Do Italian Apes dig
American corn?

NORTH AMERICAN APE PROVING-GROUNDS (NAAP), North Yarmouth, Maine–You might think you could feed one of these hearty Italian Apes almost anything. But it turns out corn-based ethanol gives it heartburn. Ask our friend Paul Turina of Turina Italian Wines.

ape in america vespa based three wheeled Italian pickupHe and his wife Betty own the house in Panicale with us. We have so much in common. Betty, like original co-owner, Kiki before her, also works at the same office we do. Paul, on the other hand is a friend, client AND an Italian wine importer. And we drink wine! Plus, in addition to all that, Paul and I both have Vespa-based, Apecars. Those cunning, little three-wheeled, mini-pickups that you see all over Italy.

Mine is somewhat gussied up, a bit of a prima donna. That cute girl friend that surprise, surprise, turned out to be a bit high maintenance. Its latest excuse to dodge work is that its insurance company thinks it’s a show car and shouldn’t get dirty. Paul’s on the other hand is a blue collar, hard working, sings for its supper kind of ape. It earns its keep by regularly hauling half tons of mulch, heating oil tanks, palettes of red and white wine, you name it, it hauls it. One day last week its load was the heavy metal plow blade of Paul’s tractor.

They picked up our ace mechanic friend Peter and together they buzzed off down the road. Until, at a certain point, it got really quiet. Which is not an Ape’s natural state. Ape means “bee” in Italian (Vespa, fyi, means “wasp”) and they call them that because of the noise they make. So, when it went silent and forward motion tapered off, a warning flag went right up.

Rolling it into Peter’s repair bay later, they surely stood around, scuffed their feet a bit, pushed their hats back, scratched their heads. And pondered. As guys will do. But, there’s always that one guy that just happened to drop by. That one guy, that–after the fact, thank you very much, knows exactly what you did wrong. “Yep” he said slapping his knee, “you pull that spark plug and shine your little light in there and you’ll see the top of your one and only piston has a hole burned right thru the top of it.” He went on to say he’d seen the same thing with older outboard engines. And much as anyone hated to admit it, the guy was right. Corn burns hotter and if not adjusted for, makes a big hole. See photo enclosed. Heavy sigh.

italian vespa based ape car piston burnt out by ethanolAnd no, its not a good thing, this hole in the top of your piston.The one on the side is fine. They tell me, that is for exhaust.

No, two holes are not better than one, not a good thing at all. But it is a good time to know Ken of Canada. Ken is the top of the Ape Pyramid. Our numero uno, go-to guy. I bought my Ape from him years ago. Paul called him and was assured that “your piston is in the mail.”

So that was in the relatively good news column. The other good news is this only happens with big loads, long duration. And can be avoided with a revised carburetor setting. Paul says he will do this on mine as soon as he works out the details on his. Happy ending all around. And soon, the ape population in the Greater Gray/North Yarmouth Metro Area will be back up to full strength: Two.

See you in Italy, or at least in one of our Italian vehicles,

Stew Vreeland

Comments are closed.