Modern-day adventure bikes have long-travel suspension, big wheels, lots of bodywork and the omnipresent “adventure beak.” That wasn’t always the way—Charley and Ewan might have brought the idea of ADV riding to the great unwashed masses, but people have been adventure riding for basically as long as we’ve had motorcycles. Fifty years ago, they weren’t riding a GS, though. They might have been riding something like this 1962 Vespa 150.

A Machine For The Masses

These days, Vespas are sort of rare, owned by artsy/vegan/yoga/hipster kids in their 20s, or aging wannabe Mods and ex-hippies. Back in the ‘60s, though, Vespas were vehicles for the masses. Founded as Italy rebuilt after World War II, Vespa provided cheap and cheerful transportation for crowded Europe. A small engine wasn’t a big deal if you were on narrow roads and you didn’t have to travel far.

Some riders did travel a long way on them, mind you, and got up to all sorts of adventures. Harry Roskolenko’s book Poet On A Scooter, published in 1958, details his travels on a three-wheeled Vespa Ape. A Brit bike or BMW or even a Harley-Davidson or early Japanese machine might have made more sense, but even then, people wanted to travel on Vespas because they had flair.

Uncharacteristically crappy photos for this auction, but you get the idea. Photo: Mecum

As the years went by, the Vespa line grew; along with general consumer-oriented scooters in the 100-125cc range, Vespa produced specialty machines like the Ape delivery models, the TAP military prototype (complete with 75mm antitank gun!) and the 125 Corsa, Siluro and Circuito 125 racing models. There was even a Six Days Enduro model for 1951, which won nine gold medals. These days, the US market generally perceives step-throughs as weak and silly machines, but Vespa pushed its platforms to the limit.

However, it was machines like the standard narrow-frame and wide-frame models that were the real stars of the lineup. They were practical, reliable enough for their users, and they looked good. In 1960, Vespa debuted its new 150 at the Olympic Games in Rome, and that’s what this model appears to be—a 1962 Vespa 150 VBB. 

Or is it? Let’s take a closer look at what’s actually for sale here.

A true restoration?

The Vespa VBB replaced the VBA model, but it was the same basic idea: A wide-frame scooter with air-cooled 150cc two-stroke engine, with rotary valve induction, kickstarter, a basic six-volt points-based ignition system and a four-speed transmission. All together, the designers put together an underpowered/understressed engine with simplified intake system, and it was all designed to run a long, long time if you took care of it.

Now, the scooter here in this Mecum auction is advertised as a 1962 Vespa 150, but in two places the ad says it’s running a 98cc two-stroke engine, with three-speed transmission. What does that mean? Did this scoot get an engine swap at some point, or is the ad copy wrong? The VBA had a three-speed gearbox, so is this a VBA? Hard to say, but there is one other possibility. Maybe, just maybe, this is an Allstate scooter, built by Vespa for the US market.

Is this a mash-up of Allstate and Vespa parts? Photo: Mecum

In the postwar period, the motorcycle importation business was a pretty freewheelin’ scene. There weren’t many pesky safety or environmental regulations to worry about; if someone wanted to import a new motorcycle model, you bought the bikes, paid your tariffs/taxes/whatever, and brought them in. A lot of companies got in on the action, including mail-order catalogues. Sears sold Allstate-branded scooters, and Vespa built the machines for them. And sometimes, when Vespa built those machines, they used older parts that were laying around the factory. No doubt they figured bargain-minded catalogue shoppers in the US would be none the wiser.

Maybe that’s what’s happening here–this Vespa-branded machine could actually have been an Allstate, originally. It’s worth noting the red bodywork with whitewall wheels was one of the colour schemes that Allstates came in. The ad says this machine had a “comprehensive restoration completed in 2016,” and maybe there was some mixing-and-matching of Vespa and Allstate parts then, too? 

Anyway, the rest of the ad basically lays out pretty standard details–pressed steel unibody chassis, rigid rear suspension, 8-inch wheels, original seat re-covered in leather, original paint combination, and … period correct picnic basket? What makes a picnic basket period correct, you ask? No doubt there’s a collector subculture that could tell you. If you’re not into picnic rides into the country, no doubt you could put a top box on there instead, but good luck finding a “period correct” GIVI case.

One thing about Italian two-wheelers: They’ve got flair. Even the gauges look good. Photo: Mecum

This 1962 Vespa is up for sale at Mecum’s Kissimmee Summer Special auction on August 29, 2020, so if you’re actually interested, better get on the horn quick, and start bidding. If you’ve got questions, see if Mecum will get you the answers, and cross-check those with Vespa collectors. You’ll figure out the mystery of the 98cc engine soon enough. The great thing with a Vespa is, it’s like a classic Brit bike, a vintage Indian, or an old Ducati: No matter how weird the bike is, someone, somewhere can tell you how to get it back to running order, and where to find the parts.

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