Get on your scooter and ride!
Ah, Rome. Zipping around on a scooter, clad in a Brioni suit with an MS cigarette dangling perilously from the lips, while sulla strada to a Gina Lollobrigida doppelganger’s walkup. That’s the dream, and it’s one that Vespa has capitalized on since time immemorial. The autostrada might be a bridge too far, but every cobblestone street in the City of Seven Hills (Cincinnati, right? -Ed.) from Ponte Vecchio on is yours to discover. (So not Cincinnati? -Ed.)
At least according to the Italians. From the French point of view, there was a higher bar to be cleared: The Paris-Dakar Rally.
Bear in mind, when the French in question decided this was a bar in need of clearing, the Dakar had been run a grand total of one (1) time. And in that one (1) time, it had swiftly established itself as the most unforgiving overland rally in the entire world. (I mean, the European leg wasn’t too bad, but once you were past the honey-and-yogurt regions of North Africa things could get a little exciting. -Ed.)
Which of course is why the initial running of the Dakar had been all Honda dirt bikes, Range Rovers, Lada Nivas, and anything else with long-travel suspensions and/or bulletproof build quality. (Begging the question of how the Ladas got in there in the first place. -Ed.) No sane person would enter a Vespa in the Dakar, but the French had embraced Jerry Lewis so obviously there was a taste for the absurd.
Done at the behest of former-Honda-then-Vespa P.R. man Jean-François Piot, four Vespa PX 200s were entered into the race. Piot seemed pretty equanimous about the whole thing: “Traveling the desert, the Sahel and some African tracks [on a] Vespa is already in ordinary times a delicate adventure, but to do it in competition against other competitors with machines better adapted to this kind of competition is Vespa’s best.” If you say so, Jean-François!
Despite the obstacles any reasonable person would ascribe to an attempt to ride a Vespa across the Sahara and the Sahel, two out of the four Vespas actually made it. That’s 50% of all Vespas entered, versus a paltry 37% of other competitors from that same year. (Wow, a lot of Ladas must have been in Dakar 1980! -Ed.)
Whatever the case, the takeaway is that as sweet as la dolce vita might seem, you have to be tough as nails to make it happen.