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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Great Ape 2008

Left: The Limited Edition Piaggio Ape Calessino — only 999 produced worldwide

It’s an Italian icon; Pope Benedict XVI has two of them; it has appeared in many films and has sold millions worldwide. Yet you probably don’t know what I’m talking about because you’ve never been able to buy one in New Zealand. Until now that is.…

For 60 years Piaggio, the makers of Vespa (Italian for wasp) scooters, have been selling the Ape (pronounced are-pay which is Italian for bee), a three wheeled scooter crossed with a truck, to Italian trades people, retailers, farmers and teenagers. India has also embraced the Ape in a big way. Now New Zealanders can join the revolution.

Are we ready for the Ape though? It is, after all, very small, only 50cc, and has a top speed of less than 50km per hour [The limited edition Calessino model pictured above is a water-cooled 422cc]. Anything travelling under 50kph on a New Zealand road is in danger of ending up as road kill. On the plus side, it can be registered as a moped so requires no WOF and the registration costs are very low. It will also run on the smell of an oily rag (make sure that rag’s very oily though as it is a two stroke).

Your average New Zealander will likely suffer a crisis of self confidence driving an Ape, not to mention a dose of status anxiety. However, if you can get over this, the Ape is a very cool vehicle indeed. Yes, travelling at under 50kph everywhere will make you very un-cool with some other drivers, not to mention unpopular, and yes you’ll always be on your own, although not because people don’t want to be seen with you but because it only has one seat. But cool it definitely is.

It’s the versatility that has really made the Ape such a success story in Italy. From the mobile barista and window cleaner to the refuse collector and grocery deliverer, there seems to be a neverending list of uses the Ape can be tailored to. Apparently, if you’re a very large German man, you can even take it camping. Okay, that’s not very cool but it is ingenious.

Let’s face it, the main use for the Ape in New Zealand will be as a promotional tool; a mobile billboard. I think that’s a little disappointing. Micro cars in Europe are used by many people as daily transport; in New Zealand they are used almost exclusively to promote pizza chains and banks (does anyone in New Zealand drive a Smart car that’s not sign written to promote a business?). It’s strange that we use the smallest vehicles as mobile billboards.

So, while I don’t expect to see the streets of our major cities awash with buzzing Apes, I will look forward to being stuck behind one at least once in a New Zealand city. For a fleeting moment I’ll feel like I’m in a Tuscan village in search of la dolce vita, just before it gets driven off the road by an impatient SUV driver.

Finally, if you thought from the intro that the Pope would settle for the same model Ape as you, you’d be wrong. It’s the Pope for God’s sake! What were you thinking?

2008 Piaggio Ape 50
Year: 2008
Make: Piaggio
Model: Ape 50
Listing Type: Motor Scooter
Mileage: new
Colour: Red
Condition: New
Availability: Available
Price: $9,499

Technical Specifications
Engine type: petrol
Displacement: 50cc
Stroke: 2 stroke
Power(HP): 2 KW
Bore x stroke: 38.4mm x 43mm
Fuel system: carburettor
Ignition: electronic
Lubrication system: autolube
Cooling system: forced air
Gearbox: four speed manual + reverse
Dry weight: van 260kg, ute 230kg
Overall height: 1550mm
Overall length: 2500mm
Overall width: 1211mm
Wheelbase: 1590mm
Front tyre dimensions: 100/90-10
Rear tyre dimensions: 100/90-10
Front brakes: manual drum
Rear brakes: hydraulic drum
Top speed: 50 kph
Fuel capacity: 10litre

1 comment:

The Strawman said...

Thanks, good article. I came across your blog on a search for further info on the "Ape", looks like it would be fun. However, I must admit the key point of attraction is having it signwritten for a business that is in the pipeline.