Steve Mueller bought his very first Vespa in 1998, a pea-green and white 1968 Sprint that he purchased for $300.
At the time, Vietnam had been open to outside visitors for less than eight years, and the country was awash in the detritus of 25 years of self-imposed Communist isolation. The durable Italian scooters had once been status symbols for legions of French residents until their eviction in 1954 and, in the following years, became the chief form of transportation for any Vietnamese lucky enough to have one.
After the end of the American War in 1975 and the country's subsequent closure to all foreign travel, these stylish holdovers from the post-WWII scooter culture became the workhorses of Vietnam. With no new replacements available, locals had to maintain these machines as best they could, and they became experts at understanding the secret workings of the fickle Italian two-strokes.
When Vietnam opened its doors once again to foreigners in 1990, locals discovered a whole world of shiny new - and cheap - Japanese and Chinese models. The hand-me-down Vespas were discarded and left to rust, forgotten, salvaged for scrap metal and spare parts.
Beyond Vietnam, however, the rest of the world was rediscovering the classic style of the Italian scooters, especially those from the so-called Golden Era of production, the late 1960s and early '70s. Enthusiasts and riders everywhere were once again crazy for the distinctive wasp-like body design ("vespa" is Italian for "wasp") and the early model's unique two-stroke sound.
Steve restored and sold his first five vintage Vespas to a friend in Manhattan in 2000. Within five years he had his own body shop and a team of 15 Vietnamese mechanics rebuilding and shipping as many as 10 exactingly restored Vespas each month to destinations around the world. His employees are as fanatical about the bikes as he is; Steve's head mechanic, Ty, practices the same trade as his father, who worked on Vespas in Vietnam during the heydays of the 1950s.
"I wish I knew the history of each bike," Steve observes. "You can only imagine what each of these scooters has seen during its history here."
To date, Steve's sold more than 700 collectible-quality Vespas to owners on six continents. The original Italian engine on each bike is rebuilt from the ground up, and meticulous attention goes into restoring the scooters' details both inside and out. Vespas ship anywhere with a six-month warranty on parts (in addition to extra parts should any wear out after that), all legal documentation required to register each scooter, and the kind of loving care that only a conscientious enthusiast can provide.