Hurtling along the Via dei Fori Imperiali on a classic Vespa (pictured below), the Colosseum at my back, I can’t say I felt much like Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday – and not just because Audrey Hepburn wasn’t riding pillion.
It may have been my white knuckles or the sight of Italian motorists emerging from every angle, as I dropped through the gears to sweep left past the vast white monument to Victor Emmanuel II. Not so much Quadrophenia as the quadraphonic sound of an orchestra of car horns. Across the Piazza Venezia and – was that a red light? – down to the banks of the Tiber.
The Vespa PX is back on sale in Britain again after an unwelcome absence of three years. EU emissions laws had seemingly consigned the steel-bodied, geared scooter to the collector’s market in 2008 when Piaggio decided to concentrate on making plastic automatic models. But you can’t beat that original minimalist design or that reassuring pop-pop of the two-stroke engine. So Piaggio has heeded public demand and found a way to manufacture the PX within environmental regulations.
Minor additions have been introduced to the model that first appeared in 1977; the saddle design has been sculpted to furtheraccommodate riding two-up with your Audrey, there’s also a new chrome Vespa badge and minor alterations have been made to the handgrips and central footrest. But, essentially, not a lot has changed. What you are getting is the classic scooter experience, always associated in Britain with the Mods. Initially, Piaggio is offering British buyers only a 125cc model, though a 150cc version is available in Italy with a 200cc model expected to follow.
A challenge for the manufacturer will be persuading British buyers that sitting bestride a genuine icon and propelling it via the four-gear transmission on the left handle bar are pleasures that outweigh the simplicity of the many “twist and go” scooters now on the market.
Scooter purchases in Britain have stalled after a surge in interest following the introduction in 2003 of a London congestion charge with exemptions for motorcycles. The new PX offers a choice of push-button electric start or the much cooler kick start. Automatic riders who make the switch will have to come to terms with the use of a foot brake. But commuters should take confidence in the Vespa PX’s great record for reliability. So there’s the choice: arrive at work, or arrive at work in style.
THE COMPETITION Britain’s biggest selling scooter is the Yamaha Vity 125, which is lightweight and simple to use. Basic motorised transport with a £1,799 price tag, but no retro cool.