by Jeremy Wilkers
Since the last column, things in the scooter world have changed yet again. Word on the street is that Piaggio (Vespa’s manufacturer) will at first only bring the ET-2 (50cc) to the USA market, leaving the ET-4 (150cc) for a later date! Augh! What is the logic behind this move? Do they think they will actually sell more little scoots than big scoots? Does anybody else understand this? I guess, as usual, we’ll just have to wait and see.
A friend was asking me questions the other day, that got me thinking about some general scooter info. What features make the Vespa unique? One thing a person might notice right off the bat is it’s shape, it looks like a wasp with its narrow waist and bulbous bee-hind. And that’s exactly how it got its name. The Italian word for wasp is Vespa.
More peculiar, perhaps, is the front fork of a Vespa. It’s not truly a fork, it’s a side arm. The front wheel is attached to a side arm mechanism that is remarkably similar to that of an airplane. This can be directly attributed to Piaggio’s history prior to 1945. During the early part of the 20th century Piaggio was a major aircraft manufacturer. However, they suffered greatly because of the war and it became quickly apparent that a new focus was needed. Enter the scooter. If you haven’t seen it up close, check it out next time you’re near a Vespa. This 50+year old idea is even now being used in some of the latest mountain bikes from Cannondale.
My friend Derrick, who fixes classic scooters, thought I should tell how I found my scooter. My story might sound unique, but there seems to be a rather common scenario about scooters and mine mostly follows along.
I discovered my scooter in a friend’s garage under one of those humongous Menard’s special blue plastic tarps and in a multitude of pieces. It obviously hadn’t run in many years and was being used as some of sort of shelf as it had all kinds of junk stacked on or around the body. The tires were horribly shot and the side panels were off the scooter… which exposed the mostly dismantled carb… which was filling up with sawdust from who-knows-where. In other words, it was a glorious mess! I fell in love immediately and inquired about buying the scooter, which actually belonged to my friend’s son who lived in California. The initial answer was a firm “No.” But I was smitten.
I persistently reminded them both that I would like to purchase the non-running heap of Italian metal and kept getting turned down. I may have even incessantly pestered them. I kept the pressure on for an entire year. Finally they either got sick of me or realized that their ideas of possible restorations in the future weren’t going to happen. I could have it for my very own!
I don’t think I’ve been that excited since… well… since maybe when I got my first BMX bike. Or that time I discovered gold in the alfalfa field behind my parent’s house. Or when I won that Peace Prize thingy…what’s it called? Nobel? Let’s just say that I was very excited.
(Note: variations on this story usually involve barns, farmers, lots of missing parts, rust, horribly messed up “repair” jobs based around copious amounts of Bondo, and/or sitting long hours at auctions or estate sales).
No doubt it probably wasn’t going to run as soon as I reassembled all the parts but, as I alluded to in my last column, nobody had fully explained the joys of scooter ownership. My affordable garage scooter suddenly tripled in price over the next year or so as I tinkered and learned and rebuilt. (I’m still tinkering on the thing!) As a newbie to scooters I learned valuable and yes, sometimes expensive, lessons. Make sure your oil gear isn’t stripped. Don’t use gasket sealer where fuel will contact the stuff. Ensure that your mirrors are bolted on tight. And always bring along extra cables (hint hint) and some tools. I also have been riding it an awful lot in the process. Last summer I logged over 1200 exhilarating miles! Worth every penny.
I’d love to hear from you, two-wheeled reader, so drop me an email at email@example.com or stop by one of the meetings of The Regulars Scooter Club. Ride safe – Ride often.
The Twin Cities’ Vintage Scooter Club, The Regulars, meets on the first and third Sundays of each month at Bryant-Lake Bowl in Uptown Minneapolis (Lake St. and Bryant Ave.) at 2:00pm for socializing and riding. Their website is http://www.moonpost.com/vespa.