Vespa Stuff

The Vespa is such an iconic symbol of Italy that we're forgiven for assuming the ancient Romans must have ridden the two-wheeled scooters on their daily excursions around town. In fact, Vespas are a post-war creation of the Piaggio company, which started out in 1884 manufacturing parts for ships, railroad cars, and, eventually, airplanes.

The first Vespa (Italian for wasp, the name was reportedly coined by Enrico Piaggio himself) rolled off the assembly line in 1946. The Vespa was unique among mopeds in the way it allowed riders to sit upright in a position that was ergonomically correct, before people even thought much about such things. The 98cc scooter also had guards beneath the riderís feet and over the tires, to keep the rider from being splattered by mud and debris. It was, in short, a very civilized motorcycle.

By 1953, the year Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn rode a Vespa through the streets of Rome for the film Roman Holiday, some 500,000 Vespas had been produced ó estimates suggest the film accounted for an additional 100,000 sales. The line of Vespas had now grown to include a larger 125cc Vespa U (for Utility), with a rack behind the seat (only 7,000 of these rare Vespas were made). In 1962, Salvador Dali painted a Vespa 150, and collectible bikes from 1963 include the smaller Vespa 50 and the 125cc Primavera.

Review of the Vespa S 150
September, 2015

Jordana strikes again! This time, on a new Vespa S 150 equipped with fuel injection. In previous reviews, I have inserted a "Jordana Says" icon at her contributions. This time, I'm only covering the introduction and then turning things over to Jordana. I'm sure you'll agree - she did a much better job than I usually do on these scooter reviews. Though she mentions these in the body of the review, I'll just through out the answers to the "big" questions right away: The 2010 Vespa S 150i has a base price of $4,399, it got about 82 Miles-Per-Gallon during the review, the top speed was 58 Miles-Per-Hour, and the speedometer was a bit under 10% optimistic.

I made a comparison table of the Vespa against the Genuine Buddy and Piaggio Fly and will include that for reference to the specifications.

Vespa Rally

General Information

 The Vespa Rally replaced the Super Sport as the top of the line sporting scooter from Piaggio. The Rally retained the same basic layout as the S.S., but quite a few changes were made to both the frame and motor which made it both more reliable, and in stylistic harmony with the other models in the Vespa range. There were two versions made, with the primary difference between the two being the size of the motor. The first had a 180cc motor, and the second had a 200cc motor which included electronic ignition. With the Rally, the Vespa reached probably the best balance of classic style with modern performance.

Style

The body on the Rally was set up in the same general manner as the Super Sport which preceded it. The right cowl covered the motor, while the left cowl was also removable, and covered a spare tire. The spare surrounded a battery and related electrical components.  All U.S. model Rally 180 and 200 models came with a battery as standard equipment, while some European market versions did not have a battery. On the Rally, the metal spare wheel cover, which had been used on the G.S. 160 and S.S. 180, was substituted for a plastic cover.

One thing to note on the Rally, was that it was the first time that the top of the line Vespa had actually gotten smaller in its evolution. Though the styling on the Rally was very similar to the Super Sport, the cowls and mudguard on the Rally were not nearly as wide as those found on the S.S. Additionally, the aluminum strips that had adorned the cowls and mudguard on the S.S., were deleted from the Rally. The glovebox on the Rally was also slightly smaller than that of the S.S. The narrower, unadorned look of the Rally gave it a more sporting and less luxurious look.

 The Rally 180 had thick brushed aluminum badges on both the front and the back of the scooter. On the right side of the legshield, there were two that said "Vespa" and "Rally" in cursive script. On the back, there was one badge located on the frame below the rear package tray that said "Vespa Rally." In the center of the legshield there was a "Piaggio" octagonal badge. On the Rally 200, the badges were changed. The front legshield badge simply said "Vespa" in a block font. The rear aluminum badge was square shaped, and said "Rally 200 ," with a black background. The "Piaggio" badge was also an octagonal shape on the 200.

 Though the body on the Rally was smaller than the S.S., seat on the Rally was made larger. A dual seat was standard on the Rally, and it was so large that it stuck out slightly from the frame in the front and back. It had generous padding, and was quite comfortable. The seat came only in black and had "Piaggio" screen printed in white on the back.

On the European Rally 180 models, the taillight was the same one used on the Sprint. However, in the U.S. regulatory changes caused not only the substitution of a different headset, but a different taillight as well. It was the same "tractor" style taillight that was used on the very last Super Sports sold in the U.S., and was put on all U.S. market Vespas at this time. This taillight was not flush mounted to the body, as the earlier taillights were, but was attached to the body by a metal stalk, which also served as a license plate holder. The stalk, and the round metal taillight housing were painted the same color as the body. A small rectangular reflector was added to each side of the housing in accordance with Federal regulations at the time.

The Rally 200 had a similar version of this taillight. The stalk unit with integrated license plate holder was the same, but the actual light unit was altered. This later version of the taillight had a small chrome backing plate, with a more square red plastic lens. The lens had large integrated reflectors on both sides, and was a standard unit that was used on all models of American market Vespas in the 1970's, as well as many motorcycles. The European model Rally 200's received an updated taillight unit that was not equipped on the U.S. models. This light was a large plastic unit that was flush mounted to the rear frame. It had a large red plastic lens with a solid plastic top cover, which was black on all 200's.

By the time the Rally had reached American shores, U.S. laws required that all motorcycles have a sealed beam headlight, and Piaggio opted to fit a single headset design on all of their scooters to accommodate the new regulations. This headset was similar to that which was already being used on the Super both in Europe and the U.S., but it was modified to take the new light unit. This headset had a round, sealed beam headlight made by Siem, and sported a thick chrome ring. It was attached by three small set screws inside the headset itself, while the chrome ring attached with small screws which screwed into the set screws. It was a somewhat complicated design, but it did get the job done. This headset sported a new smaller speedometer that was also used on the Vespa 125 Smallframe, and became the standard Vespa speedometer on all models until the introduction of the P-series. The Rally 180 had a small high beam indicator at the top of the headset. This indicator was omitted after 1974 in favor of a key switch at that location. All handgrips and cowl rubbers on the Rally were black. The hand levers were also altered throughout the run to make them less narrow, and the tips less sharp.

 Though the bodies of the 180 and 200cc models were essentially the same, the Rally 200 had several small changes. First, horizontal stickers were attached to the front fender and cowls. On the left cowl, the word "electronic" was spelled out in small letters. This referred to the electronic ignition fitted to the 200cc motor. Additionally, the spare wheel cover was changed from curved gray plastic, to a more angular, black plastic design. The front fender crest was also changed during the 200cc run, from a large aluminum version, to a square black aluminum one. One other change was that the Rally 200 had an ignition switch at the top of the headset with a blank key, while the Rally 180 had no switch. On the 1974 model year only, the ignition switch was located under the seat.

Motor

 The motor was the star on the Rally. With the Rally 180, the top of the line Vespa finally got a rotary valve powered motor. Versions of this motor had been used on the lower sized motors of the Vespa line since 1959, and had proven themselves robust and very reliable. The rotary valve induction allowed the oil mixture to be lowered from 5% on the S.S., to 2% on the Rally a significant improvement. There were numerous internal motor changes to accommodate the new design. Additionally, the 180 had a brand new exhaust design, one that was only used on this model. All Rally 180's and Rally 200's imported to the U.S. had the auto-lube oil injector fitted as standard equipment. The oil injector was only an option on European Rally 200's and was not available on the 180 in Europe.

Another notable feature of the Vespa Rally was the larger fuel tank which was fitted. It held 2.1 gallons (8.2 liters) of fuel, including a half gallon reserve. The tank was physically larger than that fitted to the Sprint, and it stuck out a bit from the top of the frame. The larger Rally seat fit around it, but no other Vespa seats would fit on the Rally.

 There were several changes to the motor with the Rally 200. The most important was the addition of electronic ignition. This was a first for a Vespa. Electronic ignition had numerous advantages over the traditional points ignition setup used on all previous Vespas. The main advantage is that the electronic system did not rely on the mechanical movement of the points opening and closing to provide the measured spark to run the motor. This meant that maintenance of the ignition system, was virtually non-existent. This greatly increased the reliability of the Rally 200. Almost all of the Rally 200's had a system that was non-adjustable and used an H.T. coil made by Femsa. This "Femsatronic" coil was mounted directly to the frame, near the back of the motor. Some very late model Rally 200's had a Ducati made system that was identical to that on the P200, with a coil that mounted to the rear of the motor itself.

The other significant change to the Rally 200 motor was, as its name implies, an increase in the side of the cylinder to 200cc. This small increase in displacement actually created a significant increase in power and torque - with the power now reaching around 10 h.p. The carburetor was increased in size to match the motor, and a Del'Lorto SI24/24 was fitted. The exhaust was also altered to suit the new motor. There were other internal changes to the motor, most significantly to the gears, clutch, and crankshaft. This motor, with minor internal changes would soldier on in the P200 and PX200 for the next 30 years. It was the pinnacle of Vespa engine development.

The wheels and brakes were changed on the Rally from those fitted on the S.S. and G.S. 160. Once again, it was step back to uniformity and the system used was the same one used on the Sprint, as well as the previous G.L. and G.S. 150 models. The larger dampener with integrated spring shock absorber on the front fork utilized by the S.S. and G.S. 160 was abandoned in favor of the separate dampener and spring arrangement used on the Sprint.

 Rally 200's imported to the U.S. had turn signals fitted as standard equipment in order to satisfy American regulations. The turn signal system on the Rally 200 was the same as that on all other U.S. market Vespas from 1974 until the introduction of the P-series to the U.S. in 1978. The system consisted of four separate plastic lenses attached to aluminum stalks protruding from the headset and both rear cowls. The wiring in for the rear signals was integrated into the cowls, and contact was made via a pin, which rubbed against a metal plate on the frame. This was done so the cowls could be removed without having to unhook wiring. There was a chrome turn signal switch that was attached to the left side of the handlebars. The system worked poorly, when it worked. The six volt power system was not up to the task of powering the signals, and they were so dim that one could hardly see them during the day. The aluminum stalks and plastic signals were flimsy, and since they stuck out from the frame, they were prone to catching on things and breaking. Finally, the design of the system looked clearly like an afterthought, and really disrupted the smooth lines of the scooter. Today, most of these 70's era Vespas that had signals fitted when new, have since had them removed. Thirty years on, it is actually quite rare to find the entire system intact on one of these scooters, let alone fully functional.

Bottom Line

 The Rally 180 and 200 are among the best scooters that Piaggio ever produced. Certainly, when one thinks about a drivable classic, the Rally fits the bill without equal. The body design is clean and modern looking, but it still catches the eye as a classic. The Rally is a great balance between classic lines, and more modern mechanicals. The three port rotary valve motor is a lot less finicky than the previous piston ported designs used in the G.S. and S.S. models. Additionally, since the 200cc motor shares a majority of its internal parts with the P200, which is still in production, parts availability is great. Virtually the only parts that are not available on the 200 are the crankshaft and electronic ignition stator. However, some of the body parts are hard to get. The cowls are not in production at this time, nor is the glovebox. These parts can be hard to source if they are damaged or missing.

On the road, the Rally is a joy to drive. It has a smooth and powerful motor. That, coupled with the large and comfortable seat, make this scooter that anyone would be proud to own and drive. If I only had one classic scooter, the Rally would be at the top of my list.

Number Produced:

26,494 (Rally 180), 41,274(Rally 200)

Years Produced:

1968-73 (Rally 180), 1974-79 (Rally 200)

Power Output:

8.7 HP (Rally 180), 9.8 (Rally 200)

  • Rough but restorable = $800-1500
  • Drivable, but not show = $1500-3500
  • Restored or Excellent Original Condition = $4000-6500

    "Handlebar" Vespas

    General Information

     "Handlebar" Vespas are so-called because of the fact that the controls and steering are located on chrome-plated, exposed handlebars, which are similar to a bicycle's. Piaggio made Vespas of this style from the very first Vespas in 1946 until 1957, at which time they changed all models to an enclosed headset.

    Most of the handlebar Vespas imported to the U.S. were sold through Sears department stores and through mail order. The Sears Vespas were not called "Vespa" at all, but were re-badged as "Allstate" by Sears. These Sears Allstate scooters were a special "economy" model Vespa made by Piaggio specially for Sears and were slightly different than any Vespa sold in Europe. They do however share some components with the highly sought after Vespa "U" model. Since the Allstates were an economy model, they lacked many of the extras that were standard on scooters sold directly through Vespa dealers in the U.S.. These "luxury extras" included such "superfluous" items as front shock absorbers, a speedometer, a brake light, etc. Allstate Vespas can be identified in several ways. None of the Vespas sold by Sears had front dampeners (except for the 1966 model year), so one easy way to identify an Allstate is to look at the front fork first. If there is only a spring on the front fork, it is safe to assume that it is an Allstate. Further, Allstate Vespas came with a metal plate riveted to the frame near the fuel switch that specifies that the scooter was produced in Italy by Piaggio for Sears Roebuck and Co. These scooters also did not have a "Vespa" badge on the front legshields, but an "Allstate" badge in the outline of the United States, and lacked a "Piaggio" shield on the center top of the legshields.

    Although there were several modifications throughout the years in which handlebar Vespas were sold in the U.S., most of the scooters are quite similar in both appearance and mechanicals. The motor on these scooters is of a piston ported design which was only used on these bikes and the G.S./S.S. range of Vespas. This design was later abandoned in non-sport Vespas in 1958 favor of the more reliable crank induction which was subsequently employed by all other Vespas. Furthermore, another common element is that all of the handlebar models had three speed gearboxes and sported eight inch wheels. The motor-side cowl on these scooters was fixed to the scooter, and would prop itself up when opened.

    In addition to the Allstates, and the numerous handlebar Vespas sold in the US by Vespa dealers, there are quite a few handlebar Vespas which have been recently imported from Europe these days. Many of these European imports can be easily identified because of the location of the front headlight. Because of US law, all Vespas sold in the US had headlights which were attached to the handlebars. European laws differed, and so Vespas sold in Italy had their headlights located on the top of the scooter's front fender. These scooters are often referred to as "faro basso," which means "low lamp" in Italian. In English, they are typically called "fender light" Vespas. The headlight was moved to the handlebars for all markets by Piaggio in 1955.

    In fact, between the Allstates and the recent imports, handlebar Vespas are not all that difficult to find anymore. Still, as with all of the very old Vespas, make sure that you look for one that is complete, and preferably running. Parts for these bikes are generally very difficult to find, and their archaic motor design can make them very frustrating to work on.

    Style

    The bodywork on the handlebar Vespas were identical for both the 125 and 150 models. Styling changed slightly over the five years that they were sold in the US. All of them had a large glovebox integrated into the left cowl. The 150 models, and later 125s had a lock with key for the glovebox, while Allstates, and some 125 models simply had a small hole in the door latch which allowed an owner to lock the door with their own small padlock. The right cowl covered the motor, and was connected to the body with two bowed rods. The cowl could be removed for service, but was made to stay on the scooter, and prop itself up when opened almost like a car hood. On early models, the cowl was cut away to reveal the motor fan cover. Later, this cut away was replaced with louvers, which would remain a Vespa styling cue until the mid-1970's. The very early cowls and front fender were made of aluminum, which was changed to steel on later models.

    The body on the Handlebar Vespas steeply slopes back behind the seat towards the back of the scooter. A single saddle seat with two springs was standard, and a package tray was located behind the seat. A passenger seat could be attached to the tray. On US models, the headlight was built in to a small housing at the center of the handlebars, which also housed a speedometer on models which had a speedo. If the scooter did not have a speedometer, a blanking plate with a Piaggio emblem was placed in the speedo hole. Very early models did not have a place for the speedometer near the headlight, and an accessory speedometer could be mounted inside the legshield. Allstate models had solid aluminum strips for floor runners, while Vespa models had aluminum channels with rubber inserts on the floor.

    On the handlebars themselves, there were only minor changes over the years. The early Allstates, which were the only Vespas available in the U.S. in the early years, were quite basic. The first Allstates had a very basic headlight nacelle, which did not have a provision for a speedometer. This is the same nacelle used on the Vespa "U" model in Europe. Later, Piaggio used the same parts as on the other Vespas for the Allstate headlight. The speedometer was still an option however, and a plastic blanking plate was standard to fill the hole left by the missing speedo. One thing to noe is that all handlebar Vespas sold in the U.S. had the headlight mounted on top of the handlebars due to American road regulations. This was at a time when the standard Vespas in Europe had a fender mounted headlight. Some of the "Faro Basso", or fender light Vespas have been privately imported, but they were never actually sold here. By 1955, Piaggio were mounting the headlight on the handlebars on European market scooters as well.

    Motor

     The motor on the handlebar Vespas was a very basic power plant. All were piston ported, and the main crank case could be detached from the swing arm. These motors are often referred to as "three-piece" motors because the cases come apart in two halves, and then attach as a unit to the separate swing arm. Later model rotary valve motors had the swing arm integrated into one of the motor case halves. In any case, there were numerous minor changes made to the motors over the long production run. The main change in motor design to the handlebar Vespa over the years was to the piston, which changed from a scoop-like scavenger top to a defector top in later models. Additionally, the carburetors were changed over the production run. Changes to the body allowed different fan covers to be used on the motor, from louvers, to open hole, to finally a "Y" shape. All Allstates and 125cc models sold in the US had a magneto powered AC lighting system, while some of the 150cc models had a battery which helped power the brake light and horn. One thing to note is that the Allstates generally had older motor designs than the same year Vespas. Additionally, all Allstates had 125cc motors. The Vespas sold through Vespa dealers however, were similar to the Europan market Vespas and were available both in 125 and 150cc configurations.

    Bottom Line

    All of the Handlebar scooters can be classified as collector scooters. The older models are more valuable than the later 50's versions. Both the 125 and 150 models are too slow, both in terms of acceleration and top speed, to be safely driven regularly on today's streets. It is hard to over-emphasize how slow the 125 handlebar scooters really are. In addition, the lights on these scooters can be considered anemic at best and are really too dim to be sure that you can be seen by cars on the road at night. Furthermore, many Allstate Vespas did not have brake lights as standard equipment, and all of them have downright dangerous front suspensions without a dampener.

    One thing to also consider with handlebar Vespas is that parts for these scooters can be very difficult to obtain. This is especially true for trim or body parts. Many motor parts are also quite hard to come by, and sadly the situation is only likely to get worse. Some internal motor wear items are still in production, so one could reasonably expect to keep a running scooter on the road. I would however, advise strongly against purchasing a scooter which is not 100% complete and running, as the parts search is likely to be long and expensive.

    Number Produced:

    Production of 125 (1952-57)
    Frame Numbers: VM1T-VM2T, VN1T-VN2T
    Number Produced: 299,612 -Production of 150 (1954-57)
    Frame Numbers: VL1T-VL3T, VB1T Number Produced: 131,736

    Years Produced:

    Imported to the U.S. from 1952-57

    Power Output:

    125cc - 4.5 h.p, 150cc - 5.4 h.p.

    • Rough but restorable = 400-1200
    • Drivable, but not show = 1500-4000
    • Restored or Excellent Original Condition = 4000-7000

 

 

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