Although Vespa scooters are designed around urban commuting, they’re more capable than some may realize. Classic models even compete in off-road rallies from time to time. However, given that they’re scooters, Vespas aren’t necessarily the most practical choice when it comes to hauling cargo. At least, most Vespas aren’t; the Piaggio Ape, aka the Vespa Ape, is an exception.
The Piaggio Ape: when you need a pickup truck but have a Vespa scooter
If a motorcycle rider wants to carry extra cargo or people, a sidecar is a common add-on. In fact, before the Ford Model T came along, sidecar-equipped motorcycles were the family vehicle of choice. But the Piaggio Ape isn’t a Vespa with a sidecar—it’s more of a scooter pickup truck or cargo van.
The Piaggio Ape was designed to be a Vespa for workers and tradespeople who needed to haul goods and/or people, Silodrome explains. And, to clarify, its name doesn’t refer to a primate. Pronounced ‘Ah-pay,’ it’s the Italian word for ‘bee.’ Why that name? Because ‘Vespa’ means ‘wasp’ in Italian.
And the Piaggio Ape really is based on a Vespa scooter, albeit with some noticeable modifications, The Drive reports. It has a Vespa engine and front end, including the handlebars. But it has a solid rear axle, hydraulic rear brakes, and a flat loading platform.
Said platform is designed to be easily modifiable to suit a variety of tasks. Piaggio Ape owners have used them as pickup trucks, cargo vans, taxis, flower stands, and even mobile cigar humidors, the Lane Motor Museum and Spectrum News report. Italian coachbuilder Pavesi turned one example into a limousine, RideApart reports.
The earlies models have the Vespa’s 50cc single-cylinder two-stroke engine. But over the years, Piaggio introduced larger and more powerful engines. By 1977, the Ape could haul up to 1100 pounds, not including the driver, LMM reports.
The Piaggio Ape is still around today—and has even started racing
Today, the Piaggio Ape is available in three different models.
The Ape 50 still has a 50cc two-stroke single-cylinder engine. With only 3 hp and 2 lb-ft, its top speed is only 24 mph. However, whether it has a truck bed or a van body, it’s classified as a moped, so licensing and ownership is easier. Plus, it has LED headlights, and the Long Deck model can haul up to 408 pounds. And in Cross trim the Piaggio Ape 50 gets a metal roll bar and extra metal bumpers.
There’s also the Piaggio Ape Classic, which has a fuel-injected 435cc single-cylinder diesel engine. It has 9 hp and 16 lb-ft, and in pickup-truck Deck trim has a payload capacity of 1653 pounds. The Van trim knocks that down to 1488 pounds. Though given that the Piaggio Ape Classic Van weighs just 1378 pounds, and is only 10.4’ long and 4.9’ wide, that’s fairly impressive.
Finally, there’s the Piaggio Ape Calessino, which is sort of a convertible beach cruiser. It swaps out the van and pickup truck bed for two passenger seats and has a fuel-injected 197cc single-cylinder engine with 9 hp and 11 lb-ft. But, while it can’t haul cargo or serve as a food truck, the Calessino does have a locking glove compartment and a 12V power outlet.
However, the Piaggio Ape can do more than move cargo and people. An entire racing series has sprung up around the 3-wheeled ‘truck,’ The Drive and Motorcyclist report. And up until 2014, Piaggio sponsored an official team. Apes have even served as ice racers, modified with larger motorcycle engines, RideApart reports. Naturally, track racing calls for extra training—er, castor wheels, Top Gear reports.
Getting one in the US
Piaggio never officially sold the Ape in the US. The American company Cushman produced a similar vehicle called the Truckster, MotorTrend reports, but production ceased in 2002. However, importers like Piaggio Ape USA often bring in models from overseas. And the occasional vintage model surfaces on auction sites.
Prices vary based on age and modifications. But even the custom-built limousine model mentioned earlier sold for just $14,300 at a May 2020 RM Sotheby’s auction. And as of this writing, there’s a 1980 model listed on Bring a Trailer for $15,485 with two days left in the auction. And if you want one for your own business, there are a number of retailers, such as VS Veicoli Speciali, that can modify one of these 3-wheelers for you.
So, if you want a scooter-sized pickup truck, go Ape.
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