Vespa Special - Part 3
60 years of the Vespa
In the last part of our 60th Anniversary Vespa special we travel the time line that has made the brand the icon it is today.
Follow the history timeline and then view the picture gallery that is in order of model year.
Over half a century of Vespa: the models that have made history
From the very first 98cc model in 1946 to the 2003 Granturismo and the 2005 Vespa LX and GTS 250 i.e., Piaggio has produced well over 100 (140, to be precise) models, versions and variants of the Vespa (marked by different chassis codes): 140 models that trace the technical evolution of the world’s most famous scooter. By the time the Vespa ET4 was launched in 1996, over 20,000 modifications had been made to the original 1946 product and over 1,500 parts replaced.
It is difficult to pick out the most representative Vespas in an evolution that has lasted 60 years. Some Vespas are sought after by collectors because they belong to a special series, or because they were rapidly replaced by subsequent versions, and are highly priced in the period scooter market, which is extremely active all over the world. Others, which were produced in greater numbers or stayed on the market longer, are classic models that have left their mark in the history of two-wheeled mobility.
There is no lack of authentic technical records in the Vespa’s history, each of which renews the tradition of innovation that has marked the evolution of the world’s best selling scooter. To cite only a few examples: with the Vespa ET2 Injection in 1997, Piaggio launched the first direct injection two stroke engine in history, a technical first it doubled in 2000 with the launch of the first European 50cc four stroke engine on the Vespa ET4 50.
In 2005, with the Vespa GTS, Piaggio launched the first scooter in the world to have a 250cc Euro 3 compatible engine with electronic injection. Vespa has also been in the avant-garde as regards developing future solutions for zero-impact two wheelers: with the Vespa LX 50 HyS (Hybrid Scooter), shown on 11 April 2006, the Piaggio Group has developed the first “parallel” hybrid scooter with the two engines, the electric motor and the gas catalysed four-stroke engine, linked mechanically and electronically to simultaneously supply power to the wheel for a winning technical combination.
Vespa 98, 1946 - The first Vespa. It was powered by a 98 cc engine that delivered 3.2 bhp at 4,500 rpm with a top speed of 60 km/h. It was in production for two years: in 1946 vehicles no. 1 to no. 2,464 were produced, and no. 2,465 to no. 18,079 in 1947.
Vespa 125, 1948 - The first Vespa 125 cc. It differed from the 98 not only in engine size, but also for the introduction of rear suspension; the front suspension was also modified.
Vespa 125, 1953 - This marked the first important change to the engine: bore, stroke and timing gear were modified. Power output increased to 5 bhp at 5,000 rpm, and top speed to 75 km/h. The design of the fairing at the rear was also new. Vespa 125 U, 1953 - The “Utility” version with spartan styling, which sold at 20,000 lire less than the more modern 125. The headlamp appeared high up on the handlebar for the first time in Italy (it had already been introduced on a number of exported models).
Vespa 150 GS, 1955 - Experts called it “the most popular, imitated and remembered model”. There were numerous innovations: the 150 cc engine, 4-speed gearbox, standard long saddle, “faired” handlebar-headlamp unit, wheels with 10” tyres. This Vespa could reach 100 km/h. The design also changed, with a much more aerodynamic body.
Vespa 160 GS, 1962 - This was born to continue the market success of the first GS, with a completely new design. The exhaust silencer, carburettor and suspension were also new. The power output was 8.2 bhp at 6,500 rpm.
Vespa 150 GL, 1963 - Another new design for what has been called “one of the best-looking Vespas produced by Piaggio designers”. The handlebar, trapezoid headlamp, front mudguard and trimmed-down rear lids were all new.
Vespa 50, 1964 - The first Vespa 50 cc, created to exploit the new Italian Highway Code which made a number plate obligatory on larger engines. Extremely versatile and reliable, the engine featured a new layout, with the cylinder inclined 45° instead of horizontal. It was the last design to leave Corradino D’Ascanio’s drawing board.
Vespa 180 SS, 1965 - It marked a new milestone in the growth of the engine (181.14 cc), with 10 bhp for a top speed of 105 km/h. The 180 SS (Super Sport) replaced the glorious GS 150/160 cc. Piaggio modified the front cowling, making it more aerodynamic and significantly improving comfort, handling and roadholding.
Vespa 125, 1966 - Unofficially known as the “new 125”, it featured radical innovations in the design, frame, engine (inclined 45°) and suspension.
Vespa Super Sprint 90, 1966 - A special series derived from the Vespa 50/90 cc and the “new” 125, the hold-all was positioned between the saddle and the handlebar for a more “laid-back” riding style. The handlebar was narrow and low, and the mudguard and cowling were streamlined. With an engine capacity of only 90 cc, it could do 93 km/h.
Vespa 125 Primavera, 1968 - Together with the subsequent PX version, it was the most durable version of the Vespa. It derived from the “new” 125, but with considerable differences in the engine, which raised the top speed by 10 km/h. Great attention was paid to details, which included the classic, practical bag hook.
Vespa 180 Rally, 1968 - With this new vehicle, Piaggio extended the rotary timing fuel feed system to its entire production. The engine was new, the front headlamp new and more powerful, the frame, derived from the Vespa 150 Sprint, narrower and more aerodynamic than that of the Super Sport. Vespa 50 Elestart, 1970 - It featured the great novelty of electric ignition, but the design was also completely revised and embellished compared to the 50 Special.
Vespa 200 Rally, 1972 - The Vespa with the largest engine. This model, with 12.35 bhp at 5,700 rpm, could reach 116 km/h. Vespa 125 Primavera ET3, 1976 - The name stood for “Electronic 3 intake ports”, and included important changes to the engine, which had more power and sparkle. Even the styling was changed from the standard Primavera (which remained in the range).
Vespa P 125 X, 1978 - The “PX” marked a new step forward in styling (the bodywork was completely redesigned) and performance. The hold-all was positioned behind the cowling. The same year the P 200 E also appeared, which could be equipped with separate lubrication and direction indicators incorporated in the body. Three years later the PX 150 E was launched, with performance halfway between the two models.
Vespa PK 125, 1983 - This replaced the Vespa Primavera (standard and ET3) which remained in production with the “Classic” body for the Japanese market, where it was the best-selling Western two-wheeler vehicle. The styling was new, and the PK body was completely different from that of previous scooters, because the welds of the body no longer overlapped but were integral.
Vespa PK 50, 1983 - Substantially identical to the PK 125, it appeared in two models, PK 50 and PK 50 S, both with 4-speed gearbox and electronic ignition.
Vespa PK 125 Automatic, 1984 - An automatic transmission was introduced on the Vespa, probably the most radical change (at least for the driver) since 1946. The presence of the automatic transmission was emphasised by the absence of the brake pedal, which was replaced by a lever on the left handlebar (which did not have to control the clutch as that was automatic). It was also available with automatic oil-petrol mixer and electric ignition. The following year the Vespa PK 50 Automatic was launched.
Vespa T 5 Pole Position, 1985 - The T 5 was the “extra-sporty” version of the PX series. With a new engine, aluminium cylinder and 5 intake ports, but the design was also new, particularly at the rear and around the front headlamp which incorporated an aggressive dome with a small Plexiglas windscreen. A spoiler was added on the cowling.
Vespa 50 N, 1989 - The changes to the Italian Highway Code meant that 50 cc vehicles were no longer bound by the 1.5 bhp limit, and Piaggio presented a new small Vespa with improved performance (over 2 bhp at 5,000 rpm), and new, smoother styling. A “Speedmatic” automatic version was also launched.
Vespa ET4 125cc, 1996 - The “new generation Vespa” launched on the 50th anniversary. A completely new project, it is the first Vespa ever powered by a 4-stroke engine. The Vespa ET is equipped with a front disk brake and an automatic CVT gearbox. Vespa ET2 50cc, 1997 - Same as the ET4 125, but with a 50cc 2-stroke catalysed engine.
Vespa ET4 150cc, 1999 - First Piaggio scooter equipped with the new generation 4-stroke Leader engine, now on the 125cc model too. Vespa ET4 50cc, 2000 - The first small Vespa with a 4-stroke engine, combining lively performance that will make no one regret the 2-stroke with quiet running and the reduction of polluting emissions. Fuel economy is outstanding: the Vespa ET4 50 has the highest range in the 50 cc class, with approx. 500 km on a full tank.
Vespa PX, 2001 - Classic design and unique features such as a four-speed gearbox have made the Vespa PX a cult scooter, a symbol of Italian style everywhere in the world. The 2-stroke 125, 150 and 200cc engines (displacements vary according to markets) with forced air cooling have electronic CDI ignition and electric start with a kick starter. The new PX now sports a powerful stainless steel front disc brake, 200 mm in diameter, guaranteeing prompt, safe and efficient braking. A reliable 150 mm rear drum modulates braking.
Vespa Granturismo 200L and 125L, 2003 – In 2003, the Granturismo made its appearance as the most powerful Vespa ever produced. In 200L and 125L versions, it combines the Vespa’s emotional appeal with state-of-the-art technology: this was the first-ever Vespa to have sparkling four-stroke, four-valve, liquid-cooled engines that meet the new Euro2 emissions standards, as well as 12-inch wheels on the 200L and a two-disk brake system. The steel body is a uniquely Vespa touch.
Vespa LX, 2005 – Launched in Rome on 10 May, 2005, the LX is the 139th Vespa in almost 60 years. It is the sublime heir of a truly unique legacy, a designer scooter for those who want a stylish, avant-garde scooter for town use. A “compact” Vespa, the LX replaces the glorious Vespa ET (over 460,000 units sold since 1996). It is available in four modern, environment-friendly displacements: 50cc two and four strokes as well as a 125 and a 150cc four stroke.
Vespa GTS 250 i.e. – Fifty years after the launch of the Vespa GS (Gran Sport), the first sport scooter in history and still a sought-after treasure for collectors and fans, Vespa GTS 250 i.e. – launched on 25 May 2005 in Portofino – renews the GS blend of speed and style to become the fastest, most powerful and most high-tech Vespa in history. With an avant-grade, extremely powerful 250cc four-stroke, four-valve electronic injection engine and two disc brakes with an optional ABS and brake servo, the Vespa GTS 250 i.e. is one of the first two-wheelers and the first 250cc to already meet the strict upcoming Euro 3 emissions limits.
Vespa LX 50 HyS (Hybrid Scooter), 2006 – Ever-attentive to the issue of environment protection and environment-friendly transport, on 11 April 2006 Piaggio showed a hybrid Vespa prototype destined to revolutionise the urban transport sector. This is not merely a ‘scooter with two engines’: the Vespa LX 50 HyS — which is to be tested for a year in the main Italian cities — is the first “parallel” hybrid scooter with its two engines, the electric motor and the gas catalysed four-stroke, linked mechanically and electronically to simultaneously supply power to the wheel in a winning technical combination.