Scooter boys? Were they Mods?
The short answer is possibly, but not definitely. A strange answer you may think until you understand there is a fine distinction. Mods could own a Lambretta or Vespa, and in general terms, they might be called a ‘Scooter boy’. Not that I remember ever encountering the term as such but I know exactly what this a reference to when I think back. There were Scooter boys as such and they definitely would barely pass muster as low grade Mods. However, having a scooter didn’t make Mods ‘Scooter boys’. A Scooter boy was a Scooter boy was a Scooter boy, but a Mod with a scooter wasn’t. Puzzled? You shouldn’t be. Mods in the Sixties believed in elitism. One’s wardrobe made a Mod.
Okay. There is an illusory idea that Sixties Mods had brimming wardrobes and fat wallets. One or two did, but the vast majority of us didn’t. Yes, one of the guys I came across had a Lotus and wore different 20 guineas plus suits. (Each equivalent to £350+ in 2019 terms). He was fortunate because his father liked to spoil him rotten. Now he was the exception and the business in every sartorial respect. Appearance-wise he could not be faulted. In other respects, he was an ars*hole when it came to popping pills, and the magistrate’s court told him so. Most guys, myself included, didn’t have a lot of readies. At seventeen, they were lucky if they came away with £5-£6 a week wages. As apprentices, office juniors, or doing jobs in retail or building trades, they earned a relative pittance.
If you bought a Lambretta or Vespa, you did it on HP. This would mean saving for a deposit or finding the money for a deposit. Then came the matter of paying off the rest on weekly terms. Usually, your father had to act as a guarantor for the loan. A tough and almost impossible ask in many cases. An SX150 cost around £180 new (approx. £3000 in today’s money). If you earned £4-£5 a week, it left you precious little after the weekly HP. It was do-able, but most of the guys I knew were also expected to ‘tip-up’ at home. Part of their weekly wage was expected for their keep once they were working. Buying that new SX would leave you with precious little for improving the clothes in their wardrobe. Add petrol, road tax, insurance, and your clothes and entertainment budget shrank to insignificance. I was lucky. I had a savings account from being young so I was able to buy a four years old Lambretta TV175 cheap for cash. My mates were less fortunate. So where am I going with this?
The guys who turned up with their brand new SX150s, outfitted with Nannucci crash bars, backrests, chrome accessories, fly-screens, spotlights, mirrors, sports exhausts, etc., lacked in that most important Mod department: clothes in your wardrobe. They would arrive in town on flash scooters but in the same old Levi’s and Fred Perry polo shirts. They would hang around posing by their machine, talking scooters and pills, too skint do much else, often on the cadge for a cigarette or money. “Lend me 6d,” was a common beg. Their scooters looked great … whereas they… do I have to spell it out?
True Mod attitude was all about looking good in front of your mates and everyone else. Your money went on clothes, going out, and maybe also buying records. Dressing right was priority one. Checking out what threads your mates were wearing and what might be the next new trend was all-important. What you wore was a major Mod thing. Personal grooming and appearance were all-consuming. Precision haircuts, with razored partings, were a weekly must. Everything had to look new and immaculate. Nothing creased could be worn. You had to be money ready when the next new look came along, and what was in was out as quick as it was in. Going out to be seen and having a good time with your friends was priority two. A girlfriend also meant paying for her drinks because ‘going Dutch’ had not yet liberated males from certain expectations at the time. (To be fair, girls earned a lot less but equally also spent money on looking good).
So, unless you were loaded, could afford to run a scooter, and keep a wardrobe of sharp clothes and shoes, you made your choice. You could either be a Mod or a Scooter boy. Not many could afford to combine the two without something having to give.
Finally, in my experience, between 1965 and 1968, Mods who owned scooters kept accessories to an absolute minimum. More likely this was financial I suspect but the often given reason for not doing so was probably equally true. To cover your Lambretta or Vespa in unnecessary trammel was deemed seriously uncool. Whip antennas, fur-covered seats, car hub covers, mirrors galore, dripping numerous spotlights, horns, etc., were typical signs of Scooter boys and deplored. If dressing your scooter was more important than dressing yourself, well that said it all. You were what you wore.
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written by John Knight, edited by Mods Of Your Generation