“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”
– Benjamin Franklin
Still captivated by the idea of slower-paced motorcycle touring – a fixation I couldn’t dislodge with a bulldozer – I gave up on the Honda Super Cub 125 after a discouraging dealer encounter and started looking at other small motorbikes.
The focus drifted to Vespa, where I started paying attention to the Vespa Sei Giorni II, a 300cc scooter with the HPE engine, like Linda’s 2020 GTS.
It’s a beautiful machine, even more sexy than the green-and-yellow 300 Racing Sixties HPE I once admired at the dealership in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The Sei Giorni (which translates to “Six Days” and pronounced say JOR-nee) is based on the winning team of 125cc Vespa scooters in the 1951 Sei Giorni Internazionale enduro race in Varese, Italy.
That’s a brutal six-day endurance race. The team won nine gold medals, a stunning success.
Today’s Sei Giorni is styled the same way as those winning scooters, but with updated electronics, fuel injection and ABS. The headlight is mounted on the front fender instead of the handlebars. It’s garnished with the racing number 6, front and rear.
The damn thing grew on me, gnawing at my subconscious, until finally I decided to look for one. The hunt, of course, is turning into an endurance event of its own.
We patronize Scoot Richmond in nearly all things Vespa, but they’re 110 miles from us, a bit too far for casual looking just now.
So on Saturday we went – just to look, you understand – to the closest dealer, La Moto Washington in Arlington, Virginia, whose website said they had one for sale.
“Oh, we have one, but it isn’t here,” said the nice salesperson at La Moto. “We store it off-site since we can’t keep everything here.”
She says she’s there by herself since the other salesperson wasn’t able to make it in and mentions that it might not be a good idea to walk over to the other site because of the cold and ice but we could come back.
We say that’s fine, we’ll come back the next Saturday and thank her and take our leave.
Walking back to the Jeep, Linda suggests we go to Richmond but it’s a little late in the day for a long drive and we veto the idea for today.
“Hey,” I say, “why don’t we go back to the Honda dealer? Let’s see if that Super Cub is still there1.”
So we do, and we enter the place, and I walk back to check the row of used bikes and I see…
…a 2020 Vespa Sei Giorni2 with 356 miles3 on the odometer. Exactly what I want.
Seriously. It’s right there.
The coincidence is overwhelming – Twilight Zone scary, even! – and I’m marveling as I circle the Vespa. It looks good, really clean, a few minor scuff marks inside the front shield, but still, really, really good.
The sales guy, probably young enough to be my grandson, comes over and we talk for a bit and I ask, “so what’s the out-the-door price on this?”
He does a quick calculation in his head and names a figure roughly much more than I would pay. I look doubtful and he says, “I can run some numbers if you like.”
“Well…okay,” I say, convinced nothing will come of this, but the Sei Giorni looks really good so we head over to his desk.
He’s on his computer for a moment and then fetches the sales manager, who turns out to be the same Mr. Killjoy4 from the Super Cub debacle literally 29 days ago.
But Mr. Killjoy is carrying a piece of paper, a printout – hey, the printer’s working! – and says they’ve done some price cutting and hands me the paper. It turns out they’ve had Sei Giorni for 90 days or more, taken as a trade-in. It must’ve been parked downstairs; I haven’t been down there in a while.
The price is a lot less than I expected, still a little high, but a good starting point. The mood is entirely different from last time, there’s no take-it-or-leave-it vibe and I’m actually starting to feel hopeful. We say we’ll think about it, thank them sincerely and leave.
We go home, pull the sales papers from Linda’s 2020 Vespa and find a few discrepancies in dealer prep and so on. We talk the idiocy of getting yet another bike but Linda senses my rising enthusiasm and understands me as usual so we decide to go back and make a counteroffer.
Mr. Killjoy comes back with a counter-counteroffer that’s a hundred bucks higher. I say okay and we get the paperwork started. I call our insurance company and get the Sei Giorni added to the policy.
It’s really happening at last and we wait and let the paperwork machinery whirr along.
I start thinking about the Sei Giorni and what modifications I want to make (larger windscreen, additional brake light, maybe some auxiliary lights on the front) and which Antarctic exploration ship I’m going to name her after.
Then the sales guy looks up and says, “We don’t have an owner’s manual. In trade-ins, we sometimes don’t get one.”
“That’s okay,” I say. “That’s not a problem.”
And it isn’t. I can go online and print one; I’ve already done it with Linda’s Vespa, two copies, one aboard the scooter itself, the other in the garage at Starbase Nashville.
“And,” the sales guy says, “we don’t have a spare key.”
If this story had a soundtrack: Here is where the needle would skip across the record and make a horrible scratching sound and send the tone arm clattering off the stereo.
“Wait,” I say. “You don’t have another key? You don’t have a brown key?”
“Uh, no,” he says. And, as if someone’s tossed a bucket of sand into it, the deal machinery screeches to a halt.
A brief but necessary technical digression…
All modern computerized Vespas are sold with two keys:
- A blue key, which is used as a standard ignition key, for day-to-day operation of the bike. It has a tiny transponder chip.
- A brown key5, which is the bike’s master key. This is the program key, used to work the bike’s onboard computer and program the bike to accept new keys and a whole lot of other stuff.
When you buy a new Vespa, the salesperson will hand you this brown key and say, literally in bold capital letters:
“DON’T LOSE THIS KEY.
KEEP IT SOMEWHERE SAFE.”
You can get other blue keys as spare ignition keys. (I got two for Linda’s scooter.) However, you need the brown key to program them, to make them work.
It’s an aggravating quirk of the Vespa system. The computer controls an immobilizer system on the bike, which means you can’t start the engine without the properly coded keys. You need the damned keys.
You can’t get a new brown key without replacing the bike’s Electronic Control Unit and the ignition barrel (the thing in the dash with the slot you stick the key into). All that costs a lot of money, upwards of $800 or so with parts and labor.
I am not making that up.
You can get new blue keys cloned but it’s a pain in the ass without the brown key and there’s no guarantee they’ll work.
…and now back to our story
“I’m sorry, but we need to have that brown key,” I say. “That’s a deal breaker.”
The sales guy goes looking for the key without success. It’s not in an office, it’s not aboard the Sei Giorni.
We try to explain how necessary the brown key is, but you just know the sales guy and Mr. Killjoy think we only want a key with a different color or something. You can see the disconnect in their eyes.
“I’ll get you the brown key,” Mr. Killjoy says, and I believe he is sincere but I also believe he thinks he’ll just go to the nearest Vespa dealer – La Moto Washington, in another bit of irony – and pick up one.
He wants me to sign the paperwork anyway and I say, I’m sorry, I really like the bike but I can’t do that, not without a working brown key.
So we leave it like that, with them saying they’ll get the key and they’ll call the previous owner to see if he still has it (though he should have surrendered it with the bike as part of the trade-in).
Like 29 days ago, we leave empty-handed.
We get home and I start to think how this will play out and I’m quietly convinced it won’t happen.
We’ve been in a Samuel Beckett absurdist play for 20 minutes, talking about keys with different colors and the dealership’s Vladimir and Estragon don’t quite understand because they haven’t done their homework. Vespas can be costly and complicated and dealers don’t like complications when selling used vehicles.
What’ll probably happen is that they won’t find the original brown key or get a new one and I won’t buy the Sei Giorni.
They’ll end up selling it to someone unfamiliar with Vespas and that person will buy it and toddle off and things will be fine until they discover they need a brown key and find out they’re screwed.
I’ll wait and see what happens. If under-powered Vespa scooters can win a six-day endurance race, it’s possible Godot will actually show up with a working brown key.
What happened was just this.
1 – The Super Cub was still on the floor, but as events transpired, we didn’t look closely at it.
2 – The 2020 and 2021 Sei Giornis come only in gray-blue (grigio, in Italian) which looks good, though the Portofino Green of previous models, which mimicked the 1951 racers, is better.
3 – That’s a little more than half of the mileage for the first break-in service. So in essence, this Sei Giorni is practically brand new.
4 – Not his real name.
5 – Some folks call it a red key, because the color is somewhere in-between, though more toward brown in the spectrum. Chalk it up as just another Vespa peculiarity.