By David Harrington
Want to start an argument and possibly all-out brawl? Tell a group of “serious” vintage scooter people that your 1979 P-200E Vespa is vintage. What??? That boxy THING with, with, with ELECTRONIC ignition?!?!?
Most vintage scooter groups will have some sort of cut-off year/model and ONLY those and prior machines meet their criteria of vintage. Sometimes it’s simply a minimum age – the scooter must be XX years old or older. Of course one can NEVER utilize the State of Minnesota “Collector” license plate requirement as defined for cars and trucks – that’s a measly 20 years old. Ha! I’ve had daily rider scooters that were more than 20 years old. That’s nothing … even 30 years. Why, 20-year-old scooters would include the hideous 1984 Honda Elite with its lame pop-up headlight. NOBODY would ever consider that to be vintage.
Even among those scooterists who like 1970 or 1971 as the drop-dead year for vintage, there are still arguments a-plenty as to whether the Vespa or Lambretta were the superior machines. Of course anyone with even a modicum of sense knows that the answer IS Lambretta.
Right, what about the moderate, non-fanatical scooterist with an interest in vintage? They need to search out a mint condition 1971 Lambretta GP200 and it has to be Italian, NOT some Spanish copy. Yup, that’s it, their only real choice. You can stop rolling your eyes now. I know of several perfectly normal local scooterists who ride modern machines and have an interest in something vintage as well. They often start with a Genuine Stella. Introduced to the USA in 2003, not even the Minnesota DMV considers this machine a “collector” vehicle, but it does hold a lot of cards in the game of vintage appeal. The Stella was a manual-shift, 2-stroke, kick-startable scooter one could buy new. It also had split rims with inner tubes. The Stella was, in fact, an evolution of the Vespa P-series scooter. You may have noticed that these supposedly appealing traits revolve around the direct involvement of the rider. Yes, one COULD push a button to start a Stella, but the kick-starter was just so much more satisfying. I believe that rider involvement is the first key to unlocking the vintage appeal. Not just more participatory activity than a modern, automatic, scooter when riding, but also to keep the scooter safely on the road.
Most maintenance on a Stella, or older Vespa, is not very difficult. Installing the spare and repairing a flat tire is almost shockingly simple. Cleaning carburetor jets? Nothing to it, they’re even easy to get at. Adjusting the cables? There’s a great, simple tool to help with that. With a bit of education and some experience, one can keep that 1960s – 1970s Vespa VLB1 or VLB2 running safely and (more or less) reliably. That kind of involvement is a strong draw for a lot of people.
Of course there’s the history. Looking at the current marketplace, there are a fair number of 1960s and 1970s Vespa available at reasonable prices in reasonable condition. Just stay away from the “restored” crap out of Asia (talk to Bob at Scooterville about this for about five minutes and you’ll never be tempted by shinny paint on eBay again) and you’ll likely find a piece of history that can act as your direct conduit to a time that changed our society. The basic design and functionality of Vespa scooters has been virtually unchanged since 1947. For some, riding that older Vespa takes them back to their youth. For others, it’s a connection to a time before they were born. Maintaining and riding that older Vespa keeps a piece of living history alive.
An older Vespa will get along well with your other powered, two-wheeled conveyances. Just because you have a new Genuine Buddy 170i for zipping around town and a Piaggio BV350 for highway scooter-touring, your 1971 Vespa Sprint 150 won’t love you any less. As long as you take it out for a spin once in a while, it’ll be happy. It will even sit right next to a 1974 Honda CB550 without feeling the tiniest bit of insecurity. The scooter knows how cool it is. It knows how you feel riding it.
Vintage scooters NEED you. They need your involvement to run well and even just to be ridden. They need your interest and attention to keep from becoming piles of rust under a damp tarp in a dirt-floored shed/garage/barn.
Twin Cities scooterist David Harrington owns and operates JustGottaScoot.com