Vespa P Series
The Vespa P-series was the last of the "classic" Vespas to come out of Piaggio's factories. Though many of the brand new scooters reaching American shores have a "Vespa" badge, they are cut from a different cloth entirely. Though certainly not the most elegant styling exercise, the P-series Vespas are probably the sturdiest models, and certainly the most commonly encountered Vespa in the U.S. today. Though the P-series is the last of the line, they are still being manufactured new today though it is unclear for how much longer. Tightening emissions regulations, coupled with a limited market for geared scooters means that it is unlikely that Piaggio will continue to produce the P-series after the next few years. When that finally happens, for the first time in over 50 years, true classic Vespas will no longer be produced in Italy.
In the mid-1970's the basic Vespa design had been refined almost as far as it was able to go. However, changing consumer tastes, and new technologies, coupled with tightened regulations, meant that Piaggio realized that it was time to totally re-design the Vespa chassis. The result of that total re-design, was the P-series Vespa. It was such a large break with the previous style, and design philosophy, that many hard-core scooterists did not consider the P-series scooters to be true "Vespas," even well into the 90's. It is a debate that still continues, though the influx of new automatic scooters has tempered it, and helped propel the P-series into the ranks of the classics.
The P-series scooters consisted of three models, the P125X, P150X, and P200E when it debuted in 1977. The only difference between the models was in the size of the motors that were installed. The frames on all three were identical. This was a major thematic departure from previous Vespas, where each of the models had a distinct body. One can assume that this was done to rationalize and streamline production and to keep both development and parts costs down.
On the P's everything was bigger. The frame was newly designed, and was physically much larger than any previous models. The cowls were made more angular, and had integral turn signals. The electrical contact for the signals was made through the locking pin for the cowl, which was virtually foolproof, unlike the previous delicate U.S. models' signals. On the front, the signals were attached on the sides of the legshield. The front mudguard was also enlarged and made in a more square shape. A black aluminum fender crest was placed on top of the mudguard. Gone was the metal exposed horn. It was now placed behind a removable plastic horncasting. The horncasting also hid a large electrical wiring junction box. On the other side of the legshields, all models came with a large locking glovebox. All U.S. market P's were top of the line, with turn signals, 12 volt electrics, a battery, and the auto oil injector system. Note that some models were made for European markets without any of those amenities found on U.S. bikes, and a very few of these have been since brought into the country by private individuals.
The handlebars on the P's were also completely redesigned. First, the headlight was made much larger than the previous U.S. models. It accommodated a large car-style sealed beam headlight which was required by U.S. regulations. European models had a replaceable bulb type headlight. Another major change was that the headset was made with a removeable plastic top. This top, secured by four screws, allowed access to the wiring and cables when removed. The speedometer was totally new, and physically much larger than previous speedos. In U.S. models, the speedometer included a small green neutral indicator at the bottom. European models did not have the neutral light. There were several versions of the speedometer for the U.S., including a mph only version on the P125, and a mph and kph version on the P200. Above the speedometer on the headset top were two indicators, one for high beam, and the other for turn signals. All P's had an ignition switch on the headset top, and finally, the switch had an actual key unique to each switch, rather than a blank key. There were two different versions of the switch, one with three positions, and one with only two positions. The headset bottom was cast and was solid on the bottom. As on previous Vespas, there were four mounting holes on the bottom of the headset for mirrors or a windshield.
The seat was also redesigned, and in keeping with the rest of the design changes, it was made larger. All P's came with a dual saddle, and the venerable single seat was relegated to history. Another alteration on the P's was that the floor rails and runners were made larger and no longer had ridges, but were flat. The end caps were now a square shape, as opposed to the pointed shape on the earlier models. The center stand was also changed to include a larger buffer stop. The center stand was altered after a few years to a larger diameter due to the propensity of the first one to bend under load.
The taillight used on the P's in the U.S. was identical to that already used by the previous Rally/Sprint/Super models. This "tractor style" rear light included the license plate bracket, which was painted the same color as the scooter as on previous models. On European models, the P got a new, larger taillight. It was basically a square shape, and omitted the plastic top that was found on the older European model taillight. The P-series also added a plastic bumper with integrated mudflap at the rear of the frame, a feature unique to the P's.
The second version of the P series were the PX models, which were introduced in Europe in 1983. By this time, Piaggio had decided to pull out of the U.S. market entirely. However, a very small amount of PX150E's were imported to the U.S. in 1984 in a last half-hearted attempt to keep the Vespa brand alive here. The PX's included some nice practical upgrades. The cowl latching mechanism was operated from a handle under the seat, and thus could be locked with the seat lock. Furthermore, the speedometer and headset top were redesigned. A gas gauge was added to the speedometer, and all of the indicator lights were relocated to the speedometer as well. The legshield glovebox was enlarged, the center floor mat was changed, and the plastic horncasting's shape was altered. Some other changes were made to the front axle and internal motor parts which are discussed below. The seat shape was also slightly altered. In addition, the keyed ignition switch was moved to the side of the fork tube and was integrated with the fork lock.
Finally, the third, and most likely the last version of the P's debuted in 2000. It was dubbed the "millennium edition" and consisted of mostly cosmetic changes. The plastic trim on the turn signals and taillight was chromed. The lenses on the signals were made of clear plastic rather than yellow. The speedometer face was changed to give it a more vintage look. The horncasting was changed to accept a vintage shield Piaggio badge at the top, and the "Vespa" badges were changed to a vintage looking script style. The seat was altered to a more comfortable style. Finally, and most practically, a front disc brake was standard. The disc brake had been added to the PX range several years earlier however.
The motor on the P series was not nearly as radically different from the previous models as the frame and styling was. On the P200, the motor was an evolution from the Rally 200's powerplant. On the P125 and P150, the motor was derived from the Sprint's motor. On the 200, the big change was the substitution of a Ducati electronic ignition for the Femsa unit. The Ducati system was less complex and allowed for adjustment of the ignition timing. The CDI unit for the Ducati system was much smaller than the Femsa, and was mounted on a small bracket at the back of the motor itself, rather than on the frame. The P125 and P150 retained a points ignition system. On all models the electrical system was upgraded to 12 volt, a first for a Vespa, and a major improvement. In the U.S. all P's came with a battery, though some base model European P's omitted the battery. There were other internal differences on the P motors, the most notable of which was the alteration of the motor seal and bearing on the flywheel side to make the motor easier to service.
The suspension on the P series was also changed. At this point, the old separate spring and dampener setup on the front fork was finally abandoned. The front dampener on the P's was now a one-piece dampener unit. The spring was abandoned in favor of a large dampener. The rear dampener and spring was unaltered. The front dampener greatly increased the smoothness of the ride, and lessened the harsh front end dive upon braking, which was characteristic of previous Vespas.
All P series Vespas sold in the U.S. came with oil injection as standard. Though all largeframe Vespas sold in the U.S. had come with the oil injection system since the late 60's, it was the P series which introduced this feature to much of Europe. However, there were still economy versions of the P sold in Europe without the injector.
There were several technical modifications and additions with the advent of the PX version in 1983. First, all models models had electronic ignition standard, not just the 200cc models. Second, electric start was added to the range. This was an option, though the PX150E's imported to the U.S. in 1984 had the electric start standard. Later, the PX included an upgraded clutch unit, which originated with the ill-conceived "Cosa." In the late 90's a disc brake was added to vastly increase the front braking power.
The P series Vespas are the most easily found Vespa in the U.S., and they are without a doubt, the most practical to own. They have the fastest and most refined motors of any of the Vespas. They are also the most comfortable to ride. And finally, since they are still in production, and have been in production continuously for 30 years now, and therefore parts are cheap and easily available.
For all of the above reasons, the P series scooters make a perfect introduction to the classic scooter world. All of them can keep pace with modern traffic, and with their 12 volt electrical system, and functional turn signals, make very sensible commuters. Just keep in mind that the classic scooter community will always have a preference for pre-P models, and therefore it is unlikely that the prices will increase significantly at the top end for awhile to come.
125: Still in production
125: 1977 - present, Imported to U.S. 1977-81
150: 1978 - 2008?, Imported to U.S. 1984 only, and 2005 only
200: 1977 - 2008?, Imported to U.S. 1977-81
125: 8.7 h.p.
150: 9.8 h.p.
200: 12 h.p.
- Rough but restorable = $800-1500 (all)
- Drivable, but not show = $1500-2000 (125/150), $1500-3000 (200)
- Restored or Excellent Original Condition = $2000-4000 (125/150), $3500-4500 (200)