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The New Stella, Unveiled

For more than a year, rumors have been circulating about a new 4-stroke version of Genuine Scooter Company’s Stella motorscooter. Genuine confirmed the model a few months ago, but has otherwise been very quiet about the project. This week, Genuine allowed 2strokebuzz a quick look at a “New Stella” prototype (and a ride!) just before it was sent for CARB testing in California.

The Stella, if you’re just tuning in, is a descendant of the Vespa PX150, made in India by LML Limited, who once built Vespas under license for the Asian market. Its uncanny resemblance to an 80s Vespa makes it wildly popular with scooterists who want the style, steel frame, and manual transmission of a vintage Vespa, with the warranty, dealer support, and reliability of a modern scooter. The downside is a decades-old engine design that features the same 2-stroke top end that cost Piaggio the environmentally-strict California market, driving them out of the U.S. in 1985. Genuine has always coveted the California market as well, (and vice versa) so a 4-stroke Stella has been a long-stated goal.

With all the speculation out there, it was easy to forget that the best thing that could happen would be a 4-stroke version tha’s aesthetically indistinguishable from the original Stella. Luckily, that’s pretty much what we get: At a glance, it’s virtually identical.

Pull off the left cowl, and things get more interesting. From the floorboards forward, the body and controls are identical to the 2T version. The rear section of the monocoque frame is usually welded to the front section, but to accomodate the new engine, the rear half of the bike (and swingarm) have been completely redesigned around a tube frame, which is bolted to the front section. Luckily, the exterior bodywork is pressed from steel and indistinguishable from the traditional frame.

The 150cc engine, like the frame, is a fusion of vintage and modern. The rear section, housing the direct-drive transmission long worshipped by vintage Vespa fans, remains mostly identical to the 2-stroke model (though the cases have obviously been redesigned). The top end has been entirely replaced with an air-cooled 4-stroke cylinder designed with components from Japan, Taiwan, India, and Genuine’s underground laboratory. The engine was designed specifically for the U.S. market by Genuine and LML, and Genuine tells us future U.S.-specific collaborations are in the works involving both companies plus PGO, the Taiwanese manufacturer that supplies Genuine’s popular Buddy and other scooters. Components like the carburetor and ignition have been replaced with more common/modern parts, and various CARB-required gizmos clutter things up a bit, but there’s still easy access to the sparkplug and valves.

Despite the rear half of the frame and the front half of the engine being entirely new, aesthetics, ergonomics, and operation are virtually the same. The wheelbase of the 4-stroke model is imperceptively longer, and the bottom of the engine case is slightly different looking, but without scrutiny, you’d never know the difference… until you start the engine. If you’ve been riding a throbbing, rattling 2-stroke vintage Vespa or Stella for any amount of time, the calm rumble coming from under the cowls of this bike is downright eerie, and will definitely take some getting used to.

Having no desire to crash a one-of-a-kind prototype about to be tested for emissions, we took it very easy on our test ride, but we were surprised to find that the ride is amazingly similar to the PX or 2-stroke Stella. Like any good vintage Vespa, it leans dutifully to the right. Suspension and braking are unchanged. Aside from the odd lack of audible engine feedback, it was an identical experience. It was a bit disorienting to clutch and shift with such a quiet engine, but Genuine assures us the bike is rated at 15% more horsepower than the 2-stroke model, with far fewer emissions and a projected 120 MPG!

The new model will certainly bear the Stella name, possibly with a secondary model name to distinguish it from the 2-stroke model. No final decision has been made about the name or colors (the prototype, for the record, is a handsome “ivory,” and the branding will surely be more impressive than a Helvetica “4-stroke” sticker).

Once CARB approves the bike, Genuine expects to be able to get the bike in production quickly, and hopefully on the market by January 2010. The current 2-stroke model would be compliant (outside California) for 2010, and would likely be sold alongside the 4-stroke model outside California, though Genuine may stop production sometime next year.