Paula Crossfield's 1972 Rally 200: I Can See the Future From My House
Paula Crossfield's incredibly original – and incredibly practical – 40-year-old Vespa Rally.
If you don't want to go whole-hog into the vintage-vehicle lifestyle, you can get something from the sweet spot of the late '60s and '70s, when vehicles still had the look reminiscent of earlier times with some of the conveniences of the modern world. The Rally is one of those choices.
The Rally was Vespa's flagship model from 1968 until the P200E appeared in 1977. It was based on the Super Sport 180, a big, fast GT scooter, big enough for two adults and luggage to get away for the weekend... so long as they weren't in a hurry – the 180 motor makes under 9 horsepower, and the 200cc version adds less than one pony. Still, it was much improved in reliability and performance, with a rotary-valve intake that reduced oil consumption.
While it didn't offer electric start, the 200 model had electronic ignition – no more points! It also offers automatic oil-mixing: just keep the oil tank full of two-stroke oil, and a sight glass helps you remember to keep it full (although it's not as effective as spending a couple of grand rebuilding a seized engine). The Rally 200's motor was so good Piaggio kept building it for another 30 years, which means good parts availability.
Paula's scooter looks great, thanks to a recent re-spray. It's one of the most original Rallies I've seen, complete with the U.S. market turnsignals and blade-style ignition key. Most of those keys have popped out of worn ignitions, and the turnsignals, mandated by cold-hearted DOT bureaucrats in the '70s, have been removed for aesthetic reasons, or maybe because the 6-volt electrics don't really work that well with them.
The Rally's close relation to newer bikes doesn't mean you will instantly (or ever) feel comfortable if you're used to twist-n-go scoots. Old scooters feel low, heavy and... old. The suspension creaks and settles down to the stops almost from sitting on it. And did you think you'd just push a button and take off? Sorry – you have to hop off it, put it on the stand (never sit on a vintage scooter if it's on the centerstand, unless you want to buy a new one) and step down on the kickstarter.
Keeping up with city traffic isn't a problem, but the brakes and suspension limit the fun and make me choose my path along San Francisco's bumpy, potholed streets carefully.
If it's Paula's Rally, you'll be rewarded with the heady whirr and popping of exhaust and the smell of two-stroke smoke, as Scooter Centre keeps her scoot in top nick. I carefully squeeze the clutch – heavy pull! – and struggle to get it into first: the cable-operated shifters on vintage scoots take a lot of getting used to, even if the bike is tuned as nicely as Paula's. Adjust the cables wrong and it will be hard to shift – and then stop shifting at all. Like all Vespas, first gear is very short, and I'm all the way to fourth gear before 40 mph, with the surprisingly torquey motor chugging along. Keeping up with city traffic isn't a problem, but the brakes and suspension limit the fun and make me choose my path along San Francisco's bumpy, potholed streets carefully.
Steering and handling is typical Vespa. The steep steering-head angle, 12-inch wheels and stumpy wheelbase mean you steer so fast it feels like you're crashing – low-speed turns are fine, but high-speed sweepers can get spooky. Fortunately, you can get grippy tires and racetrack-quality suspension, thanks to the popularity of scooter racing all over the world.
Paula's ride is a great way to experience vintage scooters while still enjoying some modern convenience. Expect to pay $1000-6000 on an old Rally, depending on age, originality and condition.