“Who wants a tailor-made vintage Vespa? Now paint booth is finished, we are just finishing 2 more projects: a super restored as original colour engine etc, and a 225 CC hot rod ....Time to get yours”
By day, Nicolas Acma works a hi-tech job as a pharmaceutical engineer for a multinational company. In his off hours, however, he trades his lab coat in for a mechanic’s smock and goes to work rebuilding classic Vespas. Using original Italian parts sourced from around the world, he meticulously pieces together original parts into working machines. His garage, which is located next to his house on the city’s outskirts, is a non-profit affiliate of the 27-member-strong Vespa Club Cambodia. Acma, who owns about 10 Vespas himself in both Cambodia and in his native France, emphasises that his garage is not a typical dealership – only true Vespa aficionados need apply.
“I reject about 50 per cent of people who approach me. A lot of people come and say, ‘I want a Vespa,’ but they don’t know what it is, never ridden one before, and they waste my time. It is like selling a pet– it cannot just be sold to anyone.
It is a very long love story with me and Vespa. I got my first Vespa was when I was 13. It was a reward because I graduated well from school. My mom was against two wheels, and my dad was two wheels addicted, and secretly he went to the shop and said he wanted a scooter. Just to make my mom happy, I didn’t want a normal motorbike, so I got a 50CC Vespa.
I’ve decided to rebuild Vespas only with genuine parts and at high quality. I don’t want to do anything to cheapen Vespa. That’s why I try to remain discreet. It’s only for people who really love Vespa.
It’s really my passion– my therapist and shrink. When I’m working with Vespas, I forget everything about pharmaceuticals. I keep having people come in who want a Vespa, and the first question is, ‘Have you ridden a Vespa?’ If not, I explain to them that it’s a very old lady. It’s not Honda Dream. You don’t just push a button to start. It needs a bit of maintenance and respect.
Vespa is beautiful, and she should be treated with respect, with no Indian parts and no Vietnamese parts, only genuine parts from Italy, or from one company in Germany that also makes very nice parts. I use my good friend eBay, too, and buy a lot of parts from people in the USA. There are a lot of people there selling Vespa parts.
I’m not making any profit. I do it for love. I already have a very good job. I’m just doing this because I’m tired of seeing crap Vespas in Phnom Penh. In Cambodia, you cannot make profit on Vespa. People think that it is cheap, and they do not understand how long it takes to rebuild one. If I start to make money with it, I will lose my patience.
The old generation of Cambodians, particularly, like Vespa. A lot of them were young and had their first lovers on the back of Vespas in the 1950s and ’60s. When you stop at a red light and they hear that distinctive sound, you hear them say ‘Vespa!’”