In our three previous blog posts on Vespa model lore, we explained how the idea for the Vespa came about and what defines the Vespa models Wideframe, Largeframe and Smallframe. In the fourth and last part of our series, we now deal with the Modern Vespa and the associated brief crisis of the manufacturer in the early 90s. 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 range?
Modern Vespa model lore
How did the Modern Vespa range come into being?
With the Modern Vespa series Piaggio succeeded in a big hit. Since the release of the first model in 1996, this series has dominated the registration statistics in many countries around the world - and continues to do so today. But how did this model series actually come about?
At the beginning of the 1990s, a certain standstill crept into the traditional Italian manufacturer in terms of diversity of ideas: Vespa fans searched in vain for new ideas. In addition, the PX and PK model ranges had already passed their peak in the mid-90s. This was not the only headache for the manufacturer, because even the newly released Vespa Cosa did not get the hoped-for response. As if that wasn't bad enough, Japanese manufacturers such as Honda were also 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 tires for high maneuverability and a single-sided swing arm at the front were unmistakably taken from the original Vespa in terms of design and combined with state-of-the-art technology. Not only was the manufacturer able to recover from its low thanks to the Modern Vespa, but it also reignited the brand's cult - from a pure means of transportation to a lifestyle product - more strongly 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 success continues to this day with its successor models and generations.
What are the main features of the Modern Vespa?
In the roughly 25-year history of the Modern Vespa series, there have of course always been detail changes and new models. However, what all Vespa scooters of the generation have in common fundamentally is the combination of automatic transmission and the self-supporting body frame. Another feature is the location of the engine: while in classic models the motor is located on the right-hand side, in the Modern Vespa series it is now installed 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 available in "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 are the Modern Vespa models, and which are the most important?
Vespa ET or ET2 and Vespa ET4As mentioned above, 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 hood was an air-cooled 50 cc two-stroke engine and came to market as the Vespa ET2. A year later, a fuel-injected version of the 50 cc engine was released.
Almost in the same period, a powerful four-stroke 125 cc and 150 cc came on the market with the Vespa ET4. By the way, there were two different engine revisions of the 125cc ET4 models, the "ET4 Alt Motor" with 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 as well as a flyscreen. Small fun fact on the side: In the Asian region, 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 the 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 standard luggage rack as well as the round taillight. Just two years later, the GT was given an update with the Vespa GTS 250 i.e.. Under the hood, this one got a new Q.A.S.A.R. engine (Quarter Liter Smooth Augmented Range). A facelift was also carried out: Slits on the right-side hood, a protruding taillight, a second parking light and other modifications gave the model a fresher look.
The next generation of the series followed in 2008 and 2009 with the Super/Sport models. The GTS 300 was the top-of-the-line model with 278 cc of displacement and 21 horsepower and featured blacked-out headlights, analog gauges, and a seat with white piping. The Super Sport had a matte finish, black rims, shock absorber springs in red and a sport seat. The 125 cc 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 front tires 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 recognizable by the angular cascade insert. Incidentally, the LX is the most popular Vespa model in the Asian region - 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 50 cc versions - unlike the 125 cc models - was not painted through.
With the Vespa GTV, another special model was released to mark the anniversary. This was based on the Vespa i.e., and had the headlight mounted on the fender, as in the 40s. In addition, the anniversary model offered individual seats with leather upholstery. Somewhat later, Piaggio introduced a companion 300 cc version as well as the "Vespa GTV 300 i.e. Via Montenapoleone" and the "Vespa GTV 300 i.e. Vie della Moda," 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 gray of the first Vespa prototype (color code 786/A) only from selected dealers. A seat bench 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. Anyone who wants to experience this gem up close can find it at our SIP Scootershop in Landsberg am Lech. Number 873 of the Vespa GT60 is on display there.
Also, in 2006 the Vespa S (S for Speciale) was released. It was supposed to be a homage to the Vespa 50 Special of the 70s and 80s. It was distinguished by 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. Over time, Piaggio repeatedly brought special models in different versions and changing optical refinements on the market.
Back in 2011, Piaggio presented the prototype of the Vespa 946 (Italian: nuova quarantasei - the new 46) at the EICMA motorcycle show, but it didn't go into production until 2013. Visually based on the first Vespa MP from 1946, it also scored with LED headlights, 125 cc and 150 cc three-valve LEM engines and optional anti-lock braking system (ABS).
Vespa Primavera, Vespa Sprint and Vespa Primavera Sprint.
Presented at EICMA 2013 (Esposizione Internazionale Ciclo Motociclo e Accessori) as the successor to the Vespa LX and released in 2014, the Vespa Primavera had some interesting new features. For example, it featured 11-inch wheels, a new steel body, a slightly more angular frame shape and a retreaded front swingarm. On the engine side, Vespa fans had a choice of two-stroke or four-stroke four-valve engines with a choice of 50 cc, 125 cc or 150 cc. In addition, the Vespa Primavera was produced as a Touring model with chrome-plated folding luggage racks as well as a flyscreen.
Bodywork, engine, and chassis are identical to those of the Primavera models. Only on the chassis side, the Vespa Sprint launched in 2014 differs 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 highlighted by a matte paint job, Rally Dekor decals, a stitched seat, and black rims with silver trim.
With the Vespa Primavera/Sprint, the shock absorber mount was revised, based on the range of Vespa LX models. On the engine side, the 125 cc / 150 cc models relied from now on the new 3V iGet Euro4 engines with automatic start-stop. Otherwise, all frame details of the previous model were adopted. Visually, Piaggio has based the 2017 Vespa Primavera/Sprint on the colors of the 1970s Vespa Special and Primavera models.
Vespa GTS/GTS Super and Vespa GTS 300 HPE
At the end of 2014, Piaggio presented the new model range of Vespa GTS (GTS 300 cc / GTS Super 125-300 cc). Differences from the previous model include a modified speedometer with digital speed display, LED turn signals with daytime running light function, a chrome-framed taillight, a larger helmet compartment and a new seat. On the technical side, the most serious innovation was the front suspension, which was available with ABS/ASR as an option, offering improved handling and 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 300 cc displacement, 24 hp and reaches a top speed of 120 km/h at 26 Nm. But how had Piaggio achieved this? Visually, one remained faithful to the predecessor except for a few details such as a slightly modified cascade. However, they installed new cylinder heads with better camshafts in the model, which are not only quieter, but also produce less exhaust fumes and work more fuel-efficient. This revised engine was christened the "High Performance Engine", or HPE for short.
Vespa Elettrica and Vespa Elettrica 70
Piaggio launched an electric-powered model for the first time in 2019 under the slogan "electric mobility with style". The electric scooter, with its classic design, relies on a wheel hub motor, a permanently installed lithium-ion battery and app connectivity. With a battery capacity of 4 kW at a power 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 color display in the cockpit, the CBS brakes (Combined Brake System) in which the vehicle is slowed down by recuperation and the three driving modes Eco, Power and Reverse, the Vespa Elettrica also convinces in the latest version.