My Tuned Vespa p125 Polini: Maybe It’s Perfect for Scooter Racing?

But Perhaps a p125 Isn’t Meant for a 320-Mile TT Race…. Let’s Find Out Together.

 

I’d owned this Vespa before. In fact, this was my first scooter, bought from my friend in 1989 because he was getting married and his fiancée pressured him into getting rid of it. I sold it individually to two more friends, each of whom sold it back to me because they were getting married and had the same pressures from their ladies. Then I got engaged… and was pressured into selling the bike myself. Of course, that’s not the decision I’d likely make now, but that was then.

My ad in the local free paper: “1980 Vespa p125, $800, guaranteed to get the chicks. Must sell, getting married.”

Two ridiculously excited high-school kids, named Steve and Eddie, showed up a few days later to buy the Vespa. They were such shaky riders that my bill-of-sale included a liability waiver for the operation of the vehicle, including the time of the purchase as well as the date. Watching them leave, I realized I might never see the Vespa again, and I felt unexpectedly bereft.

For the next several years, I scanned the sales section of the papers searching for the Vespa; an ad never appeared, and eventually I stopped searching.

In early 2003, my then-husband finally relented and supported my interest in getting a new scooter. We purchased two Bajaj Chetaks, which are essentially modernized p150s with a few frills like an anti-dive front suspension and four-stroke engine. It took about a million trips to Vespa Motorsport to get all of the fancy chrome and accessories that were needed to give the Bajajes some panache. We started being friends with the guys from the shop.

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Turns out that those high-school kids grew up and both started working for the Vespa shop. What are the chances of THAT happening, really? And there was my original bike, dented up even more (which I didn’t think was possible), painted yellow, over-modified, and full of cobwebs. Here’s a picture of it from 2005, when we realized the improbable connection.

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Two weeks ago, Eddie sold it back to me; reunited after eighteen years.

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The Vespa had been outfitted with a Polini kit (bigger bore, higher gearing, modified porting)… all the things a kid in his 20s would do to a Vespa if he had the opportunity. I’m never a fan of tuning a bike, as I’m not confident in my ability to do a better job of designing a motor than the original designers; who am I to second-guess them? I’m sure my position is largely a result of my lack of knowledge and skill as a tuner. Many of my friends really enjoy modifying vehicles to maximize whatever it is they want out of them, but I’m thoroughly content with a reliable motor.

(Some info about tuning kits and why people install them is available here.)

I’d had plans for a few weeks to fix this bike up for the Salton Sea Ultra-Extreme Motor-Scooter Endurance Race, but it was two days before the event and I hadn’t even kicked it over. It was time to do a few things to it, and I was utterly thrilled that Robot from Vespa Motorsport offered to give me a hand. Sometimes this means that he’ll patiently teach me a bit more of how to work on my bike, some shortcuts and pitfalls to avoid, but usually he’ll send me off on a couple of fools errands (finding parts in the warehouse, washing accessories) while he just does the work. This close to the race day, I had a feeling that this is going to be more like the second option.

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We did go over the Vespa together. The cylinder really did have a spider living in it. The battery was dead after nearly a decade of sitting, of course, and the oil and fuel lines needed to be replaced. While collecting parts distracted me, Robot predictably rebuilt the carb in less than five minutes. While I was getting a spark plug, he assembled and replaced the cap and wire. While I found a charged battery, he replaced the fuel and oil lines. He let me strap the battery all by myself while he replaced the wheels, setting all three tubed tires as I struggled with my super-simple task. Total time all of the work: 25 minutes. On my p200 rebuild, that scope of work took me nearly a week. Once again, I’m in awe of Robot. Once again, I managed to miss all of the lessons, but he’s pretty clever about keeping me from underfoot when he wants to. Oh, and I replaced the seat, so that’s something I contributed, I suppose. (Yes, it’s three bolts and took 30 seconds.)

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The Vespa kicked right over; the test-ride was terrifying. I’ve never gone so fast on teensy tires. The bike sounded bright and super-fast, and to me sounded all scary and wrong. I’d been on my stock p200 that I couldn’t tell if it was running right. One thing clear was that the bike was missing a lot of opportunities in fourth gear, and I was hoping for a cure for that sluggishness.

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Steve, the manager of Vespa Motorsport (and one of the kids I’d sold the scooter to back in the day), was taking an interest in the commotion. He and Fabio “Big Dad” had a rapid-fire conversation, ultimately determining that the horrible Scorpion-style exhaust wasn’t doing the performance any favors. While Robot and I looked at cute cat videos and pictures of old three-wheelers, Steve and Fabio cooked up a plan. Steve announced, “We’re changing your exhaust, adjusting some stuff, re-riveting your floorboard trim, and then something else. Go get tools. I’ll wait here. Hurry up. More hurrying. What is taking you so long??” … Steve’s not known for his patience. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had a say in his plan, but I trust him.

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So, the addition of a new SIP exhaust (which I like a LOT more, as it looks nearly stock), some loose bits reattached, and a perfect, screaming test-ride that got up to 85 nail-biting MPH in only four blocks: thrilling and terrifying.

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Then Steve mused, “I bet your scooter would run better if we cut the floorboards down.”

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Wasn’t I just talking about how I like things to be left alone, that stock is better? The idea of making the scooter a cut-down was a little sickening, but look at the pictures of the floorboards when we started: Tetanus City. Even though we banged on them for a while, trim still wouldn’t fit. The ragged edges looked ugly and dangerous. Plus the bike was already so modified… so that’s why a purist like me mangled her bike on purpose. Now I’m thinking that I’ve come this far; perhaps a smaller glove box and a little haircut on the leg shield? And slightly trimmed side cowls?
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Maybe it’s time to go home, rest up, and prepare for the race.

Total preparations:

New battery, tires, seat
Fuel/oil line replacement
Rebuilt carburetor
Cleaned/inspected cylinder and piston (sorta)
New exhaust
Everything outside the case lubed and greased
Trim replaced, floorboards modified
A celebratory homemade limoncello cocktail

Do you think it’s a good idea for me to attempt scooter racing 320-mile race with this Vespa?
Please tell me what you think in the comments below.

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10 Responses

  1. More grey hair says:

    If anyone can do it, you can! Can I tag along via Go-Pro camera?

  2. Paul Arnold says:

    I enjoyed reading your stories. I bought a p200e this year and saw your rebuild adventure. Now I feel ready to tinker with mine. I’m also very curious about the long distance ride and what that was like. Have a nice holiday.

    Paul

  3. Dave says:

    Just saw this article….your one crazy girlie gurl…….I had purchase an 80 p200e and had read your rebuild story and got to work on mine but hey with 10 inch wheels 45-50mph
    is plenty fast…..I prefer my Yamaha Venture for 80mph!! Your fun and crazy keep writing!!! Dave

  4. gary says:

    Great story and pics!How did the scooter end up and how did the race go?

  5. gary says:

    It`s ok,I found it!Great stuff!Hard luck about your spark failure,I`m sure it`ll all be good next time!

  6. gaetano says:

    fantastico una donna che lavora su una vespa un bacione

  7. Abey says:

    awesome, come visit my instagram @abimayurhmn im from Indonesia

  8. sohail david says:

    Hi i am sohail david from Pakistan i am vespa scooter expert since 25 years.

I'd love to hear what you think!