Vintage Vespas are undeniably cool. Even if they’re not your particular cup of Nespresso, it’s hard not to smile as you watch one roll past. They’re just happy little two-wheelers. It’s not easy to improve on the icons, but high up on that list is a fully electrified drivetrain. And, of course, there’s a kit for that.
Retrospective Scooters will sell you an EV conversion kit for old Vespas and Lambrettas. The company is based in London and run by Niall McCart. Four years ago, he mused to a friend about the viability of an old Vespa as an electric vehicle, according to an article in the New York Times. Something like this:
The Retrospective kit, called the Project:E, comes with everything to replace the scoot’s internal combustion drivetrain. The project involves pulling out the old engine, gas tank, cabling and swing arm. You replace these with everything Retrospective sends:
Kit includes a DC brushless electric motor, sinusoidal motor controller, custom made swing arm, a single or double removable 18650 Samsung lithium-ion battery and tray, along with a battery gauge, all cables, LED headlight conversion and a charging cable.
The battery has a top range of 40 miles, which means an extended range kit (with two batteries) yields up to 80 miles. The electric motor can spin the Vespa’s rear wheel to a top speed of 55 mph. And recharging the battery packs is pretty straightforward, if a little slow.
A full charge takes three and a half hours, but a charge to 70 percent capacity takes 90 minutes. Pricing starts at £3,450 for a single battery kit and increases to £4,550 for the range-extended kit. That’s somewhere around $4,700 to $6,200. It’s not as cheap as I would like, but you could luck out and find a busted old Vespa and build a beautiful EV for a reasonable price.
I should note that Piaggio Group already mass-produces a fully electrified Vespa, known as the Elettrica. But that scooter is modern and feels slightly detached from the spirit of the classic scooters still out there, aging gracefully.
Contrast the specs of the Project:E with those of the Elettrica, which comes in two versions: a 45 mph top speed in its highest configuration and about 62 miles of range, and a base model Elettrica that tops out at just 30 mph, but keeps the same range. It starts at $7,499 and goes up to $7,599 for the faster model. I know it’s not much more costly than the extended Project:E, but then again, the Elettrica trades the brio of the older models for blue EV stripes. Ugh.
That’s where something like the Project:E kit comes in. The NYT profile of McCart and his company is an excellent read, and it covers the provenance of the prototype that made the kit possible. China plays a big role, given that they’ve been making the most of electric scooters for more than 15 years and have dialed in their electric scooter drivetrains.
But mostly, I’m just excited that this is a finished product; it has already come to market. It’s been bought by real riders and yielded real electric Vespas. You can buy it right now if you wanted because Retrospective ships to the U.S.
And the estimated labor time to complete the project keeps decreasing as Retrospective hones the technology. McCart tells the NYT “...that someone with basic mechanical skills should be able to complete the installation in about 16 hours.” This is one conversion that would get you both a stylish and practical EV while it only requires a mild or reasonable amount of work.
Updated 3/4/22 with new details.