Vespa Smallframe Model Science

Created by Jesco at 15:08 on August 26, 2021

In our first two blog posts (Vespa Wideframe and Vespa Largeframe) on Vespa model knowledge, we explained how the idea for the Vespa came about and what makes the Vespa models Wideframe and Largeframe. In the third part of our series, we now deal with the Vespa Smallframe. And here you can find the blogs about Lambretta and Modern Vespa.

Thereby we clarify questions like: Why was the Vespa Smallframe series developed and what are the differences to the Vespa Wideframe and Largeframe models? Which technical changes has the model series undergone compared to the other series? And what special features and curiosities were there within the Smallframe series?

An impressive collection of Smallframe scooters at our host Erik.

How did the Vespa Smallframe series come into being?

The story of the Vespa Smallframes begins in the early 60s. Piaggio was the talk of the town and could look back on a successful history with its two million Vespas sold. But the minds behind the Piaggio brand were already making plans with another Vespa model series to tap into new customer groups. In particular, young people from the age of 14 were to be addressed, who at that time were allowed to drive a 1.5 hp model without a driver's license. In addition, the Italian manufacturer wanted to inspire the ladies for the Vespa, who until then were usually only seen as passengers on the roads. So Piaggio's engineers and designers came up with the idea of developing a Vespa with a much more compact frame. The advantages for this were obvious: With a slimmer, lighter and more maneuverable body, it was easy for anyone to move the little Italian engineering marvel around. Piaggio introduced the first Vespa Smallframe model in 1963, which from that point on vied for the favor of buyers on the scooter market with the also brand-new Largeframe model Vespa GS 160.

How to recognize a Vespa Smallframe and what are the most important features?

As already mentioned, the Vespa Smallframe was designed to be as light and compact as possible. For this reason, with the first model of the series, the Vespa 50, the frame became much slimmer, the body lighter, shorter and at the same time more stable. It shrank in all dimensions in general and especially in the step-through. The side hoods, which were removable on the Wideframe and Largeframe models, were now permanently integrated on the Smallframe, so that they were now part of the sheet metal frame. For this purpose, the frame was equipped with a small engine flap on the right side. Also, the attached sheet metal cascade, which was already used on the classic models of the 50s and 60s, was adapted to the 50s Vespa models and changed in the 70s on the Special versions to plastic cascade.
There were also some changes under the hood. Due to the smaller installation space, the engine was completely redesigned, and the cylinder was installed at a 45-degree angle. While the versions were initially equipped with ordinary breaker ignitions, these changed in the course of the model history to the universally popular and easier to maintain electronic ignition.

Smallframe Vespas up to the roof.

What were the smallframe models and which were the most important?

Vespa 50 N, 50 L, 50 R
We already told you that the manufacturer Piaggio started the history of the smallframe series in 1963/64 with the Vespa 50. Only one year later, however, the Vespa 50 N came on the market, which at first could only show color changes, but in the further course was given technical innovations.
An extended wheelbase, an enlarged engine hatch, a modified engine housing and different frame lengths were just some of the changes that were made over the years with the Vespa 50 N, 50 L and 50 R models. Incidentally, to mark the 3,000,000th Vespa made, an anniversary model of the 50 N was released in 1991, limited to 3,000 units.

Vespa 50 Super Sprint

The Vespa 50 Super Sprint, or SS for short, which was produced in the mid-1960s, not only looked sportier than the other models in the 50 series but was also far superior to the others in terms of performance. A "tapered," shortened contour at the top of the leg shield, as well as narrower, dropped handlebars and a narrower fender, made the Vespa 50 Super Sprint look fresher than its 50-series counterparts. The seat now folded back instead of forward on this model, and in addition, a toolbox was installed between the leg shield and the seat, allowing for knee clearance. Moreover, thanks to the attached padding, it was also possible to get into a bent-forward position during a fast-paced ride. Below the toolbox was a spare wheel with hubcap in the paint colors of the respective Super Sprint Vespa.

Vespa 90 and Vespa 90 Super Sprint
In addition to the SS50, the Italians launched a more powerful version in the same year, the Vespa 90. The engine was like that of the smaller V50 counterpart, but the stroke was extended to 51 mm. The Vespa 90 Super Sprint, or SS for short, was identical in all details to the 50, but offered more power at 90 cc and thus achieved a higher speed. Today, the 90 and the 50 Super Sprint models are among the rarest versions of the Smallframe series, which is why they are particularly highly prized by Vespa enthusiasts.
Due to all these technical and optical details, the Vespa SS was virtually predestined for racing series. Because the Vespa 90 Super Sprint also had the most powerful Smallframe engines of the time. These reached up to 86 km/h. So, it was not surprising that the Super Sprint models were even allowed to participate in series such as the Gruppo Piloti Speciali (GTS).

Vespa 125 Nuova and Vespa 125 Primavera
With the Vespa 125 Nuova, Piaggio combined many features of the 50 and 90 models in 1965. The scooter was the first Vespa with 10-inch tires at 125 cc displacement, taken from the Vespa Super Sprint. Three years later, the 125 Primavera, the successor to the Vespa 125 Nuova, was already on the market. Additional storage space in the left rear side hood and improved engine performance to just under 6 hp made the hearts of 125 fans beat faster.

Lettering on the Vespa 125 Primavera ET3.

Vespa 50 Special and Vespa 50 Elestart
It wasn't until 1969 that Piaggio made fundamental - mainly visual - changes to the 50-model range, launching it under the name Vespa 50 Special. Handlebar head and cascade in rectangular shape as well as 10-inch tires and optimized brakes from the second revision and a four-speed gearbox from the third revision were released in the course of time. Also at the same time, Piaggio introduced the Elestart version of the Vespa 50. The only differences were the new starter motor and the two batteries, which were located under the left side hood.

Vespa 125 Primavera ET3
With the Elettronica Traversi Tre, or ET3 for short, a model with electronic ignition and three overcurrent channels entered the range in 1976. In addition, this model had many other improved details: A more powerful exhaust and a higher compression ratio allowed the Vespa Primavera 125 ET3 a real leap in performance. As a result, the scooter reached a whopping 90 km/h top speed with a powerful 7 hp. This made it the fastest 125 cc version of its time and also gave it better responsiveness. Thanks to small highlights such as the Rally stripes and matching lettering on the fenders and side hoods, the model was also a visual treat.

Vespa PK (PK 50, PK 50 XL 2, PK 125, PK 125 Automatica, PK 125 ETS)
In 1983 Piaggio introduced the Vespa PK series, which visually followed the trend of angular shapes of the 80s. This was clearly visible in the handlebars and the cascade made of plastic, which were no longer directly connected to the frame. The Vespa PK not only resembled the Vespa PX in terms of design, but also took over its front suspension, which is why the PK series can be understood as a quasi-counterpart to the PX series. The Vespa PK 50 or PK 50 S additionally relied on an electronic ignition and a transmission with 4-speed shift. It had better turn signals as well as an additional storage compartment integrated. The PK 50 received a final revision in 1990 as the XL 2, which had a new steering design with revised controls, advanced technology, modified bodywork with many futuristic plastic elements and a new glove box. Based on this, a sport version was offered in Italy with the PK 50 HP4, which again offered further detail changes.
One year later Piaggio brought out the PK 125. This was basically identical to the PK 50 models, but with more power. The 125 S was, as the name suggests, sportier. In addition, the rear brake on the PK 125 Automatica was operated by the left lever on the handlebars. At the same time, Piaggio also produced two versions of the Vespa PK 125 ETS, which had a larger exhaust on board, as well as the improved braking system of the XL 2, and reached an even higher speed. They are not only the sportiest versions of the Smallframe series but are also considered virtually the counterpart of the more powerful T5 from the Largeframe series of the 80s.


Jesco is our product manager and technical editor. Many people know him through videos from the SIP TV tutorial channel, where he explains complicated contexts in a simple way.