16 November 2011

The Number 46

To many, the number 46 has different meanings. When I was young, it meant that my father couldn't sell off our banger of a Peugeot 504 and replace it with something that would better suit our growing family. We initially thought that it was the fugly ochre paint job but after speaking to some of our more superstitious Chinese neighbours, we were reliaby informed that it was the car's number plates that was the problem.

Apparently, the number 4 equates to death and the number 6 was something unfortunate like a worm or snake. Combine the two together you get roadkill or Death Snake or Worm of Death. Completely fine if you're a hairy biker looking for your next terrifying ride but for a family saloon in Malaysia, the car was as good as scrap metal. To make things worse, my Dad's car had the number 46 on the plates not once but twice. Death Worm. Death Worm. Dammit...

Anyway, other than killing a few chickens and a cow, the old car served us well until Daddy finally found someone desperate enough to take the car off him, a good 15 years later. By then, I was in my teens and the number 46 meant something different altogether. Election posters with Tunku Abdul Rahman's picture (in his iconic Merdeka pose) started to appear everywhere I went. There was political upheaval in Malaysia and Semangat 46 (or Spirit of 46 Malay Party) was the era's Keadlian (People's Justice Party). Being in my early teens, I didn't have a clue as to what was going on. All I wanted to do was grab some of the campaign flags and turn them into a cape or two for my superhero costumes. And, that was the end of that.

Fast forward another decade or so and the number 46 made a re-appearance. Coincidentally, it came in the familiar colour of yellow (the same as the now defunct Semangat 46) but instead of being seen on posters across town, they appeared on the backs of numerous motorcyclists in Malaysia - all wanting to be like Moto GP sensation Valentino Rossi.

That was then. A couple of weeks ago, the number 46 took on a new meaning. Well, a new-ish meaning as Piaggio unveiled their Vespa Quarantasei (that's how you pronounce 46 in Italian) retro concept scooter.

Finally, after years of mucking about with half-baked attempts like the ET autos, LXs and to an extent the new GTs, Piaggio have finally upped their game and come out with an original idea. From the pictures that are now widely available on the web, it's quite clear that Piaggio have gone back to its roots (hence the reference to 46 being the year the first Vespa was born) and taken on board loads of functional design cues from the scooter tuning community.

As examples, the two-seater that looks like an old-style Vespa single seat configuration is definitely a standout while the curved front mudguard to accomodate the front shock looks like it came straight out of a German tuners head.

All that's needed now is for Piaggio to throw in a 200cc engine into it and actually make the damn thing.

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