There’s a certain kind of romance that comes with riding a vintage scooter. Something like an old Lambretta is not fast, but it drips with style and as I could tell you from experience, they get attention everywhere. One person found an exciting way to make a Lambretta riot. Jed Thomson took a Lambretta and crammed a Yamaha RD350’s two-stroke engine inside, turning the little scoot into a fantastic ripper with 60 horsepower and a 130 MPH top speed.
As many of you already know by now, I love searching for and writing about oddball cars, RVs, and motorcycles. Years ago, I had a crazy idea to take a Chinese Honda Ruckus clone and power it with a 670cc V-twin engine from Harbor Freight. Well, I didn’t know how to weld back then so the project never went further than buying the donor scooter. Nowadays, I find myself looking for two-wheeled weirdos like the U.S. military’s multi-fuel combat motorcycle or the brilliant Royal Enfield Taurus. Thanks to the folks of Rideapart I’ve found another, and it’s one ridiculous Lambretta:
This video comes from YouTuber 999lazer, who has a similar mission to seek out bold two-wheelers, but his fare is usually of the two-stroke motocross variety. This looks like a regular vintage Lambretta, but it has some real firepower under the covers. Its builder, Jed Thomson, also has a story to tell.
The Lambretta’s Story
Lambretta is a brand rich in history. As our friends at the Lane Motor Museum write, the company was started in 1947 by Ferdinando Innocenti in Milan, Italy. Innocenti was an industrialist and in the years prior he established a steel tubing factory in Rome. This business moved to Milan in 1931 where his business continued engineering products like scaffolding, pipes, and joints. Following World War II, Innocenti’s factory was destroyed and Italian citizens needed transportation. Innocenti saw a future for inexpensive transportation to get people on wheels. Thus, Lambretta was born. I’ll let the Lane explain what makes these different than a Vespa:
Unlike the Vespa, which was built with a unibody chassis pressed from sheets of steel, Lambrettas featured a more rigid tubular frame to which the body panels were fixed. Early Lambrettas lacked bodywork and had scanty legsheilds compared to its rival, Vespa, but it had a larger 125cc engine—a good contrast to its 98cc competitor. Another important feature of the time was its second seat; it was marketed as more of a social scooter than a functional one. A more important distinction, the Lambretta engine was frame-mounted (Vespa was on a swing arm) resulting in superior handling over the Vespa.
As Thomson explains, the scooter actually started life as a Serveta Jet 200. According to Scootering magazine, Lambretta opened its Eibar factory in northern Spain in 1954. By 1960, the company had produced 50,000 scooters and by 1965, the factory changed its name to Serveta. In 1967, the Serveta factory began production of the first Serveta Jet 200s. These scooters were similar in design to the Innocenti SX 200, save for a different front mudguard. Scootering notes that in 1969, Lambretta began importing scooters like the Jet 200 into different countries. When new, Thomson’s scooter had a 198cc two-stroke single that made 10.33 HP.
Thomson tells our host that this scooter has a story. He used to race motocross with his brother on Suzuki RM250s and the pair eventually found themselves two-stroke road motorcycles. But, as time is merciless, the pair eventually went to school, got jobs, and ended their motocross runs.
Thomson explains that his motivation for building the machine was that his brother passed three years ago. After his brother’s passing, Thomson was left with a little bit of money and instead of just spending it, Thomson decided to build something in his brother’s memory. The result is this scooter, named the ‘Envious Git,’ which has Tomson’s brother’s name on it.
When Thomson bought the scooter, it was just a chassis with a frame and body. It didn’t have an engine, front wheel, or forks. Thomson took the scooter to GWH Scooters in the UK. This shop specializes in cramming Yamaha engines into Lambrettas and has been doing so since the 1980s. The scooter got painted in a shade of green that Lambretta used in the 1960s and a Yamaha RD350 frame was sourced from the United States. GWH then cut functional vents into the front and sides of the Serveta body before mating the Yamaha with the scooter.
Thomson explains that just ahead of the seat is where GWH cut the Lambretta frame and grafted on the frame of the RD350. The Yamaha’s engine was cleaned up. It’s making 60 HP and is capable of going 130 mph. That’s 130 mph on tiny scooter wheels and tires. Small bore scooters are normally nimble machines, not speed demons.
As Motorcyclist Magazine wrote, the RD350 traces its roots to Yamaha’s first 350cc street motorcycle, the 1967 YR1. Its successor came in 1970 as the R5 350. This was the machine that Yamaha developed into the RD350. As Rider Magazine explains, Yamaha took the R5’s engine and added seven ports and reed-valve induction, a technology straight from motocross, fitting for a motocross-inspired scooter build.
Reed-valve induction utilized a thin piece of metal between the carburetors and the cylinders that would open when exhaust gases flow out of the engine causing a vacuum, allowing more fuel and air to go in. Yamaha advertised the RD350 as making 39 HP so long as you kept the revs high. Motorcyclist called the RD350 “a Giant Killer for the ages.”
Update: Thanks to you lovely readers and upon a second look, this Lambretta build appears to be based on the RZ350, which was sold in the United States from 1983 to 1985. These featured 347cc two-stroke twins making 59 HP. The RZ350, which is sold in other markets as the RD350, was the last in the line of RDs for Yamaha. This appears to be where the confusion is coming from.
A Giant Killer
This scooter? Well, it makes the RD350 seem safe. Thomson says that at 120 mph, the scooter feels sketchy and a bit wobbly. I can’t say I’m surprised. Thomson goes on to say that he’s done 120 mph just once and he won’t be doing it again.
There’s some neat engineering going on here. Remember, this twin-cylinder engine would normally be exposed, not encased. Aside from the heat extraction vents, the scooter has a radiator up front, two water pumps, heads that are supposed to keep the engine cool. It also has a six-speed sequential transmission, exhausts from Italy’s Casa Performance, racing brakes, and a seat from Thomson’s first Lambretta. Jamie, his brother’s name, is found in multiple places on the scooter and some of his ashes even hang from the scoot’s keys.
Thomson explained that he dropped the scooter off at GWH and for six months, all he saw was the taillight and the license plate. When he finally saw the completed build, it brought him to tears.
Aside from the scooter’s heart-tugging story, it really does seem like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This scooter makes a few more horses than a Suzuki Burgman 650, but comes in a small scooter package. Thomson talks about destroying Harley-Davidsons and other cruisers while making sportbikes work to keep up. And he gets to do it on something that looks like a slow scooter.
That right there sounds like a dream. I’d love to experience a scooter or motorcycle like this. It’s a hot rod on two wheels! I hope Thomson gets to make many years of memories out of this beautiful, frightening machine.
If you’re interested in seeing more two-stroke motocross motorcycles, give 999lazer a watch, the channel seems like good fun!
(Correction: As readers have pointed out, this is most likely not powered by the engine of an older 1970s RD350, but of a newer 1980s RD350, which was sold in America as the RZ350. I have added additional context and regret the error.)
(All screenshots: 999lazer on YouTube)
Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.
The U.S. Military Once Rode 100 MPG Jet Fuel-Powered ‘Combat Motorcycles’ And You Can Buy One Today
Erik Buell’s Awesome Electric Motorcycle Concept Might Become A Reality In 2024
Powering A BMW Motorcycle With An Air-Cooled Volkswagen Engine Is A Thing And It’s Amazing
The Yamaha Moko Powa D10 Is A Futuristic Motorcycle From A Company That Disappeared Without A Trace
Thing is literally a very very pissed hornet…
How can it be tax and mot exempt? How did you get that by the DVLA?..lol
I like it, I used to have an SX, I’ve had many Vespas as well. I got tired of working on them so this would be nice. I have one 66′ Vespa left in storage, there are some EV kits out there that I have considered.
I’m surprised it can get enough cooling with the shroud around it like that….
Cable operated power valves would make that an 83 and up RZ350 motor. The only place in the world they called them RDs was in the UK.
Too bad those tig welded pots stick out. Could have been more fun as a sleeper.
None of that is needed to beat a Harley. Stock is fine.
Harley vs. Vespa
I love it when people know how to live. Flippin’ awesome!
I don’t care how fast is! It’s the ugliest WoKe mini I’ve ever seen!
What is it with people from Wiltshire putting oversized Japanese engines into undersized 1960s European vehicles?
Could be an obsession of the bad kind
Dear God. Having owned and tracked (and crashed) RZ 350s, it’s hard to imagine throwing a leg over this thing. The RZ, even in showroom tune, is surprisingly quick and demands one’s full attention. Called RD 350 L/C in other markets, it is Liquid-Cooled, see, and very different from the air cooled bike in the embedded photo. Wait; I still have an RZ with 1998 miles on the clock! It’s in my bedroom.
That’s an RZ motor. The RD350LC didn’t have power valves (I’ve owned several of both, along with RD 350s and RD400s). The confusion is coming from Yamaha labeling the RZs as RD350s in the UK market. The LC designation was only used on the 81-82 RD models
I love the looks of these old scooters. I think the Lambretta had a top speed of 70mph, good enough on curving mountain roads. But Mercedes if you are willing to drive anywhere close to 130mph you are far braver than me. KUDOS.
That is nicely done, if rather extreme.
I can see making something like this and then kind of wishing you hadn’t, but I can see this as a tribute. Anyway cool as hell. I can see it as a Harley killer, IME most out there are stock other than pipes and farkles, blowing off small non-sport bikes seems to be entertainment around here.
Sweet Jesus. I suppose you would get some extra help staying in the seat at 120 MPH from all of the butt-puckering terror.
That fast on 10″ tires? Yikes!
But then I knew a guy who put a Cushman Truckster motor in an Eagle frame and rode it on I-80 from Denver to Lincoln Nebraska.
Normal scooter tires are not rated to go that fast. Did they put on tires that can do triple digit speed?
Most of the manufacturers make H rated (130mph) scooter tires.
Lame, the front end geometry is why it wobbles at speed, these little things are not meant to be fast and claiming to “destroy Harley-Davidsons” is also retarded. I am not sure a Harley rider would realize the scooter kid was even trying to race, but even so, almost none would care. racing a big twin is not what riding a Harley is about. Though I do know of a few equally modified Harley’s that are putting down over 200 HP to the wheel, yet just like this scooter the chassis has a lot of trouble dealing with it at full scoot.
LOL. I don’t think I’d be calling someone who was in the Royal Marines for 22 years a “kid”.
Holy crap that is freaking COOL!!!
I’d be hard-pressed to call this remotely “regular” looking, given the wildly out of place expansion chambers on display.
That said, I’d also enjoy scaring the crap out of myself with it.
Lovely build but what a waste of an RD350.
That is bonkers and beautiful. Those expansion chambers… :-O
To clarify slightly for other old bike types who may be confused: in the US, the RD350 was purely an air-cooled model. The engine in the Lambretta comes from what the US market called an RZ350, which was liquid-cooled. The US RZ350 was called an RD350 elsewhere. 🙂
Count me among those – I didn’t know the RZ designation was US-only. I was just looking at it & thinking, nope, that’s not an RD350 head. (It hasn’t been THAT long since I’ve mucked around with RDs & the R5, my memory can’t be already failing me there!)
RZ350 in Japan also, and RD350LC (Liquid Cooled) in the UK.
The LC designation was only used on the 81-82 RD350LC. 83+ was a complete model revamp and it was labeled RZ350 with a letter after it to designate the year, outlier being they kept the RD350 designation in the UK/Europe. LC may have been on the registration there.
That’s just nuts. Can you imagine a panic stop from full speed? Just no.
Like your own personal catapult!
It’s the potential for wobble under hard braking at high speed with that small tire that really scares me. Get that puppy oscillating and yeah, catapult you may.
I am afraid of the handling of that thing. I rode a friend’s RD350 once and the front end was a bit noodley and I’ve ridden quite a few different scooters (not a Lambretta though). None of them have inspired confidence at more than 30-35mph. I am all for too much engine in too small/light of a vehicle, but this one scares me.
Agreed. The handling would be my biggest concern. I was also scared of the brakes, but it appears they were upgraded.
It has an aftermarket racing brake on the front of it. Scooter racing is big in Europe. Everything from Stock to Unlimited classes.