Although our paths must have crossed many times in the 1980s, I didn’t meet Sandra Smith properly until the 21st century. Since then though we have become firm friends and have shared many a beer, dance, photo and natter at various rallies, dos and parties.
Her club, the A5s, are one of the biggest in the country and travel en masse to rallies and ridouts in the south and beyond.
Sandra has been through many health battles, including breast cancer, but is as active on the scene as ever which gives me hope as I go through my own cancer journey.
Sandra got into scooters in the early 1980s and when she had her children she took them along with her, and I still see Donna and Robyn on rallies nowadays. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty either, having maintained all her scooters throughout the years. Here she tells us about those very early days, with some brilliant photos of her scootering life…
Sandra Smith – My First Rally
How did you first get into scooters?
I met my then boyfriend and later husband Myk in 1981. He was a mod with a Lambretta, so I just sort of fell into it.
My first scooter was a Vespa 90 in 1983 and after a couple of months it needed something doing to the carb. I asked Myk if he could do it for me and he said “it’s your scooter, you sort it”. So I went to Halfords and got myself a Haynes manual (which I still have) and did it myself.
Since then I have always done all the maintenance on every scooter I have owned. I even built the engine for my Lammy cutdown back in 1986, and rewired my LML cutdown four years ago.
What was your first scooter rally?
I used to be a hair stylist so Saturdays were my busiest day which meant I couldn’t go on rallies unless I pre-booked holiday well in advance, and only if none of my colleagues were off at the same time. So although I had been going to dos and ride outs, I didn’t attend my first rally until the Isle of Wight in 1983.
How did you get the money to go?
I worked full time and lived at home, so money was no object. We went to Millets and bought a two man ridge tent and one of those oblong sleeping bags for each of us. I remember the tent cost £15 and the sleeping bags were £8 apiece. You could probably buy the same now for a similar price!
I took £40 with me to the Isle of Wight which paid for the ferry, entrance to Smallbrook, food and beer. I remember coming home with £12 in my pocket!
How did you get there?
I was a pillion on Myk’s Lambretta.
I was warned not to take much, so to save space I unzipped my sleeping bag, put spare t-shirts, jeans, jumper and underwear in it, zipped it up and rolled it back up, put it in a black bin liner and bungeed it to the scooter. Packing that way really did save space. We crammed two sleeping bags on the back and a tent on the front. There were no airbeds or roll mats in those days.
Where did you stay when you were there?
We set up the tent at the bottom of the racetrack at Smallbrook Stadium, but were kept awake all night by people racing their scooters around it. We kept thinking if they veer off the track, they will land right in our tent. The dust from the track was awful, and there were a few accidents where they couldn’t see each other in the dark. The following day we moved the tent to the top and camped with the Jailbirds SC from Bordon. I still couldn’t sleep due to all the campfires and how close they were to our tent, especially when people were throwing aerosol cans on the fires!
Were you in a club at the time?
I was, and still am, in the A5 Scooter Club.
We were formed in 1972 and there were up to 30 or so in 1983. At the IOW in 1984 John Barnett got everyone an A5 t-shirt with his Vega on, and we counted 60 of those shirts on site when Edwin Starr was playing
In 2016 Nob (Karl Williams) got a reprint of the original t shirts, which are the ones you can see below.
Do you have any memories of the rally itself?
I was in awe of how many like-minded people there were, it was so exciting. This was also the first time, of many, that I heard the infamous record ‘Toe Knee Black Burn’ by Binky Baker played at 6am every morning.
I remember laughing at the antics of the riders speeding around the racetrack with four or five, maybe even more, blokes on the same scooter, sitting on shoulders etc.
There were so many different custom scooters too, which again I hadn’t seen before.
I also remember seeing a group of very loud, matt black cutdown scooters arrive, and the riders were all wearing leather jackets and combat trousers, and had skinheads. This was totally unlike anything I had seen before. We were all a bit wary of them as we were dressed normally/moddy, in jeans, jumpers, parkas and flight jackets. But later on, it became the norm to dress like them as it was much more practical.
Then, ten years later in the 90s, the Hardly Rideables took that look to a whole new level, especially with the scooter engineering!
The Isle of Wight is still my favourite rally and I can truthfully say that, since 1983, I have done every single one of them, and have a pin badge, patch or photos to prove it!
Was the journey home eventful?
No not really, plodding down the A roads, dirty, tired but smiling. I was full of great memories.
Do you remember what your favourite rally anthem of that period was?
I loved northern and Trojan and still do. My favourites were the foot-stompers like Interplay by Derek & Ray, If This Is Love by The Precisions, and Cause You’re Mine by The Vibrations.
The YouTube video above contains some amazing northern soul dancing footage
What was your favourite custom scooter of that era?
Oooh now that’s a hard one, there were so many! I loved ones like Italian Stallion, Dazzle and Spirit Walker. I also loved The Trooper, which was a Vespa and sidecar with Iron Maiden’s album cover on it, and it was owned by Nob in the A5.
What other rallies do you remember from those days?
I did Torquay in 1984, where it was freezing cold, very windy and on the side of a hill covered in sheep poop. Clacton 1985, again a very cold wet rally, was where we spent most of it in the all-dayer just to keep warm and dry. Isle of Wight 1984 was fantastic, the weather was great and so was Edwin Starr. One of our lot threw him an A5 t-shirt while he was on stage and he put it on and carried on singing.
Weston-Super-Mare 1984 was again quite a damp rally and we spent Margate 1985 camping in a very stony railway siding. The Isle of Wight 1985 was the wettest, muddiest rally ever! I could go on and on.
I have so many memories and photos of that era.
Do you still have a scooter now?
Since I first got my Vespa 90 in 1983 right up to today I have only been without a scooter for four years. This was due to heart problems and not being allowed to ride or drive, but I still attended the rallies by car. I have always owned and ridden scooters. Lambrettas, Vespas, cutdowns, full frames, smallframes, and for the past 10 years due to health problems I have ridden autos.
I own an Italjet Dragster 180 which I love, and I have had Dragsters for the past nine years. I also have half ownership of a GTS with my partner Richard.
I still do all the maintenance on my scooter now, although I do have to ask for help undoing and doing up some of the nuts as my hands don’t work like they used to.
Last winter I completely rebuilt the front end of my Dragster on my own.
I would never trust a bloke to work on any of my scooters. That way if I do it, I know what’s been done, and how it’s been done.
What do scooters mean to you now?
I know its a cliché but it really is a way of life.
I have made so many friends up and down the country in the past 38 years that I have been in ‘the scene’.
My honeymoon was at the Isle of Wight 1986 rally, and I have three children born in 1987, 1988 and 1992. They have always come with us on the rallies, with myself driving our VW Type 2 camper or driving the car with my husband riding or vice-versa. The children still do the rallies, with my eldest taking the grandchildren, so the next generation of scooterists is assured.
The past 10 years have been hard on me health-wise, which is why I went auto as I can’t change gears with arthritic wrists and fingers. I got a lot of stick at first, but autos are now an accepted part of scootering.
There have been a lot of times in the past few years where I haven’t been able to ride, so have gone pillion. There were also times when I have gone by car. I know purists are going to hate me saying I go to some rallies by car, but I have nothing to prove, as I have done my ‘time’ and ridden thousands of miles during the past 38 years. I still enjoy riding to rallies, the music, the friends, the fun, the laughter. I can’t see me giving up any time soon.
Thanks Sandra for these brilliant tales from the 1980s. I remember the A5s really well and it’s great to read about it from someone who was there with them. If you want to read my story of 80s scooter fashions then click here for grass skirts, camouflage trousers and more quiffs than you can shake a stick at!
More from My First Rally
You can read more of the recent My First Rally series using the links below, or look under ‘Interviews’ in the scooter menu at the top of this page for the full collection. Other featured scooterists include Norrie Kerr, Sticky and Iggy Grainger.
More My First Rally stories
I have a comprehensive 2019 rally list and it includes plenty of tips for accommodation and what’s on at each event. Click here for the lowdown and you can also see a listing of northern dos, bands, scooter club nights and alldayers here.