The popularity of scooters as a form of urban transport has increased tremendously internationally. In South Africa this increase is largely due to the affordability of the Chinese manufactured scooters. My daughter rides one to school daily. Her total annual travels amount to less than 2 000 km. From my experience and observation of the general condition of other Chinese made scooters that I see in shopping centre motorcycle parking bays, I can only imagine that the average Chinese scooter rider is a pretty handy mechanic. Although parts and servicing are relatively cheap, these scooters are a last resort in transport and are not recommended for anybody needing to do serious mileage. Recently the Chinese version of a traditional old school scooter has stolen the hearts of many a first time motorcyclist. With their whitewall tyres and chrome accessories they look the part but it would be a huge injustice to compare them to the Vespas and Lambrettas they seek to emulate. For the price of a new top of the range Vespa, you can buy ten Chinese look-alikes. The Vespa may seem expensive until you compare them physically to the Chinese products. It then becomes obvious that the Vespa is twenty times the scooter.
The first Vespa scooter made its debut in 1946. It was the result of the efforts of Enrico Piaggio to produce an affordable transport solution for Italians after WWII had left Italian roads and infrastructure devastated. An aeronautical engineer, Corradino D’Ascanio was responsible for the Vespa’s design. He was also involved in designing the other Italian iconic scooter, the now sadly defunct Lambretta. Upon seeing the final prototype for the first time, Piaggio compared the scooter’s looks to those of a wasp or “Vespa” in Italian. Many of the novel features on the first model, are still visible on a new Vespa today. Having the engine mounted next to the rear wheel allowed for direct drive, eliminating the need for an oily chain and it also allowed for the step-through design. No need to swing a leg over a Vespa. The leg shields and engine covers provided weather protection. Their ability to manoeuvre through traffic, easiness to ride and appealing looks made the Vespa an instant icon.
Of the 138 different Vespa models produced to date, the Rally series is rated as one of the best models in terms of balance of style and performance. The Rally 180 was produced from 1968 until 1973 after which the 200cc version became available. The Rally replaced the Super Sport as Vespa’s top sporting model. Narrower and less flashy than its predecessor, the Rally’s single cylinder 180cc two stroke engine was redesigned to make use of a reliable and efficient rotary valve fuel feed system. The engine produced 8.7hp which gave the Rally a top speed of 105km/h via a four speed transmission operated by a handlebar twist grip. A frugal 2.7l per 100km fuel consumption is quoted. In total around 26 500 Rally 180s were produced and it is a very collectable, rideable and seviceable classic.
Our featured scooter, a 1968 Vespa Rally 180, is owned by Gerard from Johannesburg who also owns the 1963 GS 160 Mod scooter featured previously. He is only the second owner of this unrestored scooter. The first owner sold the Rally when he grew too old to ride safely. The front rack is a genuine Vespa accessory as is the rear passenger foot rest bar, installed to make Gerard’s vertically challenged wife more comfortable on the pillion. Gerard loves classic Vespas and is a member of the notoriously cool Vesparado Scooter Club. Although very knowledgeable about classic Vespas, the Vesparados are not the dignified scooter club one may expect and are more like your typical leather clad motorcycle club. Watching the Vesparados on the move brings a need to own a Vespa which many of us did not know we would ever feel.
Fast food delivery franchises like KFC have bought a fleet of Chinese retro scooters for delivery purposes. I wonder how that is working out for them from a reliability and cost effectiveness position. They may have been better off buying up secondhand 1980s Vespas for about the same price. Either way, I am sure that there will not be any 2013 Chinese scooters around to write about forty five years from now. I am pretty sure there will be ninety year old Vespas!