Written by William Gee.
Pronounced ‘Ap-ah’, the Piaggio Ape has delighted our eyesight since its introduction in 1948. The little piece of Italian Motoring heritage was the phoenix born from the ashes of war, providing a cheap and vital lifeline for people devastated by 6 years of conflict.
Essentially a Vespa scooter with a flat-bed cab and a third wheel, the Ape, which is translated from Italian as ‘Bee’ has been transformed into millions of variations. The three-wheeler could be anything from a simple panel van all the way to its most famous configuration, an auto rickshaw, usually seen darting about the streets of Mumbai.
The van is controlled by handlebars, with a ‘twist-grip’ throttle and front brake on the right, a ‘column-gear change’ with clutch on the left and a floor mounted rear brake which is rather similar to the setup of a motorcycle.
Although the modern micro-vans come in several platforms and engine sizes, the most interesting model is the Ape 50. This model is interesting because of its’ 50cc engine, which means that in law it can be driven in the UK at the age of 16. I should know…I did.
The tiny powerhouse produces a thundering 3 BHP and has a top-end of…wait for it… 25 MPH! Do not worry though, the engine is very torquey and allows the van to take 200kg fully laden and climb a gradient of 18%.
Moreover, having a small engine it has a small carbon footprint. The Ape returns between 80 and 90mpg, skipping its merry self across the Earth’s surface like a Shetland pony.
Driving them however, is very different. Due to those dizzying heights of 25mph driving them on anything other than country lanes or in the town is not recommended. Then again, the Ape’s top speed is unimportant in its main, urban environment. The Ape is most at home climbing up tight winding roads of the Amalfi Coast, Lake Garda…or Steep Hill
Sadly, the Ape is not very cheap to buy in the UK, prices start near to £5000, which is the main reason I bought a ten year old one. However, the history and the delightful buzz of the two-stroke engine and sheer fun of driving and owning an Ape, allows us to forget these minor issues.
In reality, the Ape has no negative points. This van is one of the most important vehicles ever to have been created. Its’ versatility, popularity and incredible strength have allowed the Ape to succeed as a practical mode of transport and stay in constant production for nearly 70 years.
Once you have been stung by the Ape, you wil never really want to find a cure, because it would be a crime not to fall in love with the Piaggio Ape.Tweet