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Apparently, it’s not vaporware

March 12, 2013
Vespa 946

Piaggio Group

You’ll recall back in October, Piaggio introduced a production-ready Vespa 946. And at the time, they said very little about it, leaving out such trivialities as when it would go on sale, and where, and how much it would cost. They hadn’t said much since. But now we know more.

Scooterfile is reporting the 946 will arrive in the U.S. in the fourth quarter of 2013. Dealer sources have said they’re being given a “window” during which orders can be placed, which would seem to confirm the “limited-edition” nature of the 946. Pricing is still anyone’s guess, but a point slightly below the GTV would seem sensible. Or so I’m told.

While the 946 has created the kind of buzz for the Vespa brand money can’t buy, that buzz is approaching levels that would almost guarantee disappointment.

For starters, the 946 will be powered by the very same 125/150cc air-cooled EFI engine that was introduced to the world in the 946 concept in 2011, is now standard in non-U.S. market Vespa S and LX models, and will debut in North America shortly in the 2013 Piaggio Fly 150. This engine makes 12.9 hp (9.5 kW), which is enough to propel an LX/S to a lawyer-approved 75 mph (122 km/h).

However, if you look at the pix from EICMA, you’ll see the 946 appears to be about the size of a GTS/GTV. And it’s made of steel, folks—aluminum will be found only in the parts that are rendered in plastic on a GTS. That would be the front fender, headset cover and other small bits. In other words, no meaningful weight savings. Expect a wet weight close to the GTS’ 326 lbs (147 kg).

Which, unless Piaggio has secretly discovered how to repeal many of the basic laws of physics, means the 946 ain’t gettin’ no 144 mpg (you’ll want a Typhoon 50 in that case), and its acceleration and top speed are likely to be far more, uh, leisurely than the many breathless rumors predict. In Europe and parts of Asia, you can buy a Vespa GTS 125. I’m guessing a ride on one of those would be a pretty good preview of what the 946 will offer.

Of course, none of this will matter (much) to the many who’ve been drooling like Pavlov’s dog over the 946 for the last year and a half. Unless the rumors about a $10,000 price tag turn out to be true.

Personally, I think it’s nice looking, and will surely be well-made. It will look nice in peoples’ garages, where it would seem likely most 946s will spend the vast majority of their lives, venturing out only on perfect, sunny days. It won’t much matter to Piaggio how many 946s are actually sold, because it has tremendous value for the company even if it doesn’t make money.

But Vespa is rather like Porsche, its signature products (in the latter case, the 911) constrained by a narrow design language and an abiding fear of straying from that language so as not to alienate a vocal fan base. In the 911’s case, Porsche has done a masterful job counteracting the malign tendencies of an engine hanging behind the rear-wheel centerline, but the industry realized long ago that hanging the engine out back was in most cases a poor choice, especially in a car whose buyers expect high performance.

The Vespa 98 was not a tribute to something that came before, but a radical approach to inexpensive, 2-wheeled transportation. Piaggio calls the 946 a tribute to that original Vespa, but I think a much better tribute would be something at least as far outside the box. And it wouldn’t have to look—or sound— like a wasp. Favicon

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