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New 'wasp' brings bigger sting

August 20, 2004|by ARV VOSS/Motor Matters

Vespa, an Italian motor scooter that began life in 1946, is manufactured by the Piaggio company of Tuscany, Italy. It first came to the U.S. in 1951, reigning supreme as two-wheeled transportation that was not only economical, but great fun to ride.

Vespa rapidly became one of Italy's national symbols, as well as a global icon of design and economy. Popularity continued through the 1980s, until the increasing restrictions of the Environmental Protection Agency forced Piaggio to withdraw from the U.S. marketplace.

When company president Enrico Piaggio first viewed the original prototype, he remarked, "Sembra una vespa!" (translation - It looks like a wasp). The bicycle-style handlebars, bug-eyed headlight, narrow waist, flared, bulbous tail and buzzing tone, indeed liken it to a wasp. Hence the name Vespa.

The "wasp" returned to the U.S. a few years ago with two models: a two-stroke 50cc ET2; and a 150cc four-stroke ET4. The big news for the 2004 model year is the bigger and better Vespa Granturismo 200L with a host of desirable features and increased touring capability.

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My test scooter was the 200cc four-stroke 2004 Vespa Granturismo, finished in Steel Gray metallic with a complementing black seat. The base price is $4,899. It's easily possible to spend more, with lots of accessory options available to enhance riding pleasure and increase the scooter's functionality. These include a windshield, Vespa helmets, a chrome dress-up package, various cargo racks to supplement the standard aft platform, and passenger seat back. There's also a line of logo apparel.

The seat unlocks and raises to uncover a large removable storage well (with enough room for two open-face helmets) and the gas filler. Removing the bin provides engine access. Additional locking storage is located just ahead of the rider, in a hinged glove box. Full instrumentation includes a speedometer with trip odometer, a fuel gauge with low fuel warning light, a non-canceling turn signal switch with illuminated, flashing directional indicators, a horn button, headlamp beam switch and indicator, an engine kill switch, and even a digital clock. A fork lock also activates locking of the storage areas. A handy circular hook on the forward panel may be used for hanging bags or helmets.

SUMMARY: Riding a Vespa is simple and easy. Easier in fact, than riding a motorcycle. A motorcycle license is required in most states for scooters with a 150cc or larger motor. Either of the brakes must be applied with the ignition key and engine switch on before the starter button will engage. The sleekly styled Vespa Granturismo exhibits a European design flair, with exceptional balance, not only in terms of design elements, but in riding characteristics as well. The Granturismo features an automatic Continuously Variable Transmission, which means no clutch lever or gear shift.

A full floorboard serves the rider, while the passenger is provided with fold-out pegs, allowing for non-scraping cornering maneuvers. The suspension provides a smooth and comfortable ride, with a preload adjustment possible in the rear.

The Vespa Granturismo provides quiet, efficient and practical transportation for up to two (rider and passenger), with handles for the passenger just beneath the seat. The seat is a little short for two large adults, forcing the driver forward, compromising balance somewhat. But the Granturisimo does have an advantage: It runs on regular unleaded gasoline. Replenishing my test scooter's tank from less than 1/4 tank cost only $4.24, even at today's outlandishly high rates.

The freeway legal Granturismo provides an extended range allowing one to escape the urban environment. Scooters may not be construed as "macho" machines by many observers, but women love their look and simplicity. Scooter riding imparts a feeling of freedom and independence, while at the same time giving one the sense of making a contribution to preservation of the environment.

Vespa boutiques, where you may obtain your own Vespa and gear, are open across the U.S. More information may be gained about this lovable scooter from the Vespa website: www.vespausa.com.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Vespa 200L Granturismo Scooter

Base Price: $4,899.

Price as Tested: $4,899.

Engine Type and Size: 198 cc chain-driven, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 4-stroke, single cylinder with electronic capacitive discharge ignition.

Horsepower: 21

Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission with automatic dry centrifugal type clutch.

Drivetrain: Rear-mounted engine/Rear-wheel drive.

Suspension: Front - Single-arm with hydraulic shock absorber, compression

and rebound damping.

Rear - Engine-swing arm with two hydraulic shock absorbers, adjustable

pre-load and compression and rebound damping.

Brakes: Hydraulically operated front disc, two-piston floating caliper - right-hand brake lever. Hydraulically operated rear disc, two-piston floating caliper - left-hand brake lever.

Tires: Pirelli Tubeless 120/70-12 inch front on 3-inch-wide 5-spoke aluminum alloy wheel - Tubeless 130/70-12" rear on 3.0 inch wide 5-spoke alloy wheel.

Wheelbase: 54.9 inch

Length Overall: 76.4 inches

Width: 29.4 inches at handgrips.

Dry Weight: 308 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 2.5 gallons

EPA Mileage Estimates: 44 mpg city/59 mpg highway - estimated - depending upon load, speed and terrain.

Copyright 2004, Motor Matters

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