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Vespa 946: In the aluminum *Updated

January 15, 2014
946, crated

One of Vespa Seattle’s 946s emerges from its shipping crate (Vespa Seattle photo)

SEATTLE, January 14, 2014 — The Vespa 946’s Seattle coming-out party took place at Vespa Seattle this evening. Needless to say, after two years of looking at pictures I was very eager to see one in person.

So were the members of the Vespa Club of Seattle, who turned out in force for the event, which included the club’s monthly membership meeting.

White Vespa 946

Orin O’Neill photos

Cliche though it may be, photos don’t do it justice — in person, it’s a beautiful bike. The 946 has this Art Deco science-fiction thing going on that makes it easy to picture Dale Arden riding one in a Flash Gordon comic strip. It’s richly finished, with a coat of paint that looks six inches deep and detail pieces that would appear to have been carved out of billets of solid… whatever.

Tacked-on rear blinker

Unfortunately, the damnable tacked-on turn signals are present, front and rear.

Tacked-on front blinker

The search for conversion kits is already underway.

946 LED headlight

The 946 rocks an LED headlight, which as you can see below puts out a bright, white beam.

946 high beam

While test rides were not available, sitting on the 946s was encouraged. The ergonomics are perfect for me; the cantilever seat fit my bum like a glove. Yes, there is underseat storage.

Under-seat storage

Such as it is. The pouch contains a weather-resistant seat cover; there’s also a (small) tool kit, and the card that goes with the red key. There might be room for a pair of gloves, but there’s no room for cooking pets. The 946 may well be the first modern Vespa sold in the U.S. to not have a “NO PETS” sticker.

Rear quarter access panel removed

Access to the engine and rear suspension is gained through removable rear-quarter panels. I was expecting them to be easily popped off by pulling or pushing something, but they are held on with Torx-head bolts.

946 horizontal shock

The horizontal orientation of the rear spring/shock absorber is a first for Vespa, though it has become common on motorcycles.

Let’s clarify something: the 946 is not, repeat, NOT made of aluminum. The monocoque is pressed steel, just like every other Vespa scooter, ever. The pressing was done by 10-ton presses, like every other Vespa, ever. And those pressed pieces were welded together BY ROBOTS, like every other Vespa-brand scooter sold today. Okay? Sorry to disappoint you, if I have.

Vespa 946 aluminum bits

As the pic shows, the handlebar, horncast, front fender and a few other bits are what are rendered in aluminum. Most of those pieces are injection-molded plastic on other Vespas; doing them in aluminum offers no meaningful weight savings. In fact, the 946 weighs in at 346 lbs. That’s three hundred forty-six pounds. Or if you prefer, 157 kilograms. Twenty pounds heavier than a Vespa GTS, in fact.

Which, BTW, packs almost twice the horsepower of the 946’s 150cc engine, which is now shared with every other 125/150 scooter Piaggio Group sells. Even the Indian-made LX, though that one is carbureted instead of fuel-injected.

So, if neck-snapping performance is what you seek, the 946 is most definitely not your ride. While Piaggio claims a 57 mph top speed, I’m thinking for once the nervous lawyers might be a bit optimistic. Likewise, 100+ mpg fuel economy is not likely in normal use.

And while much is made of the 946 being the first Vespa scooter to feature traction control (which Piaggio calls ASR), traction control is ABS in reverse. Same wheel sensors, with some extra computer code in the control module (which in this case subtly throttles back the engine instead of applying the brakes).

946 side view

In the end, rational analysis of the 946 is beside the point. Just like Starbucks’ product is not coffee but an experience many will consider sophisticated, the 946 is about what it can do for the Vespa brand — just as the New Beetle brought Volkswagen back from the edge of U.S. oblivion in 1998, the 946 is designed to get people talking about Vespa again. And in that, it has succeeded. In spades. What well-circulated magazine or newspaper hasn’t had an article about it? Yes, none of those publications could be considered authoritative on the subject of motor scooters; the fact that they gave the 946 considerable space and attention is what matters. Whether Piaggio does or doesn’t make money on sales of the 946, the company will nevertheless get what it wants. Which in all likelihood is far more valuable.

There are more than enough people with ten grand burning a hole in their pocket for the 3,600 built so far to find homes. Vespa Seattle got four, two in each color; one has already been sold, but as this is written the other three are still available. And if you aren’t able get one of those, be patient. You may get another chance.

Chelsea and her 946

Photo courtesy Chelsea Lahmers

UPDATE, January 20, 2014: As I said, test rides on the 946 were not available at Vespa Seattle. However, when you own a scooter dealership with a Vespa franchise, you could ride a 946 whenever you want. Chelsea Lahmers, the owner of Scoot Richmond in Richmond, Va., took a ride on the dealership’s 946 the other day. She had this to say about it in a comment thread on Facebook:

“… It’s not great off of the line (because) of the heft, but once you get going it’s decent. Definitely acceptable for in-town stuff. The suspension is remarkable, the handling is spectacular, and the geometry is really interesting and feels like an updated VBB vs. a modern Vespa, which I really appreciate. It has that over-the-front-wheel feel that is absent from all modern bikes. I’m missing the GTS300’s sheer power a bit, but the roll-on acceleration is decent and sneaks up on you. It’s a Cadillac instead of a Porsche, you know?”

I couldn’t have said it better.

The details

MSRP: $9,946
Built in: Italy
Construction: Pressed steel monocoque with aluminum trim pieces
Dry weight:  346 lbs (157 kg)
Length: 77.3 in (1965 mm)
Width: 28.7 in (730 mm)
Wheelbase: 55.3 in (1405 mm)
Seat height: 31.6 in (805 mm)
Front susp: Single trailing link with coil spring and telescopic damper
Rear susp: Swingarm w/adjustable coil spring & telescopic damper
Front brakes: 8.66 in (220 mm) single hydraulic disc with ABS
Rear brakes: 8.66 in (220 mm) single hydraulic disc with ABS
Front tire: 120/70-12
Rear tire: 130/70-12
Engine: 154.8cc Air-cooled 4-stroke SOHC 3-valve w/EFI and electronic ignition
Transmission: CVT with centrifugal dry clutch
Power/torque: 12.9 hp (9.5 kW) @ 8000 rpm/9.44 lb-ft (12.8 Nm) @6500 rpm
  1. jon permalink
    January 15, 2014 1:21 pm

    Great looking scooter. Would I pay $11,000 out the door for one? NOT IN THIS LIFE! But, movie stars and such will buy them. I’ll stick with our SYM HD200 and Kymco People 150. The 150 ran me $2200 out the door as a new leftover.

  2. January 16, 2014 3:17 am

    Those US turn lights and reflectors are horrible.

  3. January 24, 2014 12:39 pm

    As always even though much has been said about this statement scooter your review is the best. And I like your take on why Piaggio built this thing in the first place.

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