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Scooter Tutor

More than mini-motorcycles, scooters drive their fans hog wild.

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Denny Harkai has obsessed over many things in his 61 years: radio-controlled cars, model airplanes, motorcycles. But nothing's enthralled him quite like motor scooters. He was first hooked at 14. "Back then, we couldn't have sex," he recalls. "So, anything that had a motor on it was interesting."

In 1964, he sold the gray Lambretta he had bought used for $450 in 1958. "Me and my brother rode that thing for over 27,000 miles," he says. A quarter-century later, he tracked down the guy he sold it to and offered to buy it back. "I sold it to him in beautiful condition for $125," he says. "When I saw it 25 years later, it looked like it sat at the bottom of the ocean for 25 years. And he made me give him $450 to get it back. It took me seven years to restore it, but I brought it back to the original factory condition."

These days, Harkai -- who makes his living selling searchlights to yacht builders -- owns four 1956 Lambrettas, among the most popular scooters available on the collectors' market. One of his vintage scooters will be on display at the Cleveland Scooter & Vintage Motorcycle Show, a vendor-stuffed hybrid that's equal parts garage sale, bike show, and music festival.

Through the years, Harkai (who also owns a prized 1967 Honda motorcycle) has tinkered with many scooters and bikes. He says he's happy with what he has now and doesn't hunt as fervently as he once did. "I have all I want," he says. "I'm real fussy about stuff. If it isn't real clean and in perfect condition, I have to fool around with it to make it right. It's too much."

But like any true obsessive, Harkai knows a score when he spots one. "I'm not going to turn down something I might want to have," he says. "I'm just not as aggressive about it. My eyes are open, but it's more about getting together with buddies and riding. And it's just as good now as it was when I was a kid."

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