Vespa Celebrates in Rome its 65th Anniversary—By Bruno dePrato

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How do Roman gladiators show their bravery these days? They fend off assaults from chaotic traffic on their ever-faithful Vespas! I experienced this craziness first-hand while taking part in Vespa’s 65th anniversary party, held earlier this month in Rome. The event culminated in a parade of more than 5000 PX 125/150s from all over Europe.

During "Vespa Days," I circulated Rome solely on Vespas, from the highly refined and solidly performing 300 GTS to the nostalgic PX 150. The latter is an incredible leftover from the 1980s that brought back memories of a hilarious story told to me by the late Gordon Jennings. The article was published in Car & Driver and illustrated with a cartoon. The artist drew the little Vespa as a monster, its kickstarter morphing into the long neck of a snapper turtle ready to sink its teeth into Jennings' right calf.

That particular model predated the PX 150, but they were siblings. In fact, the current model still uses the same forced-ventilation-cooled, kick-start two-stroke Single. The addition of a catalytic converter has helped the PX survive the rigors of today’s stringent homologation standards.

This little machine still runs on skinny 10-inch tires and uses a four-speed transmission operated via a pivoting left handgrip and related clutch lever. There’s no detent or position marker, so putting a little too much enthusiasm into the operation produces a first-to-fourth upshift. Not a good idea when trying to dodge traffic in Rome. And you need all the zest of the available 7 hp not to be overrun by either cars or the latest scooters—the 300 GTS included.

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When in Rome... European Editor Bruno dePrato rides the Vespa PX 150 with the Colosseum in the background.

Acceleration is mild, but I still could keep up with traffic. At first, the ride was kind of scary. But my touch with the shifter was more precise than I expected, and I rapidly built confidence in the narrow tires and enjoyed my ride down memory lane.

The PX 150 only weighs 247 pounds and is the ultimate experience in nimbleness. Its unibody structure has rather limited torsional rigidity, and the small tires do what they can. But there is a lot of romantic good in the little buzzer, and it still can get the job done transferring you from point A to point B efficiently.

The only major innovation visible from outside is a front disc brake that decelerates the PX 150 at a rate that lit a warning light in the back of my mind. I figured it might even overpower front tire grip. It did not, and everything went smartly. But if you do not retract your right leg rapidly after takeoff, that mean turtle is still there, snapping at your shin.

With my leg still smarting, I hopped aboard a GTS 300 SuperSport in elegant Denim Titanium Gray and went off to join the other gladiators fighting their way through the evening traffic. Immediately, I fully appreciated the technical evolution that Vespa has gone through since the days of the PX 150. It even got rid of the snapper.