The ever illusive 90's scooters (a history of Honda and Vespa)

Today I am going to give a brief history lesson on one of my favorite things, scooters, and how politics, laws, economics, and climate change can affect the scope of our environment. Yes, my name is Jared and I am a scooterholic.So the back story that prompted the research behind today’s subject is a simple tale. I own my own scooter business, which I will now shamelessly promote for anyone looking to buy, or needing service, or customization done on your scooter please check out my business page

I am THE Scooter Guy in Dallas Texas.


I sell used scooters online. I’m constantly scouring Craigslist looking for my next buy. After a few months of being in operation and buying a couple dozen scooters I began to notice a trend. I can find scooters made over the last 10 years or so quite easily. If you look into vintage models you’ll find a range from 1960 on up to about 1988. But from 88-2000 you don’t ever find made by any scooter company here in the US. I began to wonder why that is?


The quest to answer this question resulted in the following findings.First of all you need to understand that just like cars there are many many scooter manufacturing companies available to us. Some are never imported to the US. Secondly just like cars you have your big names and you’re not so big names, and your good reliable machines and you’re not so reliable jalopies. For the sake of keeping this essay brief and to the point I have chosen to focus only on the 2 biggest names historically Honda, and Vespa.The next thing you need to understand is that these names when it comes to the scooter world are like Porche, and Lamborghini in the car world. Vespa being the Lamborghini of scooters, luxurious, stylish, commanding respect and having the speed to back up every penny spent on the ride. Honda the more affordable but arguably just as nice 2nd fiddle.So here’s the history. Vespa is Italian made and after growing in popularity in Europe the first Vespa was introduced to America in 1951 in the Sears catalog available in a 50cc 3 speed model with only one color option, Army green.


Sears had already been carrying the Cushman Eagle scooter in classic red and white for a few years.As the popularity grew for the Vespa year after Year, new models were introduced and in 1963 Vespa opened up a chain of dealerships nationwide accross the US. In 1966 Honda finally decided to break into the US market with the Honda SH50. A 50cc chain driven 2 stroke motor that topped out at around 25mph. The Honda scooter while being much more affordable than the Vespa sadly was not as popular and was not as mass-produced as Vespas were until later.Throughout the 70’s Vespa continued to dominate the market, though popularity wained until the late 70’s when both Honda and Vespa made a great come back just in time for 1980 which many refer to as the Golden age of scooters. From 1980-84 Honda and Vespa sales began to skyrocket. Both companies had made huge technological advances and completely redesigned their outdated models. They also both began to mass produce alternative models with bigger engines and highway legal speeds making their vehicles much more practical for the every day rider.By the mid 80’s with the gas crisis averted the demand for scooters began to waver and popularity sank. Then in 1984 legislation was passed restricting emissions which effectively sent both companies back to their respective drawing boards.


Both companies produced 2 stroke motors at the time that would not pass the emissions tests. With the shadow of waning sales looming over them Vespa decided to close their stateside dealerships and cease American export. Honda made the proper modifications to pass emissions but only with one model and with sales down they were only able to hang in for a few more years before they too ceased to export.In the year 2000 Vespa revamped its entire line and suddenly announced it’s return to the US, and the following year Honda followed suit, as did Yamaha, and then in 2004 new players arrived, Suzuki, Kymco, and the Chinese brands like Coolsport, Tao Tao, and Lifan.


Chinese brands are similar to the Geo and Kia of cars.The point is now we have a wide range of scooters to choose from and whether you notice it or not more and more people are strapping on a helmet and taking up the mantel of the scooter rider and if you look around you’ll see them everywhere. It’s quite a different landscape from the 90’s. I can only imagine what the 80’s must have been like for a scooterholic like me. But it’s funny how happenstance circumstances and a little bit of legislation is all it takes for the whole ride to come to a sudden screeching halt.


Thank you for reading and if you’re a rider keep the shiny side up and rubber side down. Stay safe and ride on.