Genuine Scooter's new Stella Automatic 125 debuted on March 14 at the headquarters of Scooterworks in Chicago. Genuine Scooter Company creates iconic scooters and offers modern “twisty” scooters like the popular Buddy series and the high-performance Blur 220i. It also offers a classic all-metal “shifty” scooter called Stella. Now in 150cc four-stroke guise, Stella debuted in 2002 in classic two-stroke (oil/gas fuel mix powered with that distinctive “ring-ding-ding” sound and light blue smoke exhaust) form and was an immediate hit with both vintage scooter aficionados and those curious about the classic, Vespa-like lines of Stella. Worldwide environmental concerns put an end to the old two-stroke Stella, but the four-stroke (with oil and gasoline kept separate like in a automobile) engined version has been a good seller since it’s introduction in 2012. Like all things though, the scooter business is rife with competition and something new was required to keep the old Stella going. Why not an automatic… yes, a “twisty” Stella?
Nearly three years ago, Genuine asked the Indian company LML about an automatic Stella. LML is a manufacturing partner with Genuine and has a long history of classic, Vespa-style scooters. LML has manufactured their version of the Vespa PX125, 150 and 200cc scooters since they exited their Vespa partnership agreement in the 1980s.
The Stella 125 Automatic
It take a sharp amateur eye to detect the differences in the new Stella Automatic from the old “shifty” version. The headset, front fender, most of the legshield and front suspension are highly similar. Look closer though, and the changes are noticeable. There is no shifter on the left handlebar and where there once was a clutch lever there is now a rear brake lever. Because of this, there is no need for the classic right foot-operated rear brake on the right floor. The rotating shifter is now fixed and it's gear numbers gone, but a charming piece of history, the gear indicator "dot" mysteriously remains. The only other noticeable addition to the front are two small air intakes located low on the underside of both lower edges of the legshield. This is for engine cooling, with a plenum that crosses under the floorboard, up to the engine and out new vents under the back of the seat.
Looking towards the rear of the scoot, you notice that the engine isn’t there anymore. Actually, the engine no longer sticks out the right side of the scooter, under the cowl. It’s now more of a in-line unit with a tidy CVT transmission cover tucked under the left cowl. The right side has a rather unconvincingly angled plastic faux spare tire cover below the cowl. It's stuck on over the ignition/ECU module, battery and other bits and not a spare tire as was original equipment from the old days (albeit on the left side). There is no spare on Stella Automatic, even though the tires and wheels are the same as on the previous versions - tubed tires with a vintage tire pattern, on 10-inch split steel wheels. An accessory tire holder rack for the rear is in the works, as are other items specific to the auto Stella. Many current accessories will fit also fit, apparently.
Fit and finish is as good as it was on the 2 and 4t versions of the Stella, which is to say varied. I’ve seen excellent paint, well applied and clean on some Stellas, and I’ve seen some orange-peel and what looked like dirt tucked away in corners of the paint on others. The fit and finish of the scooters on display at Scooterworks were of uniform good to very good quality, though, and a new quality assurance process is apparently in place to help Stellas remain competitive with the smooth plastic and excellent paint coverage of Taiwanese and some Chinese scooters. The classic P200 Vespa horn cover is the same, as are the turn signals and large glove box behind the legshield. One difference is a plastic chrome cursive script of “automatic” stuck on the lower left side of the glove box door, just above the "First Edition" of 300 number plate. Braking is the same as recent Stellas, with a strong front hydraulically-operated disc and the rear drum.
Engine-wise, it’s about as different as it could be. The engine is a new LML design, and features an interesting take on engine design driven by the constraints of the classic Vespa-style body. Fitting a modern engine and transmission in the under-cowl space was a challenge, and that has resulted in a steeply angled CVT case and a near vertical cylinder head. The air filter is on the left side and, interestingly, the engine hot air (it's still an air-cooled engine) exits through a nicely trimmed exhaust plenum that directs the engine cooling air over and down below most of the CVT cover (which itself is cooled by it’s own cold air intake). It’s a fantastically detailed installation on the left, but on the right it’s the wiring, battery and the combined CDI/ECU (yes, it has an electronically controlled carburetor - no more manual choke!) Stella Automatic also features a nifty fuel pump and auxiliary fuel intake reservoir (no more reserve tap, or even a tap). The automatic will also drain the tank dry - “it uses every bit of gas with that fuel pump and the gas gauge works a lot better!” according to Genuine Scooters Sales Manager Trey Durren. There also is a clever idle adjustment screw on a flexible stalk under the seat where the gas filler is located.
Reports were that the 125cc version of the Stella was “as quick” as the old 4-stroke version, which was also reported to be “as quick” or quicker than the old 2-stroke version of the scoot. The reports were true, as this writer and others departed Scooterworks during the scooter debut on March 14 in 50-degree temperatures.
Like most twisties, acceleration from a stop is immediate, and by avoiding that one to two shift, the automatic Stella is already a couple of scoots ahead of it’s shifty brethren. I tried one scoot with seven miles and two with almost 50 each and the acceleration seemed to get noticeably better with some break-in miles. As far as top speed, it seemed that the 4-stroke version would eventually catch up, but it would probably be near the top speed. With the the extra 25cc of displacement of the four stroke shifty old Stella, it would probably see a slightly higher top speed, but that will have to wait until a side-by-side ride can be completed on similar scoots. The new Stella seems happy to cruise at 40 to 50, with probably 58 or slightly better possible under the right conditions.
Handling of the new Stella feels very familiar, but without the right side weight bias of the old Stellas. I don’t know if it has a tiny bit shorter wheelbase (1”?), but it feels more responsive, ever “flickier” than the already sharp-handling Stella 4t. The Stella Automatic feels faster and smoother, but then again, it’s a new scooter. There were no creaks or squeaks from the frame, headset or cowls. A longer ride will tell us if it’s really that much of a better handler than the old one. It’s certainly competitive with other 125cc scooters, although a Buddy 125 will probably beat it off the line and will go just as fast, as it’s a smaller scooter.
The Stella starts with steady push of the interior (left) side of the start switch when either brake is engaged and the key is in the start position. I could not start two of the three Stella Automatics that we rode because I was pressing the starter button “flat” or on the outer edge of the switch. That's a great trick to know. Starting is other wise easy, just turn the key to run, wait for the small "ECS" light in the instrument cluster to go out and you are ready to start. There is also a back-up kick start accessible by flipping down the well-hidden lever at the edge of the left cowl.
One riding concern that I had was the deletion of the traditional right foot rear brake. Interestingly enough, I never even thought of it during my first four lap ride around the Scooterworks neighborhood in north Chicago. The brakes are very good, and unless you only ride a vintage scooter with a floor-mounted rear brake, a rider will have no worries about braking stability or power on a ride on Stella Automatic.
The big question
Does the debut of the Stella 125 Automatic spell the end of the shifty version of the Stella? It’s hard to say. Genuine wouldn’t commit to either ending their production of the classic shifty scoot, nor would they commit to all Stella Automatic production in the future. It probably boils down to whether LML is going to continue production of the shifty version, and if Genuine would be comfortable bringing in a smaller amount of shifty scoots to meet the any demand. One thing is clear - the Stella Automatic is a fantastic scooter, a compelling combination of classic and modern with the convenience of a solid 4-stroke 125cc engine and an effortless automatic transmission.
Remember that there are plenty of new 4-stroke (and even 2-stroke) shifty Stellas out there and that the automatic Stella will be a big hit. That strong start may be enough of a convincer for Genuine (and LML) to make the hard choice of ending a manual shifting tradition that not only dates back to the first Vespa (in 1946) but to manually shifted scooters from even earlier. If you want a new shifty Stella (complete with a Genuine 2-year warranty, including on the road service), I’d start saving my pennies for one before they go away. If you want a new "twisty" Stella, they should be on the way to dealers next month. Either way, remember that the shifty Stella and it’s Vespa and Lambretta ancestors will be available used, probably for ever.
The Stella 125 Automatic is yet another version of the classic Vespa, and there will probably be others in the future. Stella Automatic is a hand-assembled, metal-bodied classic scoot that a whole generation of new and old riders will find fascinating. Yes, NEW riders of a quality, classically-styled scoot that happens to be a twisty. That’s good news for all fans of classic scooter design.
Growing our scooter culture should be the mission of everyone on two small wheels, and Stella 125 Automatic will be an excellent ambassador for that mission. Ride one soon!
What's next: Your local moped club