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Reader’s Ride: Key West Vespa(s), part 2

May 6, 2015
Conchscooter P200

Photos by the author

In our last episode, Michael Beattie, aka Conchscooter, had decided he wanted another Vespa P200. He talks about finding one—in Iowa—and getting it back on the road, after the jump.

Buying an old-skool Vespa is a bit of a process, especially if you live outside the large metropolitan areas that enjoy a scooter culture and are well-supplied with machines, shops and parts.

I live in Florida at the end of the Overseas Highway, and though Key West has a vast collection of scooters in daily use, almost all of them are modern automatics, whether privately owned or in rental fleets. There are, as far as I know, only a few other old-skool Vespas in town: my buddy Jason has a collection, of which only one or two run at any given time; someone I know only by sight rides a well-worn black P150.

Conchscooter's P200E

I bought my P200E from a seller in Iowa. The paintwork was perfect, a peculiar shade of non-traditional pearl white which I have come to like very much. Though advertised as a “strong runner,” the engine was not strong and ran no more than 45 tortured miles per hour before burning a hole in the piston on a test ride. No problem, I knew what I wanted and here I had a Canadian model early P200 with no battery, pre-mix simplicity and rust-free bodywork. I shipped it off to Scooters Originali in Pennsylvania for 18 months for a total makeover.

Gene Meredith is well known in scooter restoration circles and his brief was to build an as-new stock P200; anything remotely suspect was to be replaced. The crankcase, rotor pads and the frame and wheels are original. The wiring, clutch, cylinder, crankshaft, carburetor, numerous non-standard nuts and bolts, all cables, and brakes were replaced. I had Gene install a modern halogen headlamp and a classic barbecue luggage rack with back rest. The cost was about $3000.


I am an impatient bugger and breaking in the brand new engine wore me down. Yes, I burned up the first piston after 800 miles running wide open, and paid the price.

I sent the cylinder and head away and got a rebuild kit which I installed myself and ran in properly the second time around. The main jet was upgraded to a 119 (the original was a 116) and so far, 2000 miles later, so good. That includes a 140-mile trip up the Keys and back at constant speeds between 50 and 60 mph as traffic allowed, and the Vespa rode like a champ. The kick starter brings the bike to life by the third kick from cold every time.

However, it is worth noting that this is an old scooter and it burns up bulbs in a manner quite unlike my modern Triumph Bonneville, which has all its factory-original bulbs after seven years. The P200’s clutch and brake cables have stretched, which is not common on modern bikes. It’s a small thing to adjust them, but adjust them I must from time to time.

On the plus side there are no consumables on a 2-stroke Vespa, no air or oil filters to replace, no belts that wear out no valves to adjust. Every two thousand miles there is a small cupful of 30-weight oil to replace in the gearbox and that’s about it.

P-series Vespas carry a complete spare wheel and it can be installed on the front or rear with minimal fuss. Try doing that with a motorcycle! I travel with a bag full of tools and I can actually use them as there are no computers!

Riding a P200 in modern traffic? That’s in Part 3…

—Michael Beattie, aka Conchscooter


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