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By Syed Raza Hassan
ISLAMABAD (Reuters)

As cheap Chinese-made motorbikes flood Pakistan‘s roads, fans of vintage Vespa scooters are scrambling to find spare parts and preserve models that hark back to a bygone era

Piaggio’s Italian two-wheeler was the ultimate status symbol for Pakistani bike aficionados in the 1960s and 70s, when bicycles outstripped motorbikes on the roads and only a handful of people could afford to import luxury items from Europe.

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
Amin, who paints repaired Vespa scooter parts, reads a newspaper outside his workshop in Karachi, Pakistan February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

Over the past two decades, motorbike ownership rates have skyrocketed in Pakistan, with locally assembled Chinese and Japanese bikes clogging up the roads in a country where much of the population is below the age of 30.

But for the likes of Zubair Ahmad Nagra, who runs the Vespa club in the eastern city of Lahore, new and more fuel-efficient bikes hold little allure.

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
Journalist Arif Balouch, 48, poses for a photograph with his 1980 model Vespa scooter in Karachi, Pakistan, March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

He drives a Vespa, Italian for “wasp”, imported into Pakistan by his father in 1974.

“It was the first motorized vehicle owned by my father,” said Nagra. “I’ve been fond of it ever since.”

Many long-term owners find that possessing a Vespa in Pakistan is a labor of love, with original spare parts scant and only a handful of mechanics skilled enough to restore the originals.

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
Parts of Vespa scooters are seen outside a workshop in Karachi, Pakistan February 24, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

In Lahore, close to the Indian border, Vespa owners often have to settle for low quality Indian-made parts or ask for mechanics to fashion new pieces of bodywork from scratch.

Farrukh Shahbaz, who 14 years ago inherited his father’s blue 1961 Vespa, has had to have the scooter repaired three times, but he cherishes the love his father had for the machine.

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
Members of a Vespa rider’s club gather at sunrise for a ride in Lahore, Pakistan March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

 

“My father told me it came packed in a wooden box,” said Shahbaz, 50.italian

In the leafy capital Islamabad, once the oppressive summer heat wanes, a handful of Western diplomats can be seen buzzing around on their pastel-colored Vespas.

But they also are thin on the ground. Few expect the tide to turn, with cheap motorbike ownership transforming the lives of many poor and lower working class people in the rapidly urbanizing nation of 208 million people.

 

 

Nagra said Vespas were the second best gift Italy gave to the world – “the first being pizza” – as he recalled driving from Lahore to the Chinese border crossing at the Khunjerab Pass, some 15,397 feet (4,693 meters) above sea level in the Karakoram mountains.

“They have not let us down a single time,” he said.

 

(Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Nick Macfie)

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
Akram (C) applies coating on Vespa scooter parts, as he chats with owners of Vespa scooters Farrukh Shahbaz (L) and Matiur Rehman outside his workshop in Karachi, Pakistan February 24, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
Journalist Nazeer Udding Siddiqui, 58, poses for a photograph with his 1979 model Vespa scooter in Karachi, Pakistan March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
A worker sprays a restored mudguard for a scooter at a Vespa restoration and repair workshop in Islamabad, Pakistan February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
A man rides a Vespa scooter on a busy street, in a low-income neighbourhood in Karachi, Pakistan March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
A shopkeeper and Vespa enthusiast holds his collection of mini memorabilia, at his auto parts shop in Karachi, Pakistan February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
A broken speed meter is seen on an abandoned Vespa scooter, in a street corner in Karachi, Pakistan, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
A worker restores the handlebar and light assembly of a scooter, at a Vespa restoration and repair workshop in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 4, 2018. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
A Vespa scooter stands near a workshop, where old Vespa parts are painted, on a street in Karachi, Pakistan, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

 

The Wider Image: A labour of love: Vespa in Pakistan
A mechanic puts a headlight on a Vespa scooter, after repairing it at a workshop in Karachi, Pakistan March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
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