New Lambretta preview: The Phoenix ARISES

Published: 01:05PM Jul 20th, 2011
By: Mau; Photos: RA Photography

Question: What do the Mini Cooper, VW Beetle and the Fiat 500 all have in common?
Answer: They have all been restyled and successfully relaunched.

New Lambretta preview: The Phoenix ARISES

Modern Lambretta styling finally arrives in the UK

In talking about relaunches, the point I’m trying make is that nothing stays the same. Time marches on, taking technology and design with it. Like it or not (and I can see some scooterists gasping for breath already), this applies to scooters as well and no amount of grumbling is going to alter that. So you’d better prepare yourselves for the new Lambretta, which has finally arrived in the UK – and is coming to a scooter dealer near you from August. The advance “sample prototype” model arrived in the UK on Wednesday, June 15 and no sooner than it was unpacked, Mau was on the scene for the first UK sneak preview...

Designed by Alessandro Tartarini (who also designed the Italjet Dragster), the scooter’s styling harks back to the iconic 1960s – but that’s where any comparison ends, as this Lambretta is very much a modern-style auto scooter. The first model to land on UK shores is the LN125 (shown here), which is built in Taiwan and powered by a 125cc SYM-based engine, married into a modern framework made up of mainly Italian produced galvanised metal panels and additional plastic mouldings (like the front mudguard and headset).

While trying to retain that 1960s look, modern-day styling gives the scooter a “chunky” look around the handlebars (presumably to hide things like brake hydraulics, etc.). This follows through the rest of the design, especially around the front horncasting and headlight rim. While still not being as bulbous as a Vespa, the main body panelling is slightly wider than a 1960s “Slimstyle” in order to accommodate the internal mechanics.

Access to the spark plug (and other maintenance checking areas) is gained by the removal of the underseat plastic storage bay, which is secured in position by four bolts. The front dual suspension is encased to give a modern similarity to how the original Lambretta struts looked. Stopping power is via a single front disc and a drum brake at the rear. The engine is basically a Taiwanese SYM 125cc unit, which (for those uninitiated in the world of modern autos) is already a well-proven unit.

With the machine literally straight out of the box and a quick PDI, trade plates were fitted and I was allowed to take the Lambretta on a small test run around the local area, which consisted of a round-trip of about 25km (that’s around 15 miles to you). As mentioned earlier, this is a modern auto, so any comparisons or conclusions drawn must be made against the modern auto market, rather than against a 50-year-old classic Lambretta.

On the incline leading out of the importer’s (WK Bikes) premises, the initial acceleration from a standing start seemed quite brisk. Pulling out on to the local roads I opened the throttle up a bit and the scooter was reasonably responsive – perhaps not the sharpest acceleration that you can get from a carb-fed modern 125cc auto, but certainly not the worst. The engine responded well to varied throttle changes and I cruised along at steady 50-55mph with the feeling that, given time and a bit of loosening up (it was literally straight out of the box, remember), top speed will be around 10mph more than that.

The brake setup on this advance prototype is a single 190mm front disc and a drum rear. While the front brake provided adequate stopping power, the rear – in my opinion – left a little to be desired. That said, it may prove more effective once it has bedded in, although personally I think a machine of this kudos would benefit from a disc on the rear as well.

The scooter’s suspension is an area that definitely needs looking at; braking hard causes the front end telescopic fork to bottom out, as it’s far too soft. The single spring back unit doesn’t inspire much more confidence and working together, they give the Lambretta an ‘interesting’ if slightly skittish ride, especially over uneven road surfaces. Henry Maplethorpe from WK Bikes did point out to me that this was only the advance prototype and that there are ongoing discussions with the manufacturer to address any problems found.

Overall, I don’t think the scooter performs or looks too bad. There are things with both design and build I think could be changed or improved, others may think differently.

Do I think this new Lambretta will sell well in the UK? Well, only time will tell, but let me say this: During my short test, Rich (the photographer) and I stopped twice to discuss pictures and on both occasions we were approached by middle-aged men who “owned SX scooters back in the day”. Both were enthused and impressed by the look of this new Lambretta and said they might be persuaded to buy one. If this turns out to be a reflection of people’s opinions nationwide, then this scooter is already on the road to success. I suspect that Lambretta purists may take some convincing over some of the bodywork styling and a much larger capacity engine of 300/400cc would make this bike infinitely more attractive (and a direct challenge to Piaggio’s Vespa GTS range). I’d consider buying one if a larger engine was available.

For now the UK will get the LN 125 version, which will be followed later this year by the LN 150; then in early 2012, the LS will arrive in 50cc and 125cc twin-seated variants. Prices will start at around £3300.

Email lambretta@wkbikes.com for more information on the Lambretta range. There’s a full English section on the Lambretta factory website (www.lambrettamotorcycles.com) with dealer listings and news being added over the coming weeks.

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