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In the early morning, somewhere along West Lake, an unusual group of stylish grandpas can be found having an enthusiastic discussion. At the center of their attention stands a forty-five year-old blue Peugeot 103 moped that has been meticulously restored.
Out of the blue, in the middle of the crowd of scooters and bicycles, another of the antique machines slowly joins the group, billowing out a plume of blue smoke under the admiring eyes of the other moped collectors.
In Vietnam’s capital city, mopeds and bicycles were replaced by scooters in what seems like eons ago, but for a few passionate people, these old and indestructible machines with their irreplaceable pangs of nostalgia deserve to be proudly driven around the lake.
Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois
This unforgettable – and almost mythical vehicle – appeared for the first time in the 50’s in Vietnam, mostly in the hands of diplomats or rich people. With its small 49.1cc two stroke, single cylinder engine, the iconic French moped doesn’t go faster than 45km/h, despite an optimistic speedometer that goes up to 55 km/h.
In its homeland, the Peugeot 103 has also gradually disappeared, being replaced by more comfortable scooters, but for several generations of high school students, the memory of this small motorbike is unscathed.
“The 103 was a symbol of freedom and independence! It was a dream and the reason for constant bargaining with our parents,” recalls Thierry, a French expatriate living in Hanoi who was lucky enough to own a moped in the mid-80s, the golden age of the machine, which was supplanted at the end of the 90’s by the scooter.
“A gold mine”
The nostalgic French who could afford their teenage sensation for a few hundred dollars in their country are more often than not surprised to find out the cost of these classics in Vietnam. “The price might range from 70 to 80 million dong ($3,000 to 3,500) for a model in mint condition,” says Son, a passionate 72-year-old mechanic.
Son in his shop in Hanoi's Ba Dinh District. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois
In his little shop located in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District, this veteran has been fixing and selling antique bikes for more than 40 years. Dozens of rusted frames, engine blocks, headlights, chrome, wheels and exhaust pipes surround him, in what could be described as the old man’s Aladdin’s Cave.
In Hanoi, you’ll struggle to find someone so dedicated to these mopeds, despite the fact their engineering is relatively simplistic, but the rare owners are willing to pay the price to maintain their precious heirlooms.
“I inherited my 103 from my father,” says Hoan, a young girl sitting in front of a street mechanic’s shop waiting for her bike to be fixed.
“As time passes, they might not be the most reliable vehicles, but I have a deep emotional attachment to this one… and most of all, it’s original and old fashioned,” she says.
And it is probably the Peugeot 103’s vintage style that could save it from oblivion. Even though the Asian production should end in a few months, let’s hope the taste for elegant, vintage items among the youth of France and Vietnam will allow the legend to live on.
A Peugeot 103 Moped in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois
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