What is the best Vespa to buy?
With the variety of vespas available from the first 98cc models in the late forties to the ET4 model of today it is not an easy task to choose which scooter to buy. Many times the choice is rather limited, you may want a certain model but there is no one in the area that has one for sale. There are some questions you must ask yourself before getting into VIN-numbers and years.
If you want to look at pictures of the different vespa models, check Vintage scooters home page
- How much money do you want to spend? You can get a 50cc wreck for free and a new ET4 for $5000 and there is everything in between. Usually a running scooter 125-200cc in good shape ranges from $400 to $1000 but prices vary widely from one country and area to another.
- Do you have a license? In most countries and states, an MC license is required for the larger scooter models. Sometimes you can ride a 125cc on your car license and some smaller 50cc models don't require any license at all, just that you have reached a certain age. Check with the local authorities what is required where you live.
- What will you use it for? Commuting on highways? A short ride in between to the local groceries store? Holiday trips all over Europe? Tuning and racing? There is no one single model that fits all need so you may as well sort your priorities.
- Are you mechanically skilled or can you hardly differ a hammer from a knife? Vespas are rather easy to work with but as with any vehicle, getting an older scooter means that you may need to do more work to keep it running. There are good manuals for the matter and I have never heard of anyone selling their vespa because they could not cope with the mechanics. It will be inconvenient though if you insist on leaving it to a shop as soon as a bulb needs to be replaced.
- What do others in your area ride? It might be wise to check what models are frequent and if there is a Vespa garage/spare supplier nearby. Most parts can be bought by mail order but some models are harder to find spares to.
What is an appropriate size? Well that depends on how you answered the questions above
This is the smallest Vespa model and usually sold as a moped. this is what you should get if you don't have a license and it is the only one you are allowed to drive. Top speed is usually 40-50 km/h and passengers may not be allowed. If you ride short trips inside town and streets are small and narrow (like in Italy) it is a good choice. It is also the cheapest model to buy. You are often allowed to park it among bicycles and fuel consumption is very low.
These are about the same chassis as the 50cc model, only now with a somewhat larger engine and more power. Usage is still limited to riding in cities even though a short ride to the beach or neighbour city is not a problem. Top speed is about 70 km/h but as soon as you carry some load you will notice that it is not a motorcycle scooter
Now you are talking motorcycle scooter. The 125cc engine was placed in both a small frame with 8" wheels and a single seat as well as a large frame with 10" wheels and a dual seat. It is now possible to commute trips of 10-15 km without getting bored. The chassis is larger with better brakes and road performance. 125cc is usually a size that you can ride on a limited license or by taking a simple test. This is its own class in scooter racing and tuning parts are easily available. Top speed varies a lot since there were both small and large frame 125cc vespas. Usually one would expect ~75km/h from a small frame and ~85 from a large frame scooter.
This was the largest Vespa engine until the late sixties. The difference towards a large frame 125cc is not too large more than that the larger cylinder gives somewhat better performance when you carry a passanger. Many 150 models are very stylish, and the relatively low engine power compared to cylinder volume made the engines very rugged and reliable. Top speed is about 85-90 km/h. In the last years 150cc has again become tha largest engine model but with watercooling, fuel injection and better technology they are now 12hp-110km/h scooters well equipped for long rides on highways.
These are the largest available Vespas and also those with the most engine power. If you commute more than 15km in each direction, this is the scooter size you should get since it has no problems with following highway speed even with a passanger. Road performance is good and the possibilities for tuning the 200 models are almost without limits. The drawback is of course the price but on the other hand, the secons rate value is very stable. If you ride mostly inside town you may find it a little heavy, especially when parking or pushing it in and out of garages.
So, what vespas are there to choose among?
Well, I have unfortunately not tried them all but these are my opinions on some of the models.
A small cheap rugged scooter for in town riding. Not very fun to ride but that is not the main intent either. Usually outlawed on highways. Not suited for passangers. The choise if you don't have the license for anything bigger but still want a vespa. Good second rate value. Does not require more space than a bicycle.
125 primavera/popolino A small frame vespa for those who has small
and convenient as top priorities. Very lightweight and easy to
handle. Perhaps not the best on highways but acceptable. If the driver
is not too heavy it is fairly quick despite the relatively low engine
A large frame "general pupose" vespa for commuting, weekend trips and whatever. Ok for taking passangers and highway rides. A full size Vespa with a somewhat smaller engine.
PX125 Smaller brother to the PX200 regarding engine. Automatic oil
mix makes filling up convenient. Can often be found at a fair second
rate price since all go for the 200. The fastest choise if you only
have a 125cc license
A 60:s style vespa with very good looks. Should have more hp for the size but is convenient for shorter trips in and out of the city. Highways OK but should be avoided. Lots of spares compared to other models of the same age. Rugged 3 gear engine that lasts "forever" unless you start modifying it.
GS150 The most beautiful scooter on earth and Gods gift to
style. Unfortunately He seemed to leave the engine design to someone
else. Rather complex with lots of bits and pieces, almost lambretta
style (have I been told). Extremely hard to find spare parts - be sure
that it is complete if you buy one. Due to its rareness it is rather
high priced, especially when in restored shape. A scooter for the
enthusiast who rides mainly on runs, classic meetings and such. Not a
beginners vespa unless you have a PhD in practical mechanics.
A full size scooter with very good performance. The large engine gives superior torque, perfect for taking passangers. Easy to start due to the electronic ignition. . Somewhat large and shaky and not optimal for in-town riding. The last model with the more roundish 70:s looks. Many PX tuning parts fit the Rally as well. The model to choose if you like the P-models performance but not the looks.
PX200 The last of the classic steel body Vespa models. Very common,
lots of spares and easy to maintain. Good technology with automatic
oil mix, 12V electric system and electronic ignition. Well suited for
tuning- lots of parts and accessories. Somewhat squarish in its style,
"has everything but good looks". Some unconfirmed reports that the
later electric startmodels has exessive engine wear. The perfect long
trip Vespa but still convenient inside town.
Hexagon150 Modern looks somewhat far from a classic vespa. Modern
technique with lots of features like electric start and automatic gearbox. Excellent brakes. Runs very smooth. Expensive. The choise of the old generation :-)
Where do I find the scooter of my dreams?
The new models from PX and onwards are sold new in motorcycle and scooter shops all over the world except for the US due to some emission regulations.
If you want to find a second hand scooter the best thing to do is to place an ad in the local newspaper that has the most auto/mc adverts, usually during weekends. Then you find the items that have been sitting in a garage since the owner has stopped using it. This is usually where you get the best buy.
An ad in Scootering Magazine International, the newsgroup alt.scooter or on various homepages on the net might get replies but be prepared to travel and ship. Lately there has also appeared shops that deal in pre-80:s scooters. You might have to pay some extra dollars at such a place but you will get what you paid for without suprises like "Oops- It seems as I have to split the engine". They also often have a garage with lots of spares.
Finally, you can read the newspaper ads and try to find a scooter but in my opinion it is better to advertise yourself if you want a quick result.
What do I look for once I found a vespa?
Vespas are usually very rugged scooters that can easily last several tens of years. However, once you have found your dream-vespa there are some things you should check for before opening the wallet.
Rust is usually found in the runners under the floor and in the floor close to the central tunnel. Since there are (to my knowledge) no spare steel parts for this area you are dependent on fixing it yourself.
This is a major problem on vespas, especially the 4-geared ones from the 70:s and early 80:s, when they are approaching 30000 km. The jumping usually appears in second and third gear when the rev or the load is high and appears as a short jump in the gearbox before engaging again. This can be due to maladjusted gear handle but more common is that the shifting cross in the engine must be replaced. This requires splitting the engine and is at least 4 hours work for a skilled vespa-mechanic.
Being split vertically the vespa engine is prone to leak oil and I can count on my left hand the number of Vespas older than 20 years that do not in some way leak oil. If the leakage is located around the carb it is usually gas and can be fixed by replaing the gaskets and the floater needle. If the leakage is between the engine halves, check that there are not "screwdriver marks" that indicate that the engine has been split using inappropriate tooling. Such an engine must be sealed using gasket compound. The worst leak is if the gearbox oil smells from petrol or the ignition system is wet from oil/gas. This indicates that a main seal replacement is needed by splitting the engine.
Some play can always be felt when trying to rock the rear wheel and the flywheel. In the flywheel case it should barely be so large that you can feel the crank moving- below 1mm radially. By pressing the clutch while holding one hand on the flywheel you can also feel a small horisontal play, this is allowed and can be somewhat larger. Bearing play is usually accompanied with a metallic noise when the engine is running at low rpm.