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Mods and Rockers descend on the AACA Museum

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A 1953 Vincent Black Shadow, what a well-heeled Rocker may have ridden in the day. Photos courtesy AACA Museum.

Though both groups were actively rebelling against societal norms, the Mods and Rockers of 1960s England went about it from entirely different perspectives. The leather-clad Rockers, obsessed with 1950s American rock and roll, preferred motorcycles as a primary method of transportation, while the fashion-conscious Mods listened to newer music and opted to ride scooters. On March 19, the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, will debut a new exhibit entitled Mods vs. Rockers, which takes a closer look at both groups and their preferred methods of transportation.

Mods and Rockers may have been nothing more than a footnote to British cultural history had it not been for a series of 1964 clashes (dubbed riots by the media), which took place in seaside resorts such as Brighton, Margate, Clacton and Bournemouth. After years of alleged taunting from Rockers, Mods descended on these towns en masse, and the result, at least according to the press, was days of violence involving thousands of teenagers.

1961 Vespa GS 150

1961 Vespa GS 150.

The first incident took place at Clacton in March of 1964, and a total of 97 participants were arrested. By the time the May bank holiday rolled around, the trouble had spread to Brighton, an event immortalized by the 1979 British film Quadophenia, which portrays the event through the fictional eyes of Jimmy, a drug-addled Mod with a penchant for Lambretta scooters. Other clashes occurred throughout the summer, but by the fall of 1964 the violence between the two factions had largely ebbed.

Other factors were also in play. Sensing a marketing opportunity, the fashion industry began targeting the image-conscious Mods, many of whom were obsessed with wearing the latest clothes and accessories. In the words of one former scooter pilot, “suddenly everyone was a Mod,” and the death of the movement was more the result of rampant commercialism than any other factor. The throwback Rockers, on the other hand, continued on, later influencing the punk movement that spread through England and the United States in the mid-1970s.

1966 Triton

1966 Triton.

With that much history, Mods vs. Rockers has a significant amount of ground to cover, and the exhibit will feature memorabilia, photos and interpretive displays, along with an estimated dozen scooters and dozen motorcycles representative of the era.

Motorcycles currently confirmed for the exhibit include a 1950 Matchless Super Clubman; a 1953 Triumph Speed Twin; a 1953 Vincent Black Shadow Series C; a 1957 BSA Gold Star; a 1965 Triumph TR6; a 1962 Ariel Leader; a 1962 Matchless G80 500cc; a 1963 BSA A10; a 1963 BSA Clubman Gold Star; a 1966 Triton (a hybrid that blended a Triumph engine with a Norton frame); 1966 Velocette Endurance; a 1968 TriNelli (a Triumph engine in a Benelli frame); and a 1969 BSA Lightening.

1978 Vespa Rally 200

A 1978 Vespa Rally 200, outfitted with the plethora of accessories favored by Mods.

Scooters to be shown include a 1956 Lambretta LD 150; a 1959 Lambretta TV175; a 1961 Lambretta Li150; a 1961 Vespa GS 150; a 1963 Lambretta LI125; a 1965 Lambretta TV175; a 1966 Vespa 150 Super; a 1967 Lambretta SX200; and a 1978 Vespa Rally 200. While the Vespa Rally 200 was built years after the conflict between Mods and Rockers, it is accessorized in a period-correct manner, bedecked with ancillary lighting, chrome mirrors, a spare tire carrier, air horns and a Union Jack-trimmed seat and backrest.

Mods vs. Rockers opens on Saturday, March 19 and runs through Saturday, October 15. For more information, visit