By Dave Abrahams

Lohia Machinery Limited, originally a textile machinery manufacturer, got into scooters in 1984 by way of a technical collaboration agreement with Piaggio of Italy, to build a clone of the iconic two-stroke Vespa PX for third-world markets. After that arrangement ended in 1999, it continued to produce Vespa-style scooters under the name LML Star.

However, in this eco-sensitive new millenium, there are not many places left where two-strokes are still legal for the road, and there is no way a piston-port engine could ever be Euro 3-compliant. So, rather than replace the all-steel Star with a much more expensive plastic-bodied four-stroke scooter, LML did what it says Piaggio should have done in the first place: bring the iconic Vespa up to date.

Out went the absurdly primitive ‘stroker (which, don’t forget, was designed by Corradino D’Ascanio in 1945!) in favour of a neat 125cc fan-cooled four-stroke single, sitting bolt upright ahead of the rear wheel in the middle of the monocoque sheet-metal chassis (rather than offset to the right), driving via an industry-standard constantly variable belt transmission, instead of the Vespa’s signature twistgrip three-speed gearshift.

The new engine, jointly developed with Korean bikemaker Dailim and Adler of Germany, is a conservative SOHC, two-valve plonker delivering 6.8kW at 8000rpm and 8.7Nm at 6000 but, thanks to a electronic fuel-injection through a 24mm Dell’Orto throttle body, complies with Euro3 statutes and the LML Star Auto is, in fact, sold in Italy.

The rest of it looks like an original Vespa PX.

Correction: it is an original Vespa PX in all but name, complete with 10” wheels, trailing-link front suspension and cobby 1260mm wheelbase. Except that it has an electric foot and thanks to the precision of fuel-injection, starts first time, every time – something that could not always be said of the two-stroke version.

There are also no clutch or gears to worry about, so you just twist and go – and that’s when you discover something else that hasn’t changed. A combination of oddball steering geometry, short wheelbase and 10” tyres made the old Vespas very twitchy, with phenomenally quick steering. Since none of those have changed, the Star Auto is just as flighty.

For a rider used to modern single-speeders with bigger tyres and telescopic front suspension, it takes some getting used to but, once you have learned to ride with a light touch and small movements, you discover that the old-school LML has an astonishingly tight turning circle, dancing through the gridlock on my daily commuter run with style, flair and genuine grin factor.

It’s also reassuringly stable in a straight line.

I had no problems taking the test Star up to a true 92km/h, with just over 100 showing on the traditional horseshoe-shaped analogue speedometer, at 5am on a cold and windstill spring morning. You might well do better on a properly run-in example; the test bike hadn’t yet had its first service.

One area where LML has improved on the Piaggio original is suspension; where the Vespa was comfortable but a little unsettled under pressure, the Star Auto is distinctly firm, with decent feedback. The brakes are also as good as, or better than, anything from Pontadera, with the same built-in antidive geometry that can fool you into braking harder than the 3.5x10 front tyre can handle.

LML claims that it is possible to return fuel-consumption of 2.2 litres per 100km; we averaged 3.57 over a three-day weekend of mixed riding - still very creditable for a brand-new 125cc single-speeder with a 106kg passenger. Once again, you might well do significantly better.

BOTTOM LINE

For R29 995, which is hefty by Indian standards but bargain-basement compared to anything with a Piaggio badge on it, the LML Star Auto does exactly what it says on the tin, combining a torquey, clean-burning four-stroke engine with genuine old-school Vespa style, agility and tough all-steel construction. It is what it is, and that’s the secret of its charm.

Price: R29 995.

Test scooter from: LML South Africa.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 125cc fan-cooled four-stroke single.

Bore x stroke: 57 x 59mm.

Compression ratio: 9:1.

Valvegear: SOHC with two overhead valves per cylinder.

Power: 6.8kW at 8000rpm.

Torque: 8.7Nm at 6000rpm.

Induction: Electronic fuel-injection with Dell’Orto 24mm throttle body.

Ignition: Electronic Control Unit.

Starting: Electric and kick.

Clutch: Self-ventilating dry centrifugal clutch.

Transmission: Constantly variable transmission with final drive by belt.

Front Suspension: Single-sided trailing link with hydraulic shock absorber.

Rear Suspension: Offset hydraulic shock absorber.

Front brakes: 200mm disc with single-piston floating calliper.

Rear brake: Cable-operated 150mm single leading-shoe drum brake.

Front tyre: 3.5 x 10 tube type.

Rear tyre: 3.5 x 10 tube type.

Wheelbase: 1260mm.

Seat height: 820mm.

Kerb weight: 112kg.

Fuel tank: 7 litres.

Top speed (measured): 97km/h

Fuel consumption (measured): 3.57 litres per 100km

Price: R29 995.

Test scooter from: LML South Africa.