In our three previous blog posts on Vespa model lore, we explained how the idea for the Vespa came about and what the Vespa models Wideframe, Largeframe and Smallframe are distinguished by. In the fourth and last part of our series, we will now deal with the Modern Vespa and the associated crisis of the manufacturer in the early 1990s. In doing so, we also clarify the following questions: How did the Modern Vespa series come into being? What makes these models so special? And what changes were there within the Modern Vespa series?
Modern Vespa Model Lore
How did the Modern Vespa series come about?
The Modern Vespa series was a great success for Piaggio. Since the release of the first model in 1996, this series has dominated the registration statistics in many countries around the world - and still does today. But how did this model series actually come about?
At the beginning of the 90s, a certain standstill crept into the traditional Italian manufacturer in terms of diversity of ideas: Vespa fans were looking in vain for new ideas. In addition, the PX and PK model ranges had already passed their peak by the mid-90s. This was not the only headache for the manufacturer, because the newly launched Vespa Cosa did not meet with the hoped-for response. As if that wasn't bad enough, at the same time Japanese manufacturers like Honda were entering the market with innovative concepts. The future of the traditional Italian manufacturer did not look rosy.
But instead of panicking, Piaggio in tranquil Pontedera, the manufacturer's home town, remembered its strengths and breathed new life into the myth of the cult brand with the Vespa ET(2) and the Vespa ET4. Both models were based on the first concept from 1946: self-supporting sheet steel bodywork, small tyres for high manoeuvrability and a single-sided swing arm at the front were unmistakably taken from the original Vespa in terms of design and combined with the latest technology. Not only was the manufacturer able to recover from its low thanks to the Modern Vespa, it also sparked the cult of the brand - from a pure means of transport to a lifestyle product - more than ever before. So much so that markets in Asia, America and Australia were also taken by storm and new fans of the trendy vehicle were won worldwide. This triumphant march continues to this day with its successor models and generations.
What are the most important features of the Modern Vespa?
In the 25-year history of the Modern Vespa series, there have, of course, always been changes to details and new models. However, what all Vespa scooters of the generation have fundamentally in common is the combination of automatic transmission and the self-supporting body frame. Another feature is the location of the engine: whereas in classic models the drive is on the right-hand side, in the Modern Vespa range it is now on the left-hand side. A revision has also been made in the front area - with the steering column now positioned mirror-inverted - so that the wheels are now mounted on the opposite left-hand side instead of from the right, as was previously the case with the classic models. The proportions overall have also become more extensive compared to the classic Vespa, with two basic frame shapes, "small" and "large". A special model is the Vespa Elettrica listed below, which is the first to rely on an electric drive concept, but which has earned a place among the most important Modern Vespa models due to its forward-looking technology.
What Modern Vespa models are there and which are the most important?
Vespa ET or ET2 and Vespa ET4
As already mentioned, in 1996 the manufacturer Piaggio founded the history of the Modern Vespa series with the technically advanced Vespa ET, which was based on the concept of the original Vespa. Under the bonnet was an air-cooled 50 cc two-stroke engine and was launched as the Vespa ET2. A year later, a version of the 50 cc engine with fuel injection was released.
Almost in the same period, the Vespa ET4, a powerful four-stroke with 125 cc and 150 cc, came onto the market. Incidentally, there were two different engine revisions of the 125cc ET4 models, the "ET4 Alt Motor" with the frame number M04 and the ZPC19 version. For those who are unsure, there is the following trick: if an oil sight glass was attached to the side of the engine, it is the old version, if not - the new one. Almost all models were also offered as a "Touring Edition" with chrome luggage racks and a flyscreen. A little fun fact on the side: In Asia, the Vespa ET4 was renamed ET8 because the number 4 is supposed to bring bad luck.
Vespa GT, Vespa GTS 250 i.e., Vespa GTS 300 i.e. Super/Super Sport and Vespa GTS 125 i.e. Super/ Super Sport
Due to the great success of the Vespa ET models, the GT models (Gran Tourismo) appeared in 2003 in 125 cc and 200 cc versions. They impressed with their high suitability for everyday use, the modern L.E.A.D.E.R. engines and the luggage rack fitted as standard as well as the round tail light. Only two years later, the GT received an update with the Vespa GTS 250 i.e.. Under the bonnet, it was given a new Q.A.S.A.R. engine (Quarter Litre Smooth Augmented Range). A facelift was also carried out: Slits on the right side bonnet, a protruding tail light, a second parking light and other modifications gave the model a fresher look.
In 2008 and 2009, the next generation of the series followed with the Super/Sport models. The GTS 300 was the top model with 278 cc displacement and 21 hp and featured darkened headlights, analogue instrumentation and a seat with white piping. The Super Sport was painted matt, had black rims, shock absorber springs in red colour and a sports seat. The 125cc model followed a year later. This was visually identical to the 300 version, but equipped with a smaller engine for light scooters.
Vespa LX, Vespa LXV, Vespa GTV and Vespa GT60
In 2004/2005, the very successful ET series was replaced by the LX series. For the first time, 11-inch tyres at the front and modern two- or four-valve four-stroke engines with 50 cc, 125 cc and 150 cc left hardly anything to be desired in terms of performance. From 2012, even the three-valve engine (L.E.M. = Low EMission) according to Euro3 standard was installed, which is also visually recognisable by the angular cascade insert. By the way: The LX is the most popular Vespa model in Asia - and often the only one available.
Just in time for the 60th anniversary, the Vespa LXV (LX stands for 60 in the Roman numeral system and V for Vintage) also appeared in 2006. The special model was based on the swing saddle models of the 60s. At the same time, the footwell of the 50cc versions - in contrast to the 125cc models - was not painted through.
The Vespa GTV was a special model for the anniversary. This was based on the Vespa i.e. and, as in the 1940s, had the headlight mounted on the mudguard. The anniversary model also had individual seats with leather upholstery. A little later, Piaggio introduced a 300cc version as well as the "Vespa GTV 300 i.e. Via Montenapoleone" and the "Vespa GTV 300 i.e. Vie della Moda", which were named after the boulevards of Milan.
Incidentally, the Vespa GT60 was an exclusive version of the GTV, limited to 999 units and available in the grey of the first Vespa prototype (colour code 786/A) only from selected dealers. A seat made of genuine leather, chromed rims and a plaque with the name of the first buyer were just some of the many small and exclusive details of the model. If you want to experience this gem up close, you can find it at our SIP Scootershop in Landsberg am Lech. Number 873 of the Vespa GT60 is on display there.
The Vespa S (S for Speciale) also appeared in 2006. It was supposed to be a homage to the Vespa 50 Special of the 70s and 80s. It stood out with optical details such as the square headlight instead of a round one, a sports seat and retro dashboard. Otherwise, the engine and technology were taken from the Vespa LX series. In the course of time, Piaggio repeatedly brought special models onto the market in different versions and changing visual refinements.
Piaggio presented the prototype of the Vespa 946 (Italian: nuova quarantasei - the new 46) at the EICMA motorbike show as early as 2011, but it did not go into production until 2013. Visually based on the first Vespa MP from 1946, it also scored points with LED headlights, 125 cc and 150 cc three-valve LEM engines and an optional anti-lock braking system (ABS).
Vespa Primavera, Vespa Sprint and Vespa Primavera Sprint
At the EICMA 2013 (Esposizione Internazionale Ciclo Motociclo e Accessori) as the successor to the Vespa LX and released in 2014, the Vespa Primavera showed some interesting innovations. For example, it had 11-inch wheels, a new steel body, a slightly more angular frame shape and a retreaded front swingarm. On the engine side, the Vespa fan could choose between two-stroke or four-stroke four-valve engines with a choice of 50 cc, 125 cc or 150 cc. The Vespa Primavera was also produced as a Touring model with chrome-plated folding luggage racks and a flyscreen.
Bodywork, engine and chassis are identical to those of the Primavera models. Only on the chassis side does the Vespa Sprint, launched in 2014, differ from the model with 12-inch rims and 14 spokes. Also identical is the engine, which ranges from 50 to 150 cc displacement. A year later, the Vespa Sprint also appeared as a Sport version, whose look was emphasised by a matt paint finish, Rally Dekor stickers, a stitched seat and black rims with a silver rim.
With the Vespa Primavera/Sprint, the shock absorber mount was revised, taking its inspiration from the range of Vespa LX models. On the engine side, the 125 cc / 150 cc models now use the new 3V iGet Euro4 engines with automatic start-stop. Otherwise, all the frame details of the previous model were retained. Visually, Piaggio uses the colours of the Vespa Special and Primavera models from the 70s for the 2017 Vespa Primavera/Sprint.
Vespa GTS/GTS Super and Vespa GTS 300 HPE
At the end of 2014, Piaggio presented the new Vespa GTS model range (GTS 300 cc / GTS Super 125-300 cc). Differences to the previous model include a modified speedometer with digital speed display, LED turn signals with daytime running light function, a chrome-framed rear light, a larger helmet compartment and a new seat. On the technical side, the most serious innovation was the front suspension, which was optionally available with ABS/ASR, offering improved handling and more ride comfort. The GTS 300 cc was also available as a Touring version with chrome-plated folding luggage racks as standard, as well as a flyscreen.
For almost five years, the Italian manufacturer had taken its time with an update until Piaggio decided to give the series an update. With the Vespa GTS 300 HPE version, the manufacturer achieved a milestone. The most powerful Vespa to date has a displacement of 300 cc, 24 hp and reaches a top speed of 120 km/h with 26 Nm. But how had Piaggio achieved this? Visually, they remained faithful to the predecessor except for a few details such as a slightly modified cascade. However, new cylinder heads with better camshafts were installed in the model, which were not only quieter, but also produced fewer exhaust gases and were more fuel-efficient. This revised engine was christened the "High Performance Engine", or HPE for short.
Vespa Elettrica and Vespa Elettrica 70
Under the motto "electric mobility with style", Piaggio launched a model with electric drive for the first time in 2019. The electric scooter with a classic design relies on a wheel hub motor, a permanently installed lithium-ion battery and app connection. With a battery capacity of 4 kW and a power output of 3,500 watts, the Vespa Elettrica achieves a range of 76 km in power driving mode and a top speed of just under 45 km/h. In addition, the "interplay of ecology and technology", according to the manufacturer, scores with a very short charging time of just under four hours and a large storage compartment under the seat.
In 2021, Piaggio released a more powerful version of the Vespa Elettrica with a top speed of up to 70 km/h. Otherwise, technical specifications and performance data remained largely the same. With a large colour display in the cockpit, the CBS brakes (Combined Brake System) that slow down the vehicle by recuperation and the three riding modes Eco, Power and Reverse, the latest version of the Vespa Elettrica is still convincing.