VCB 160

The story starts way back in 1978, with a small shop based in Station Road, West Drayton, Middlesex called Sterling Scooters.  Ron Pym (the proprietor) and William Woodhouse (a part-time employee) were approached by two film producers tasking them with creating a period Vespa scooter that would be used in the final scenes of an upcoming film called Quadrophenia.  As everybody knows, the film is based upon the 1973 album produced by The Who of the same name.

The film producers requested that a Vespa 160 be used, but due to the rather limited production numbers (just over 60,000), it was suggested that they use a more modern Vespa and modify them to look authentic with all the period accessories, akin to 1964, which is of course, when the film is based.  The producers agreed and the popular Vespa Grand Sport (GS) model was opted for. Different models were actually used, including Rallys and possibly even a PX, but ultimately, they were built to replicate a GS. This is backed up the use of the stickers that adorn the front.  It is worth mentioning that many people thought the GS represented Sting's real name: Gordon Sumner. However, this is a happy coincidence and the GS does represent Grand Sport.

 
 

 

It is William Woodhouse, who created the number plate that has plagued Quadrophenia fans with its meaning.  The VCB part quite simply, stands for Vespa Club of Britain. The 160 part, represents the producers’ original request for a Vespa 160. William was a member of the Vespa Club and he thought by doing this, it would publicise the club, essentially for nothing.

Vespa Club of Britain

However, reports, at the time of the film and many since, stated that the Vespa Club were not impressed by this association as they did not wish to be linked with an environment that seemed to encourage hooligan-style, violent behaviour.

 

 

Sting posing off camera

 
       
 

 

The Vespa GS 150 - A Brief History

Piaggio introduced the Vespa GS 150 in 1955 and ended its production in 1961. In it's six year lifespan, 126,349 were made and it underwent five design revisions, starting with VS1 and ending with VS5 in 1961. With a top speed of 60 mph it was considered remarkable for it's time and is still considered more than sufficient in today's modern motoring standards.

 

In May of 1962 Piaggio phased out the GS 150 and unveiled its replacement, the  Vespa GS 160.  The 160 model was only in production for two years, being superseded by the 180 Super Sport.  Interestingly, only around 60,000 160s were produced, half that of the 150.

 

 

A GS, Courtesy of Bryn Owen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

 

AceFace's Vespa

Just how many scooters were prepared by Sterling Scooters for Quadrophenia does vary, however most accounts state that there were four; this is backed up by Ron Pym, the owner of the company. Alternatively, William Woodhouse, the employee says there were five.  Royston Edwards, who worked on the film as an extra and someone who was heavily involved in the scooter club scene, remembers six. Other sources mention as many as eight were made available.

Unfortunately the truth may never be made certain, but it is safe to assume there were at least four. Over 30 years since the film was made, opinions and views still differ.

All Vespas that were made were painted in Douglas Jubilee Silver and decorated with the matching accessories including lights, crash-bars, mirrors etc.

According to several sources, including the film footage, Sting appeared to have trouble riding scooters and this led to several accidents, although which Vespas were involved is unknown. Although all intended to be identical, and essentially one - the latter Vespas used (ridden by Jimmy and Ace Face) do appear to differ. The stickers used by Sterling Scooters are placed in slightly different places and in particular, as the film progresses, what should appear as one scooter, clearly shows two slightly different ones. This can be seen at the point where Jimmy turns the scooter in preparation for his final ride; the scooters front screen disappears and then reappears.

 

 
 

 

Early Tests

Like the film itself, the end appears at the beginning; meaning that the suicide attempt was one of the first scenes to be filmed. It began with using a scooter that didn't include the engine and with less weight, it was presumed that the scooter might be easier to work with.  Moreover, it was less to clear up when retrieving it from the rocks beneath the cliffs; something the local council were rather concerned about.

Unfortunately, the first take didn't go quite as planned, as whilst looking at the film footage, where the camera cranes upwards, you can see part of the rear engine cover coming loose, not to mention the seat too.

 

 

This of course, rendered the footage almost useless. It was this first scooter though, that, according to the Director Frank Roddam, shot so far over the cliff, it was in danger of colliding with the helicopter Roddam was sat filming in.

As the desired footage had not yet been produced and the first attempt deemed a failure, Vespa VCB160 number two went over the cliff and ultimately, shots from both takes were spliced together to form what you see in the film today.

 

Scooter 1

Scooter 2 or 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is possible a third scooter went over, but there is no real evidence to support this, however it is interesting to note that two Vespas were damaged during this period. Phil Daniels and his stunt double were riding them in preparation for the scenes that proceed these. Evidence of the stunt double accident can be seen here.

 
 

 

 
     
 

 

Lost and Found

With the likelihood of two Vespas being left, these were used mid-film and were the road going ones ridden by Jimmy and/or Ace Face.

The first one of these, (VOY 802S) a 1977 registered Rally 200 was returned to Sterling Scooters after filming and subsequently put up for sale. It was eventually bought by a young chap called Arfon Hughes, although this was only possible thanks to his brother Eifion, who helped with obtaining the finance repayments as Arfon wasn't quite 18 yet. The brothers then repainted it blue and it then was passed to someone only known as Gilly*, who repainted it again, but this time, in red and silver.

Once again the scooter changed hands, now being owned by Pete Gore who used it throughout a trip to Europe and he painted it yellow. Nick Benbow was the last person who is known to have owned it and he moved to Cumbria which is where contact is lost. A man by the name of Jim Baxter based in Scotland was then rumoured to own VOY, however it is now in the hands of Dave Wyburn.

 

The other scooter was also located by Dave Wyburn, a member of the Cheltenham Scooter Club, who stumbled across it whilst responding to a house clearance advert on the internet. The house had belonged to a then recently deceased Jon Amberston, who was an employee of The Who Films Ltd. It is rumoured that Jon had been rather difficult to get along with during production and due to this he was moved to the Promotions department. It is understood that Jon then somehow acquired this scooter as part of a possible severance package.

On offer, were some rare Quadrophenia memorabilia items including a film script, various photographs and a screen used parka. The seller pointed out that in the shed was the remains of a scooter and he wondered whether Dave might be interested in that too. Languishing there, in a dreadful state and painted green were the remains of a Vespa scooter. Inside the toolbox were documents pertaining to the film. A deal was done and what was left of the Vespa now belonged to Dave. Using frame numbers and help from the DVLA, the evidence came back that it had previously belonged Sterling Scooters and The Who Films Ltd. After removing the unsightly green paint, the original Sterling Scooters stickers were uncovered, further proof, if needed that this was the genuine article.

 

*Gilly, at the point of selling the Quadrophenia Vespa, decided to keep one part of it: the toolbox cover. He has kept this ever since owning the famous scooter and has fitted this piece of screen history to each one of his Vespas since. It now adorns a scooter nicknamed Stung.

 

 
       
 

 

Dave Wyburn

Here are some pictures of Dave's restored scooter, from his personal colection. The one above shows VCB reunited with its home at The Grand Hotel in Brighton.

Courtesy of Dave Wyburn

 

 

Courtesy of Dave Wyburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       
       
 

VCB 160 Now...

Now fully restored, the scooter resides in Littledean Jail in Gloucestershire and forms part of the permanent Quadrophenia exhibition that includes many props and memorabilia, such as posters, autographs, clothing and lots more. A fascinating place and well worth a visit.

 

 
  Courtesy of Dave Wyburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2007, the scooter changed hands one last time and is now owned by Andy Jones, the proprietor of Littledean Jail. Andy is pictured here aboard VCB outside the front of the jail.

 
       
 

 

Website by Sevendesign 2011