Vespa GTS 150 3V and Vespa GTS 300 Super
Nowadays, the mention of the word ‘scooter’ will more than likely bring up a mental image of Piaggio’s now uber-fashionable two-wheeler brand: Vespa. Over the decades, like ‘Jetski’ and ‘personal watercraft’, the terms Vespa and scooter became interchangeable, profoundly synonymous as they are.
It’s a little ironic that a design that started life as a poor person’s means of transport has along the way become a fashion symbol in its own right. But are the looks backed up by performance? We borrowed two examples and thrashed them around town to find out.
Our instant scooter fleet consisted of a GTS 150 3V and a GTS 300 Super, priced from $6590 and $9490 respectively (plus on-road costs).
Externally, they’re more or less the same bike, albeit with different size engines. The GTS 150 represents the ‘big’ option in that capacity class for Vespa – you can also get a slightly more compact Sprint using the same powerplant at the same price.
Really, the 150 is more in the capacity range of a traditional scooter and would seem more familiar to anyone who grew up with them during their previous boom period in the 1960s.
At 8.7kW (almost 12 horses), it’s not going to rip your arms out of their sockets, but the little three-valve, fuel-injected, four-stroke still does a pretty decent job.
It keeps up with urban traffic with no dramas and it will summon an indicated 110km/h (more like 100-105km/h) on the freeway. It’s not at its best in that environment and I’d be looking for the bigger-engine options if long and regular freeway use was part of your picture.
On the other side of the ledger, good luck keeping up with one of these things in heavy traffic. So long as you’re prepared to use the narrow lines and unbelievably tight turning circle, these things are a genuine weapon in the peak-hour gridlock. If you’re living in an inner-metro area and not using one to get to work, you’re being the proverbial fool to yourself and a burden to others.
It’s also a pretty comfortable place to be. The seat padding and suspension do a pretty decent job of coping with less-than-perfect surfaces. The 12-inch wheels feel the big bumps, but the isolation is reasonably good and the suspension is able to keep the whole plot pretty stable.
Actually, stability is something of a virtue of this series. Anyone who rode the much-loved PX series from the 1980s and earlier will remember they’re about as stable as a rat on speed. Not so the GTS. It feels pretty calm on the freeway while maintaining and impressive level of flickability through the traffic.
The 150 proved about as benign as you could hope for. The braking is strong and predictable with nice feel through the levers. Power delivery starts gently and builds briskly, thanks in part to a well-sorted Continuously Variable Transmission, while the general control and seating set-up seems to suit a good range of people. The pillion seat is perhaps less ideal, thanks to the comparatively wide rear flanks of the machine, but is okay for short hops.
You quickly learn to appreciate the basics of the Vespa design such as the underseat storage bin (big enough for an open-face helmet), the glovebox in the front (accompanied by a useful shopping bag hook) and those big legshields. The latter are a godsend in crap weather.
Over time, you learn to appreciate the genius behind the basic architecture of a Vespa. The oddball rear-engine/transmission layout might have started out as a cheap and cheerful option, but the freedom it’s allowed to build a truly comfortable and surprisingly practical machine is impressive.
THE BIG-BORE OPTION
You may have already noted my reservations about the 150 for extended freeway use. While it does short sections with no problems, longer runs into even a mild headwind will seeing you wishing for more grunt. Enter the King of Vespas: the 300 series. Here you get a heady 15.8kW (22 horses) in a four-valve, fuel-injected engine. With two variants on offer, you get ABS and traction control as part of the package. It’s up for debate whether you need traction control on a 22hp machine (though a crappy day on slick roads may change your mind) but the ABS is a very welcome feature.
For me, the 300 answered all the nagging questions I had about the 150 and really transformed the whole experience.
On the freeway, you can pull an indicated 120km/h while a legal 100-110km/h is maintained without fuss. It feels more stable as well which can be explained in part by the 20mm longer wheelbase – a significant difference that helps to make prolonged highway speeds a more realistic prospect.
In fact, there is an additional refinement in the 300 chassis. The lower shock absorber pivot is now mounted on needle roller bearings which the company says reduces stiction in the suspension action. It’s a fair claim and the front end feels nicely settled and more responsive to the road surface as a result. This change should make it onto the GTS 150 some time later this year.
Despite the extra performance, the 300 sips the juice at close to the same rate as the 150 when ridden at the same speeds, probably because it’s not working quite as hard. In any case, you’ll get around 4.35L/100km (23km/L) in the 300 and a little more in the 150. With a 9.5-litre tank on the 300 and 9.0L on the 150, that allows a pretty healthy range.
For me, the 300 presented an interesting conundrum. Look at the near 50 per cent price jump and you suddenly find it very hard to justify the extra expense over the 150. After all, little brother does the urban warrior job very well with a fair bit of style.
However, get on the 300 and explore its performance and you’ll find it very difficult to go back.
The bigger machine gets away from the lights very briskly and ahead of pretty much any tintop that isn’t racing you.
Meanwhile, it’s a much more reassuring experience on the freeway. In all, the extra horsepower greatly raises the grin factor and I suspect you’d be hard put to remember the price difference after a couple of years of ownership. That it also has the sophisticated safety net electronics onboard is a winner and worth much of the price difference.
Vespa House is a landmark in the scooter history of Melbourne. It was opened as a scooter workshop in 1956 by an immigrant from Northern Italy by the name of Vittorio (Tony) Tonon. It has passed through three generations with Tony’s son, Frank, and Frank’s son, Dean, continuing the tradition by running the showroom.
Another Vespa House legend is Giovanni (Johnny) Scriba who started at Vespa House as a mechanic in 1960. In 1967, both he and Vespa House went part-time due to the slowing down of the scooter phenomenon. John originally worked at his cousin’s workship as an apprentice mechanic in Italy when he decided to migrate at the age of 20. He arrived in 1959 and has chalked up 36 years as a Vespa House mechanic.
Vespa House, in its forty-plus years, has not only worked on Vespas but is proud that it serviced four times the number of Piaggio Vespas than Innocenti Lambrettas, Vespa’s bitter rival in the early ‘60s.
The latest chapter in the Vespa House story has been the opening of its permanent showroom in February, 1996, manned by a third generation of Tonon blood – Dean and Jemahl.
Vespa House, located at 155-157 Johnston St, Collingwood, is always worth a visit.
– Brand chachet
– Standard equipment
Vespa GTS 150 3V Super/GTS 300 Super
Type: Liquid-cooled, three/four-valves-per-cylinder, single
Bore & stroke: 58 x 58.6/75 x 63mm
Compression ratio: n/a
Fuel system: EFI
Final drive: Toothed belt
CHASSIS & RUNNING GEAR:?
Frame type: Tube/monocoque steel
Front suspension: Trailing arm, single sided
Rear suspension: Preload-adjustable twin shocks
Front brake: 200/220mm disc
Rear brake: Drum/220mm disc
DIMENSIONS & CAPACITIES:?
Wet weight: 140/156kg
Seat height: 800/790mm
Fuel capacity: 9.0/9.5L
WHEELS & TYRES:
Power: 8.7/15.8kW at 7500rpm
Torque: 12/22.3Nm at 5000rpm
Price: $6590/$9490 (plus on-road costs)
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres
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