Fancy a new Vespa T5 Classic? | FEATURE
December 1987 saw me riding away from Norrie Kerr on the back wheel (literally) of a new Vespa T5. It was my 17th Birthday. I was on board a brand-new red, E reg, squaretail mark 1. I also had a large direct debit set up every month to pay the hire purchase and it was worth every penny.
I can still remember that feeling of the extra power (hence the unintentional wheelies) and the sound of that distinctive T5 exhaust note. Having spent a full year on a 30mph Vespa 50 Special, the T5 was going to change my life. It was going to take me to seaside places around the country and abroad, as well as being my daily transport to get me to work (working at an M1 service station back then). I passed my test on that scooter in May 1988. The T5 engine was such a lovely powerplant that there was no point in trading up for a PX 200, it matched and beat most of them on the road.
VIDEO | A quick look around the T5
After I’d used and abused that scooter for three years I traded it in for a new white G reg Mark 2 T5 (dodgy analogue rev counter instead of digital) and a new HP agreement. I was never happy with the colour though and soon had a street racer paint job done by Mirage to match the quick and reliable MRB 170 tuned engine. I kept that scooter until 1998, sold it for £800 and bought a shiny black R reg T5 Classic.
The original T5 had been dropped by Piaggio but (sorry T5 anoraks) I actually preferred the style of the Classic, it was a mixture of both PX and T5, with the best bits of each. Sadly, when I wanted another new Vespa in 2002, the Classic had also become extinct – RIP Vespa T5 1999.
I ended up buying one of the last new PX 200 Disc models in British Racing Green, a scooter I still own to this day. It’s now in street racer spec and we’ll be using that for a new SLUK project shortly.
Fast forward to 2021. After a few years of 2-stroke production and development being left out in the environmentally-led wilderness, things have turned a corner. New aftermarket tuning parts and equipment are being released all the time. New Vespa engines and casings were getting harder and harder to obtain but they are now being remade by tuning houses like Pinasco, Malossi, BFA and Quattrini. It’s now possible to build brand new T5 and PX engines into new casings, using new parts.
That brings us up to the present day. I’m sat outside Ron Daley Scooters, Barnsley’s infamous gun and scooter emporium. The only scooter shop I’ve ever been to with such an eclectic mixture of goods for sale.
Also sat outside the shop is a (to all intents and purposes) brand new Vespa T5. Its engine is built using new Pinasco T5 casings and a new T5 cylinder kit. It’s fitted into one of the last few new (pre-registered) PX’s in the world. It’s also been treated to a selection of fine parts, including Pinasco split tubeless rims, sportier rubber and Pinasco suspension. Being a Disc model gives the advantage of better braking upfront but a SIP caliper replaces the standard Piaggio item to further improve both the look and stopping power.
Transfer ports x 5
I turn the key on the demo scooter, prod the kickstarter and I’m transformed back to December 1987 again, even the feel of the kickstart beneath my boot and the sensation as the engine ‘catches’ as it turns over is as it was. The muffled exhaust note of a T5 is different to any other Vespa. The five transfer ports of its cylinder (which gave the T5 its name) do their job. I’ve spent many thousands of miles listening to it in the past, it was the soundtrack to my youth. As were various expansion pipes. My aftermarket T5 exhaust of choice was always the Mikeck but there’s something special about a standard (or in this case BGM) T5 box exhaust.
As I short shift up through the gears on this very low mileage engine, a Ron Daley demo machine, everything just feels like it should on a new scooter. It’s smooth, responsive and everything is set up perfectly. The T5 was always quite a revvy motor, it accelerated well – ideal for most situations, although the jump from third to fourth gear meant a well-timed change was needed to keep the revs up. Headwinds and hills zap a bit of power and with lorries restricted to 56mph these days, the old slipstreaming trick on the motorway no longer works. Sitting in ‘clean’ air in the danger zone right behind a lorry was a great way to gain a few mph, if not a little dangerous.
Back in the day I always believed the speedo reading but now with the benefit of GPS I know our scooters were never going as fast as we thought they were. Mid-sixties is much closer to the truth than 80mph on an old T5 speedo. Even so, for a 125cc scooter, the T5 is nippy and powerful enough for motorways. It can easily cope with a blast to a rally, full thrash all day long.
- Ron Daley Special graphics adorn the glovebox
- Uprated Pinasco shocks, tubeless rims and SIP caliper improve braking and handling
- BGM box exhaust provides the soundtrack
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Home and abroad
Over the years, my T5s took me to rallies all around the country and to the South of France in 1990 for the Saintes Euro rally. Riding around Yorkshire on a bright winter’s day I’m not quite so far away from home but the memories keep flooding back. It was always a fight to get a weekend off work and I always had to ride right through the Friday night to get to rallies. A 250-mile thrash to places like Margate. I remember riding straight over an unseen roundabout in Kent at about 4 am – that woke my pillion up. Another time, heading to Aberystwyth a couple of us ran out of fuel up a mountain in the middle of the night. There were no 24-hour fuel stations back then, especially in the middle of South Wales. I still remember the fear as we were ‘buzzed’ by some young lads in a Mark 1 Ford Escort heading towards us at speed on our side of a pitch-black road in Hampshire as we headed for the Isle of Wight ferry. It was just a normal Friday back then, all part of the weekend.
Found myself in a strange town
Arriving in strange places at dawn to set up an old ridge tent on a smoky patch of waste ground, surrounded by scooters and excited for what the weekend would bring. I was seventeen years old, mobile phones and sat nav hadn’t been invented then. Just a load of scooters and a bunch of mates off for a weekend of mayhem. Who would have thought that 33 years later I’d still be doing the same thing (Covid permitting of course), albeit with the benefit of being able to have Friday’s off now.
Rediscover your youth
Back to Yorkshire. I thought I’d never get the chance to ride a new T5 again after the model was culled but modern technology and developments mean I can still relive my misspent youth. The T5 engine is still as sublime as it ever was, it sounds the same, feels the same and has the same performance. It’s a beautiful motor, one that really should have been developed further by Piaggio and used in a larger capacity (these days it’s the GTS riders who hanker for a larger capacity because 278cc isn’t enough!).
That’s all irrelevant now though. You can still own a new T5, either by building it yourself from new parts, or by buying one ready-built as a complete engine, or even a complete ‘new’ scooter like this one. The engine alone will cost you more than my new T5 did back in 1987 but you can’t put a price on the happiness it can restore. If you want one, give Ron Daley a bell, or buy the parts (their exploded parts diagrams are a fantastic reference) and build your own.
Like with any scooter project, you can expect to throw some serious money at a complete new engine. If you already have a complete PX engine then you can reuse some of the internals to save some cash. Otherwise, building a brand new T5 engine to this spec will cost you around £3000. The parts soon start to add up:
- Pinasco T5 Casings £660
- Pinasco crank: £185
- T5 cylinder kit: £270
- Pinasco Flytech ignition: £305
- SIP Clutch: £225
- BGM touring exhaust: £120
- Dell’Orto carb: £75
- Bearings & seals: £95
- Gearbox/layshaft etc: £350
If you want to own a ‘brand new’ complete T5 you’ll need to speak to Ron Daley, this T5 Special edition is up for grabs…
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