The Piaggio Group is Europe's number-one manufacturer of two-wheel motorized vehicles. It incorporates celebrated motorcycle makes like Moto Guzzi and Aprilia, and offers an arm's-length list of variations around the scooter theme. But deep inside Piaggio is Vespa, and Vespa is Piaggio, today more than ever now that Vespa has become a worldwide status symbol—a smart, sophisticated way to get around town with great agility, practicality, and that special Italian flair.

Vespa celebrated its 70th birthday two years ago, and this is the 50th anniversary of the Primavera, the junior version of this unique machine. The Primavera—"Springtime" in Italian—was introduced at a time when the original Vespa was losing favor with the public, which was returning to "real" motorcycling. In its original form, the Primavera was a diminutive 50cc model, a two-stroke super-utility scooter marketed to teenagers. Then some smart guy decided to shoehorn a 125cc engine into the chassis.

The Primavera was powered by a downsized version of the Vespa two-stroke single that, at the time, had grown to 150 and even 200cc with the PX edition. Smaller, lighter, but above all far less expensive, the 125 Primavera not only attracted generations of teens, but also made their parents more inclined to finance the purchase—another big success by Piaggio-Vespa. The original Primavera evolved into a hotter version, the ET3, featuring electronic ignition and a new cylinder with three transfer ports, and remained in production until 1982.

Through the years, the Vespa model range underwent a fundamental evolution, switching in 1996 from traditional two-stroke singles to a new generation of four-strokes and, more importantly, in 2003, the steel-sheet body construction was completely revised to increase torsional rigidity while maintaining the classic styling. It was very good work applied to both the Vespa, now dubbed GTS, and the Primavera.

50 Anniversario
You've come a long way, baby. The Vespa Primavera has been popping corks for 50 years. This is the 50 Anniversario, one of two new models.Courtesy of Piaggio

The more rigid structure provided a marked improvement in handling and an ability to manage more powerful engines. In fact, the Vespa grew in displacement to 300cc while the Primavera got a new air-cooled 125/150cc single featuring integrated ignition/injection and efficient three-valve induction. In 125cc form, the engine had a slightly undersquare bore and stroke (52 x 58.6mm), but punching it out to 150cc by boring the cylinder to 58mm provided an almost perfectly square ratio. The current 125cc engine delivers a claimed 10.6 hp at 7,700 rpm and 7.7 pound-feet of peak torque at 6,000 rpm. The 150cc is decidedly more vigorous, with 12.8 hp at 7,750 rpm and 9.5 pound-feet at 6,500 rpm.

Vespa Multimedia Platform and handlebar
Vespa Multimedia Platform allows riders to answer calls, text, or listen to music through a smartphone connection controlled by a button on the right handlebar.Courtesy of Piaggio

The latest Primavera is beautifully styled and even capable of two-up riding. For its 50th anniversary, the Primavera comes in two editions: Primavera 50 Anniversario and Primavera S 125. Both received new light-alloy cast 12-inch wheels, front and rear, that add an extra touch of stability, steering precision, and feedback. The 50 Anniversario sports classic analog instrumentation but is fully managed by a suite of electronics whose functions include ABS, "bike finder"—a very practical device in the case of a crowded parking area—and a remote seat-latch release.

Both versions of the Primavera feature a capable electronics suite that, in addition to the above actions, operates the Vespa Multimedia Platform. The rider can connect his or her smartphone and then answer calls, text, or listen to music. The selected function appears on the instrumentation screen, but the S 125 offers a clearer view due to its color display. All functions are controlled by a button near the right handgrip. Capping the changes, a new LED headlight provides a much brighter beam with broader coverage.

Primavera S 125
The Primavera S 125 is powered by a fuel-injected, four-stroke single-cylinder engine displacing either 125 or 150cc.Courtesy of Piaggio

Painted an exclusive and rather attractive matte dark blue, the Primavera S 125 on which I roamed the Pisa countryside and coastal area was more fun than I expected. It feels even more sure-footed than the previous edition, is incredibly agile in traffic and on twisty back roads, and its 200mm front disc/140mm rear drum braking system proved more than adequate under all circumstances. With your truly aboard, the S 125 couldn’t break the 100-kph/62-mph speed barrier, but acceleration and overall flexibility were adequate to keep traffic at bay, thanks also to a very efficient CVT transmission that helped return 102 mpg. The other surprise is that the seat is well-engineered and nicely padded so my ride didn’t end with a sore backside, as often happened in the old days.

Happy 50th birthday, Vespa Primavera. You improved beyond expectations.