Saturday, November 15, 2008
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Toss the word "scooter" out to the average citizen, and odds are you'll conjure up an image of, say, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn tooling around the Trevi Fountain in Roman Holiday or Mods trolling through early 1960s London à la Quadrophenia.
The "classic" Italian scooter is a storied image, and it's as dominant today, thanks to an overall scooter resurgence, as it was back in post-WWII Europe. So permeated on the pop culture landscape are these Romanesque runabouts that quite often they're thought to rule the world.
Ah, but there's perception...and then there's reality. Which, for the record, falls squarely in Honda's corner, bestowing the manufacturing giant with the undisputable title of history's all-time scooter sales leader. From the Aeros, Leads and Sprees to the Elites, Metropolitans and all-new Ruckus, it's easy to see the overwhelming volume (and diversity) of scooters Honda has produced over the course of the last half century.
Such was not always the case, though, and after a brief stint manufacturing all-steel, "classic"-style scooters in the 1950s (with mixed sales results), Honda stopped altogether by the mid-1960s to focus on the less expensive Cub series. Of course, absolutely colossal success ensued with this machine, prompting Honda to eventually re-enter the scooter fray by 1980, exporting hugely to the rest of the world while setting up factories abroad — including one in Italy, smack in the main competition's backyard.
Honda's re-entry wasn't a second attempt at conquering the "classic" scooter design, however; this time around, the company came back with what's now affectionately known as the "modern scooter." The 1983 Aero 50 featured herein was one of these new machines leading the charge of Honda's scooter resurgence.
So what exactly made one scooter classic and another modern? The most obvious difference was in the construction and styling. Bodywork with contemporary, sharper-angled shaping replaced the roundish, all-steel aprons of the classic models. And fully automatic transmissions were opted for over the manually shifted gearboxes of the older design.
All in all, these new scooters were lighter weight, less expensive to produce, vastly more fuel-efficient and virtually effortless to ride — even the most novice of pilots could master the simple, twist-the-throttle-and-go operation in no time. And in the Aero 50's case (this model was known as the Lead in Europe and Asia), with its feisty 49cc, air-cooled two-stroke engine calling the shots, quick, around-town transportation became a hassle-free affair. Automatic oil injection furthered the convenience quotient by eliminating the need for two-stroke fuel/oil premixing.
Unfortunately, the two-stroke Aero ran afoul of the ever-more-stringent emissions standards of mid-1980s America, leading to its discontinuation in the U.S. market. (Ironically, the nearly identical late '80s/early '90s Elite 50, also a two-stroke, enjoyed a long, successful run here.) Nevertheless, the Aero 50 enjoyed a makeover in '85, receiving plusher leading-link front suspension in addition to wider bodywork and a bigger seat, bumping up the comfort factor significantly. Larger-displacement models, the Aero 80 and 125, also followed, enjoying brief three- and one-year runs, respectively, from 1983-85.
Today, the last vestiges — appearance-wise, at least — of Honda's inaugural batch of "modern" scooters can be found in the ozone-friendlier four-stroke Elite 80. Of course, should you fancy more of a Euro-style, classic scooter, there's always the Metropolitan. And for those seeking the ultimate minimalist form of expression, look to the all-new Ruckus.
Either way, Honda's got your ticket to ride happy
This post was written by: Franklin Manuel
Franklin Manuel is a professional blogger, web designer and front end web developer. Follow him on Twitter