Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In The Flesh: Vespa 946 Scooter

Vespa 946 headlight
By Scott Araujo

I was lucky enough to get some super secret spy photos at the un-crating and setup of the new Vespa 946 down at Portland Vespa. They got a call early in the day that the shipment would arrive late. The 946 gets shipped in a larger than usual crate so it didn't fit on the morning truck.  It seems Vespa is eager to protect their expensive limited edition scooter. The bike retails for $9,946 and there will be only 250 units shipped to the United States. No doubt the price and rarity will make this an instant collectible.

Vespa 946 at Portland Scooter

The 946 is stylistically inspired by the 1946 MP6 prototype, their first step through model. The MSRP reflects the last three digits of the year. The styling evokes the spirit of the MP6, but the details make it look thoroughly modern. They are elegant and refined, skewing from the more simple and utilitarian design of the original, a scooter designed as cheap transportation for post war Italy.

 Vespa MP6 prototype

Some of the refined touches are the V-shaped vents on the front, the modern angular chrome mirrors, and the gently curved lines of the side vents. The back end is especially graceful. The rear of the seat is separate and elevated above the long, sleek tail section; it reminds me of an Auburn Speedster. While it looks like a solo seat, there is a subtle step to it and enough room for a passenger ... barely. It's a great styling cue, though it leaves only enough underseat storage for the toolkit and a maybe few credit cards. The wheels are thoughtfully designed so that from the right side it looks just like a vintage drum brake hub and hides the disc on the other side, enhancing the retro inspiration.

Vespa 946 seat

The engine is a three-valve, air-cooled marvel. It manages both more power and better fuel economy than the current Vespa engines of the same displacement. The US models come with a 150cc motor. The European and Asian models get a 125cc mill, a common displacement for tiered licensing and taxes/insurance in those locales. Both get well over 100 MPG. The bike also comes equipped with traction control and ABS. The chassis is a mix of steel and aluminum panels.

Vespa 946 in black

Sitting on the bike I found it really comfortable, more so than most scooters.  How does it ride?  I have no idea!  There was no question of a test ride, that's just not happening. The technicians aren't even going to take it out for a shakeout run until it's been sold. No sense risking a crash on the rainy leaf strewn streets of Portland.

Vespa 946 taillight

While we do get a larger engine in the US we also get larger turn signals. DOT regulations require larger signals spaced farther apart than the rest of the world. The front valence retains the originals but has additional lamps mounted just below the handlebar. The rear end uses the location of the original lights as a mount point for the larger stalk styled item. While not as subtle as the Euro spec signals, at least they are nicely styled rather than tacked on parts bin afterthoughts that most low end scooters get.

Black side shot of Vespa 946

Even with the $9,946 MSRP I'm sure they'll sell out quickly. Will you ever see one?  I can't say for sure.  I suspect with the low number available and high price, many are destined to become garage ornaments and rarely see asphalt. The bike is amazingly cool, no doubt about it. But at nearly $10K, what league does that put it in?

It outprices the Ducati Monster 696, another two wheeled icon of sexy Italian styling with gobs more power and performance. For only $150 more you could get the Moto Guzzi V7 Racer. Not quite the Monster's equal on the track but it would certainly garner more lingering glances parked outside the local cafe, and it's just as retro as the 946.

But that's missing the point. The 946 is just like any Italian scooter, only more so. Like every scooter it's a great little vehicle for getting around town. What differentiates it from all its Asian brethren is that instead of looking like some cheap little econo scoot, it has all the refinement and style of a vintage Maserati or Alfa Romeo. Not the brutish, flamboyant statement of the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini super car, it's more about getting around, having fun, and looking incontrovertibly stylish while doing so.

The official 946 page
Vespa model history in less than 90 seconds

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