Varun Katiyar, an IT student, spends most of his time with scooter mechanics — many of them are his friends. He carries a bag that has scooter parts such as speedometer, floorboard bindings and chromed mirrors in it. As he arrives at a roadside Noida café on a 1980s vintage yellow and black Bajaj Super, a young crowd gathers around it and start clicking pictures on their mobiles.
“Well, that is my mission: to get youngsters interested in scooters again,” he grins.
Katiyar, 24, recently founded the Delhi Scooter Club. It organises scooter rides and meetings as a means to achieve his mission. While cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune have their own active scooter clubs, mostly run by youngsters, his is the Capital’s first.
“There was a time when scooters were the symbol of middle class mobility. I wish to restore the lost charm,” says Katiyar, who restores and modifies vintage scooters. “A lot of young Delhiites and foreigners are approaching me for restoration of vintage scooters,” he says.
After Bajaj Auto stopped producing scooters in 2010, the country has seen a growing interest in the vehicle. Delhi has emerged as a global centre of scooter restoration with about two dozen scooter firms remaking and shipping vintage scooters all over the world.
The sale of second-hand scooters in Nai Wala in Karol Bagh, one of the country’s largest second-hand two-wheeler markets, has been increasing. “If you thought it is the end of the road for scooters, you are wrong. I sell about 25 second-hand scooters a month. While Delhiites want Bajaj Chetak, foreigners and expats look for old Vespas and Lambrettas. Some use them, while others keep them in their drawing rooms,” says Gulshan Kumar Marwah, 63, a second-hand scooter dealer in ‘Gali number 35’, in Nai Wala.
Hundreds of vintage scooters are restored in the Capital every month and shipped to countries such as Australia, the UK and other parts of Europe.
Sunny S Anand is one such dealer who runs Vespabretta, a company that restores and ships around 80 scooters every year. His workshop in located in Nilothi Extension in west Delhi. “Most vintage Lambrettas I restore are shipped to the UK, while there is a huge demand for Vespas in European countries such as France. We make sure the restored scooters look as good as new,” says Anand, 37. He showed the restored scooters, including a gleaming rosso red and turquoise Lambretta of the 1970s and light blue Vespas of the 1960s.
Anand’s warehouse is full of old dilapidated vintage scooters, including Vespa 150, Allwyn Pushpak, Vijay Super and Priya bearing registration numbers of states as far as Meghalaya, Maharashtra, MP and Andhra Pradesh.
“Restoring vintage scooters is a work of art. The cost ranges anything between R50,000 and 4 lakh,” says Deep Puri, who runs Vintage Auto World in east Delhi. In the vintage market, Lambretta LD, produced in the 1950s, is the most sought after scooter.
A drive down the memory lane
Sunit Chopra, 71, a resident of Janakpuri, gets nostalgic as he talks about the 1970s and 80s when the scooter ruled the Capital’s roads. “When I bought my first scooter in the 1970s, my neighbours were envious. A scooter in the 1960s would cost anywhere between Rs 2500 and Rs 3000,” he says.
Until the 1980’s, a scooter signified high social status and youngsters would save money to buy one before they got married. It was the most desirable item in the dowry market. The waiting time for Bajaj scooters could be over five years. “The allotment letter of a scooter could be sold for double the price of a scooter. Many people applied under foreign currency quota scheme to get them faster,” says Marwah.
Katiyar says geared scooters lost to motorcycles as they unfairly got stereotyped as a vehicle of middle-aged people, and also because motorcycles gave better mileage.
“But many youngsters are now beginning to realise that scooters may not have the macho appeal, but they are stylish, reliable, have low-maintenance, and are comfortable to drive. I know people who have several cars but are not willing to sell their old scooter. The Delhi Scooter Club is trying to build a scooter movement in the city. And do not forget, youngsters are driving it,” says Katiyar, as he kick-starts his Bajaj Super scooter to leave for his workshop.