That’s probably one of the coolest mugshots I’ve seen. Yes, despite the fact that it has a scooter in it. What matters is that exposed motor; anyone who knows their two-strokes should be allowed time to recover from this sight. For the record, the man is Senthil Arcot Govindraj of Skindeep Custom and that’s his Yambretta, a true two-wheeled Frankenstein assembled by shoehorning a Yamaha Banshee 350 LC motor into an elderly Lambretta, the same unit found in an RD 350 LC, albeit making 34 bhp. The real-world result, I assure you, is more hysterical than imagination. And it’s so absurd, I wonder why no one’s done it before.
These Yambretta hybrids are quite a thing in Europe where there is no lack of LC motors. In India, some would almost think it’s a waste of a good motor, but there’s no wasting a good idea. Govindraj inherited the project from a man who met with an untimely demise, and then proceeded to turn the deceased’s dream into reality. And I bet he’d be proud of it, the raging improbability of an idea brought to life, screaming and smoking through twin expansion chambers fed by twice the original number of cylinders and cubes, and roughly four times the power of the old scooter. And as it goes with such things, it was far from easy.
Practically everything on the unsuspecting scooter had to be rebuilt and modified to fit the motor and its ancillaries. The engine bay behind those lovely covers is the location where a lot of creative problem-solving has transpired, and the result is a twin-cylinder motor that looks like it’s lived there all its life. Obviously, the rear wheel is no longer motor-mounted like the original scooter; a short swingarm holds the wheel that’s driven by a conventional chain/sprocket arrangement. My heart ached for that poor wheel that faces forces way beyond a 10-incher’s pay grade. With the expansion chambers and assorted upgrades, it probably makes closer to 40 bhp.
Of course, the upgrade in horsepower could only be supported by hydraulically-assisted lifesavers, so the Yambretta gets disc brakes at both its lucky ends. A radiator on the apron’s inside doubles up as a leg-warmer, complete with a working cigarette lighter fit on it. Makes sense, given the big yellow symbol on the Yambretta’s sides. Govindraj clearly didn’t get the memo about tobacco advertisement. Also, what looked like a grab rail from a modern scooter was mounted above the tail-lamp as an aesthetic element; I wish it had a small rectangular auxiliary fuel tank on it painted in the colours of a matchbox. That’d really smoke the look.
The rest of the Yambretta has so many details, I doubt I caught all of them. There are a bunch of cool stickers of the radiator shroud, an insanely bright LED headlight, a racy single seat, nifty levers, and a black flyscreen to hide behind for able-bodied tiny riders. The engine covers were originally a bright yellow, matching the Yambretta with the Gold Flake logo’s colours, but Govindraj had them turned black because, ‘In yellow, the bike attracted too much attention.’ I couldn’t imagine that this build’s motto was subtlety, in any case. My two favourite details on the Yambretta? The tuning-fork lattice grille on the air vents up front, and the expansion chambers sticking out at the back like two smoking guns.
You see, even if people curiously walk past the Yambretta, they’ll stop dead in their tracks when it snarls to life. It’s a sound to drop all electric scooters dead. What makes it all the more unreal is that the sound comes from that shape. It’s a sensory contradiction that makes less sense the more one looks at it, standing in a cloud of its own fragrant smoke. And when the throttle is twisted, well, the story doesn’t change. As much as I’d have liked a 6-speed twist-shift gear changer to make it even madder, there’s a normal heel-toe shifter rising out of the floorboard. The twist-shift is simply locked into place. Like I was, too, once I opened the throttle.
With an angry twin-rasp, the Yambretta scooted ahead like no other knee-knocker I’ve crossed paths with. The gear-shift linkage was a bit hard to operate, probably because of a minor misalignment in its length, but that did nothing to take away from the proper occasion that this hybrid is. Govindraj said he’s done about 140 kph on it and it felt stable and safe, but I did that minus approximately 100 kph. There was no way I was going to risk a one-off like this by chasing glory. Really, I was content to sit there and watch the Yambretta leaning on its side stand and slowly envelop its surroundings with smoke.
My short runs on it revealed only a fraction of the potential it holds between those engine covers. Short bursts produced rapid acceleration and a terrific sound, and my initial trust in those disc brakes quickly evaporated. You see, any discs that 10-inch wheels hold will never measure up to the power that a 350 LC motor makes. I’d only ever dare open the thing up only on a runway, and only if ATC pinky-promised that there were no dogs around. Nonetheless, as I bounced over a speed breaker after I’d missed the braking point, the Yambretta did feel tight and sorted, a feeling that only a good build can give you.
There are many reasons why things like the Yambretta should exist. And I say this — as I point out in every scooter story of mine — as no fan of knee-knockers. However, this one made my knees knock in an entirely different kind of way, one that was mostly giddy gratefulness mixed with a little bit of trepidation. What an idea, I think, especially since you could hide anything that fits behind those engine covers. And there’s nothing better to shock the world than an LC motor. I bet it’ll be a long time before I see something as genuine and mad as this again.