Scooters may not be as fast or as powerful as motorcycles, but they’re typically a more-approachable option for new two-wheel riders. And in the scooter world, few names are as recognized as Vespa. The Italian brand has been in the business for some time, and as a result, has a wide repertoire of classic models. But is a vintage Vespa worth considering?
The Vespa scooter has come a long way from its vintage days
The Vespa scooter brand isn’t an independent company like Harley-Davidson. It’s owned by Piaggio, an Italian company found in the late 1880s, Motorcyclist reports. As with a few other motorcycle manufacturers, bikes weren’t Piaggio’s first products. Before WWII, the company was one of Italy’s most prolific aircraft companies. But after the war, the destruction of its factories meant it had to move away from planes. So, to help people get mobile, Piaggio decided to make affordable transportation, Petrolicious explains.
Interestingly, the Vespa scooter’s designer, Corradino D’Ascanio, didn’t like motorcycles, Scootering reports. He thought they were too bulky and dirty as well as uncomfortable. So, when he was asked to design the 1946 Vespa 98, he tried to make it as user-friendly and easy-to-live-with as possible.
Thus, instead of a traditional chain-drive, the engine meshes directly with the transmission, MCN explains. Instead of a fork, the front tire has a “supporting arm” to make tire changes easier, Scootering explains. And the bodywork encloses all the ‘dirty’ powertrain components and shields the rider from road debris. Plus, even vintage Vespas have a monocoque design, which makes them lighter and more rigid than the average scooter, NYT reports. For the time, these were fairly-advanced features.
Piaggio updated the Vespa scooter lineup over the years, Ultimate Motorcycling reports. The first model, the Vespa 98, has a three-speed manual transmission and a 3-hp 98cc single-cylinder two-stroke engine. In 1948 the scooter gained a 125cc engine and rear suspension. And the 1955 Vespa GS 150 introduced several more significant changes, Hagerty reports. It’s the first vintage Vespa with a four-speed manual, as well as the first model with hidden shifter and brake cables. Plus, it has an 8-hp engine and a proper two-up seat.
What are the differences between a vintage Vespa scooter and a modern one?
Over the years the Vespa scooter lineup has grown to include models with larger engines and more technology. Electronic ignition was added in 1970, while an automatic transmission became available in 1984, UM reports. And faced with tougher emissions regulations, Piaggio finally switched from two-stroke to four-stroke engines in 1996, Wired reports.
Today, the Vespa scooter lineup includes 50cc, 150cc, and 300cc fuel-injected single-cylinder models. There’s also one electric model, the Vespa Elettrica, Cycle World reports. While none of them have manual transmissions, even the cheapest model, the Primavera 50, has a front disc brake and LED lights, CW reports. And more expensive models add things like electronically-locking under-seat storage, a bike-finder, USB ports, and even traction control, CW reports.
In terms of the riding and ownership experience, one of the biggest changes is the transmission, iVespa reports. Much like a motorcycle, riding a vintage Vespa means mastering the clutch lever. There’s also the matter of dealing with carburetors, rather than fuel injection, and kick-starters instead of electric ones.
And if you buy a two-stroke model, you’ll have to deal with mixing oil and fuel. Not to mention the emissions such an engine puts out—they’re bad enough that Piaggio’s hometown may ban vintage scooters from the road, RideApart reports.
However, in terms of day-to-day rideability, a vintage Vespa scooter still makes for a great urban commuter, Retrospective Scooters reports. It’s a maneuverable bike, as well as economical; and it has onboard storage. Some owners even race their scooters off-road. Plus, the modern Sei Giorni 300 model is named after an international 6-day race that the vintage models won back in 1951.
Should you buy the classic one or the modern one?
The cheapest modern Vespa scooter, the Primavera 50, starts at $3999. The Sei Giorni 300, meanwhile, starts at $7749, CW reports. Vintage Vespas actually follow a similar price range. Several have sold on Bring a Trailer for around $3000. Others, though, have gone for closer to $8000.
The late ‘60s-early ‘70s models, the so-called ‘largeframe’ models, are a common choice for vintage fans. They have fewer plastic pieces than later models, Modern Vespa forum users report. r/Scooters sub-Reddit users recommend the Vespa 200 Rally, introduced in 1972, which has electronic ignition and a 12-hp engine.
Naturally, in addition to the differences we previously mentioned, riding a vintage Vespa means dealing with regular maintenance. These scooters aren’t necessarily difficult to work on, but some parts can be expensive, Scooter Lounge reports. And rust can be a major issue. If you plan on riding it every day, Modern Vespa forum users recommend going with a newer fuel-injected model. But if it’s more of a roamin’ holiday or weekend scooter, a vintage model can serve you well.
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