000-mile rallies and frequent sport rides, but I found it very challenging to ride, especially in a stop-and-go urban setting.
Synoground rides the living heck out of his scooter, going on 1000-mile rallies and frequent sport rides, but I found it very challenging to ride, especially in a stop-and-go urban setting. The main problem was the clutch springs – to make sure the incredible power (triple what the drivetrain was designed for) gets to the wheel without gobbling clutch plates like Pringles, Barry used heavy-duty springs, probably from an AC Cobra or perhaps a self-propelled howitzer. I'm surprised he doesn't have a left forearm like Popeye's, as I could barely pull it in, and smoothly engaging it was a problem.
But man o man, does that weird purple contraption take off like a raped ape. It's basically a platform for the most incredible scooter motor I've experienced, reminiscent of the Urban Legend about the guy who strapped the JATO jet engine to the top of his El Camino. I am brave, but not brave enough to ride that cheerily painted widowmaker to its top speed (Barry says about 75, but that means it's geared way too short). Historic the front disc (hidden in the hub) may be, it's not that great, frankly, and the suspension design also shows its age. Still, feeling the motor come on the pipe like a CR500 motocrosser is highly entertaining, amply illustrating the appeal of a two-stroke motor. Take that, EPA!
Conclusion: We Go To War With The Scooter We Have, Not The Scooter We Need
Is belonging to the vintage-scooter world worth the trouble of seized pistons, substandard suspension and long hours spent hunting down rare and expensive parts? If you're as rabid a fan as Barry (either Barry), Diego or Paula, you shouldn't even have to ask.
Riding and maintaining a vintage scooter is an experience fraught with heartbreak, danger, frustration, inconvenience, and ludicrous expenses... and for the committed, one that is absolutely irreplaceable with modern equipment.
There's "something about riding the absolute wrong vehicle for the job that gives you a sense of satisfaction when you're done," says Synoground, who has taken his 225cc scooter on a well-known long-distance vintage motorcycle rally 10 times. "There's a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie [that goes with owning and operating a vintage motorcycle], and it's just that much greater with the Lambretta." Where most people cherish reliability and performance in their two-wheeled vehicles, Barry goes the other way: "The reality is 'Lam-brokens' break more often, so it takes that much more dedication to keep my Li on the road – there's an appeal to overcoming that."
Even if Castrol 2T doesn't run in your veins and you don't sleep with a plug wrench under your pillow, you still have to admire the efforts of folks like Barry, Diego and Torres for keeping living, breathing, creaking, smoking history on the road. Thanks for the ride!
Paul Sachelari's excellent Scooterlounge
buyer's guide was invaluable researching this story. Check it out as a great starting point for learning about vintage Vespas and Lambrettas.