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)
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