Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Monday, February 25, 2013

What is the ultimate Mod scooter? Vespa vs Lambretta


I'm not necessarily the type to start fiery debates but I feel that I'm ready to tackle this one and settle it once and for all.  That uncontrollable urge to want to debate has suddenly taken me over. I call it the DJ Warren Peace Effect. Listen to the We Are The Mods radio show and you might be afflicted too. Oh, oh... Will I start writing blog posts a scotch snifter in hand? By the end of this article, you'll get a definite and clear answer from me. Parka Avenue will declare a winner! Who said I can't take on important issues?

First, most Mods fall into two camps: Vespa or Lambretta. Just like the age old Coca-Cola vs Pepsi rivalry, the two Italian scooter brands have been trying to outshine each other since the start. (I'm a Coke fan by the way) Whether you like the feminine curves of the seductive Vespa or the streamline, bullet shaped modern design of Innocenti's Lambretta, most have a preference. If you are part of the few that would rather stroll along the seaside on a bank holiday on a German Heinkel Tourist or a Zundapp Bella, then more power to you but you're certainly in the minority. 


And  if you have a Union Jack tattooed on your heart and are British to the core, you might want to seek out a UK made scooter. Show me a photo of a 60s Mod on one of these and you'll  see a bunch of his mates laughing in the background.


Personally, I own both a Vespa and a Lambretta. They are just like my children. It's hard to pick one over the other but let's see if a victor will emerge.

My 1959 Vespa VNB on the right
 
The Vespa 

The look: 

Can someone remind me again what the Ace Face was riding in Quadrophenia? Yes, that's right, a Vespa. The Vespa has curves and is sexy. The classic design has endured the test of time and is still relevant today. They preceded Lambretta and you just need to compare the first model of each make to see that Vespa is the clear winner. There's nothing cool about riding a Lambretta D Model. I also give Piaggio an extra point for being the first to have the headlight mounted on the handlebars. For a Mod, that's crucial because it frees up space to add a rack or a badge bar. Where else are you going to put all those mirrors and lights?


The performance: 

The Vespa is a workhorse. With its direct drive engine, it has a well-deserved reputation for being reliable. So when you're dressed to the nines in your favourite mohair suit, the last thing you need is a scooter breakdown and having to get your hands dirty. We leave that to the Rockers.


The Lambretta

The look:

The Lambretta screams "modernism". Just look at it! What a thing of beauty. The front fender of the series 3 model looks like the head of a missile. The legshield is sleek and narrower than the same year model of the Vespa. But what does it for me, are the side panels, especially the arrow shape chrome flashes of the SX200. Could it possibly be more Mod?





In the looks department, my choice is definitive. Lambretta takes the edge.


The performance:

The Lambretta won many speed records and was generally always ahead of his rival when it came to engine size. The tubular frame and centred engine makes it more stable to ride than the Vespa with the motor mounted on the right hand side. Innocenti also came up with some technical advancements that might tip the scales in their favor, mainly the disc brake found on the TV and SX models.


On the negative side,  the engine is often temperamental and notoriously prone to breakdowns. So if I had to chose between reliability and speed, I go for the Wasp. Mods are more preoccupied with cruising down the boulevard in sharp clothes than going from point A to point B in record time.

Before we declare a champion, we must determine which two models should square off. To base my decision, I picked the two scooters that were offered at the pinnacle of Mod popularity in the mid sixties. The were widely considered the two most desirable scooter models of their time and many Mods were ready to make pacts with the devil to put their hands on one. Sure, the Lambretta SX200 or the Vespa SS180 would make for great candidates but they came at the tail end of the 60s Mod craze.

The ultimate Mod scooter face-off:

In the red corner, weighing in at 242 lb, hailing from the Piaggio plant in Pontedera, Italy,  the scooter that rides like a butterfly but stings like a wasp, please welcome the Vespa GS160 Mark 1!

Posing on my friend Jean-François Bourque's immaculate 1962 Vespa GS Mark 1

The top of the line Gran Sport 160 was produced between 1962 and 1964 and it is considered to be one of the best scooters Piaggio ever produced. The GS160 represented an evolution on many levels when compared to earlier models. The engine, suspension, electrical components, frame and styling were all reworked. In 1963, the model revered by many Mods would cost you a little over £196. For its beautiful lines and classic style,  it's a serions contender to claim the title.

In the blue corner, weighing in at 242 lb, hailing from the Innocenti plant in Milan, Italy, please welcome the Italian Stalion, the Lambretta TV175 Series 3!

Unrestored 1965 Lambretta TV175 Series 3  that recently sold on eBay

The Turismo Veloce ranks as one of the best scooters ever produced, period. It was also the first two-wheel vehicule to ever use a mechanical disc brake. When compared to the 160cc Vespa, it doesn't take Einstein to figure out that it can't outrun a 175. (And believe me, I'm no mechanical genius) It can reach a top speed of 65mph and that's plenty of veloce for me. It does have slightly less power at 8.75 hp at 5300 rpm when compared to the GS at 8.9 hp.

One thing makes me all goo-goo ga-ga for this two-stroke marvel: the side panels. The early TV175 Series 3 models had the same flat cowls as the LI's. The later TV's had the coved side panels with the famous "knuckle" flashes that give them a distinctive look. Another noticable feature that I like when compared to its nemesis, is the extended floorboard. When you are riding to your local Soul club, you want your lovely lady to have somewhere to rest her feet. You don't want them dangling on each side like on a Vespa!

This my 1965 TV175 in the midst of a complete restoration at Scootart, Montreal's premium scooter shop. It should be ready to hit the pavement in a few weeks. More on the ground up restorations in an upcoming post.

And the winner is...

The Lambretta TV175 series 3!

"Pat, you're biased. You chose a scooter you own as the winner." I can all hear you saying. Yes and your point being? That is precisely why I always wanted that exact model. It's the ultimate Mod scooter!

18 comments:

  1. I agree... The Ser 3 TV 175 was one of the best scooters Innocenti ever made.

    They got it right with this one.

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    1. Wholeheartedly agree. Just restoring a '64 TV175 like yours. They are the dogz as far as I' concerned. Why folks want to tamper or customise perfection I don't understand.

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  2. "Fiery debate"? Here's another one, "We are the Mods" fb-page is a piece of crap.

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  3. Get in! Was touch and go for a moment. Mine's an SX150 - not far off a TV175 and the letters SX always look better to me than TV!

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    1. yeah thats right!! the sx 200 was for me the ultimate scooter!! i got once 75 mph out of mine on the M5, bog standard an all!!

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  4. Please don't forget that the Lambretta TV200, known as the GT, was specifically designed and built for the UK market, arguably for the Mods at that time and the only scooter aimed only at the Mods, so this model must be the ultimate Mod scooter. You can't argue with that!

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    1. Very good point David. The reason why I didn't chose the TV200 is because they are so rare. Only 14,982 units were made for and exported to markets outside of Italy. But desirable to Mods they certainly were! (and are!) That's why I stayed in the TV family.

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  5. It is great, Patrick that you have both makes. I think any claims at bias can be shot down by just this. The Lambretta looks great and I wouldn't say no to owning one...but. Design wise, aesthetically and intrinsically, I have to side with the wasp/ vespa. When I saw a documentry about post-war Italian scooters, I was honestly shocked at the Lambretta being made from a series of metal tubes. I had always thought it was a complete frame. The Vespa on the other hand is of complete/pressed construction. I think that is why it is more reliable and is still in production. I have heard many arguments against this but for me they still don't hold water. So from a design standpoint it has to be the Vespa. The British or other variants are for me a cruel joke. Like an Italian scooter only ugly and clumsy. Completely missing the point anyone? Just my two Aussie cents. Take care Ozy Pete.

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  6. Patrick in Montreal-

    I wholeheartedly agree. My current project:

    http://1965tv175.wordpress.com

    -Patrick in Minneapolis

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    1. Very nice! You're a lot more handy than I am! I like the choice of colours too. Good luck with the project!

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  7. Lambretta is more elegant, sound staggering, and the engine is central so you have a well balanced scooter. Vespa is a more user friendly machine, parts are simpler to fix, and they are more steadfast.
    ----------------
    moped

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  8. Great article and one with a conclusion with which I wholly concur (although I too would have to declare a bias on the basis that a TV3 nestles amongst the other models in my stable) . For some time now I have been toying with joining he blog community with this very subject my intended first attempt.
    I guess I'll still have a tilt at the subject on the basis (like all those maths calculations at school where the teacher insisted) you have to show your workings to demonstrate how you reach your result!

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  9. I have just bought a P125X 1979 model hoping to tidy her up and take her to usa from uk in next couple of months, Or should I be looking for a different model ?

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    1. The Vespa PX series are some of the most reliable scooters around. They really stood the test of time and are a good choice all around. A 125 might be perfect for city riding but you might eventually want a bigger size engine to hit those long US roads.

      Good luck!

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  10. I have owned Many Lambrettas, several Ld 150 LI 150, a TV 200 but the one I loved the most My SX 200 1966 it was a streamline dream.
    Lots of my mates had Lambrettas and some had Vespa's SS AND GS. We all enjoyed both and the argument never came up, we were just happy to have the freedom that they gave us at 17 brilliant.
    I started when I was 14 years old with an old LD bought of an old guy. In total I had about 10 and I wish I still had everyone . Love your page by the way.

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  11. Close call! But I always go for the Vespa. VNB, GS, SS oder Rally/Sprint. It was love at the first crash when a test drive thirty years ago ended with me and my scooter in a couple of trash cans. My old lady (a Sprint from 1972) has just been restored one year ago, and she is more beautiful than ever. When I drive around town, I'm always the happiest girl in the world with a smile from one ear to another. Greetings from Germany, Claudia

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  12. First scooter I had was a 1954 vespa. I was 15 and still at school. I was born in 54 so you can tell my age!. days away from getting my new scoot / rebuilt Lambretta and am hangin!

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