Do Italian Apes dig
American corn?

You might think you could feed an Italian Ape almost anything. But it turns out corn-based ethanol gives it heartburn.

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

Careful what you wish for, Stew . . .

We’re leaving for Italy in less than two weeks. And you know, I think there is plenty of room for a wild ape or two in our cantina . . .

italian ape the tiny truck
CATANZARO, Italy to FALMOUTH, Maine – True fact. I’ve always, I can prove it, always, wanted one of those tiny putt putt Italian trucks, the venerable Ape. And now. Our friend Paul has one! And I don’t! Paul’s not only got one, he’s got one in Falmouth, Maine.


Yes, this baby blue bundle of toy truck was parked right outside our office and it is a real live Ape. English speaking people would, on seeing those three letters together say “ape” like, you know, our revered ancestors we supposedly evolved from. Italians say it like “aaah, pay” and it means, “bee”. Like bumble bee or honey bee. Ape is from those fine folks at Piaggio who brought you the Vespa. Which, by the way, means “wasp.” See a pattern forming? Why, oh why, you ask, do they do this? Bee cause of how they all sound.

italian ape from 1982Enough of the entomology of the insect-based brand names, let’s gather round all the real gear heads and talk about how this lost ape found itself in Yarmouth, Maine an ocean away from its native habitats of downtown Rome, Florence, Torino, Naples and beyond.

An almost seamless, zero degrees of separation chain of events seems to have caused this turn of events. Paul saw the classic Vespa on display at our office (from the legendary T. Turner Collection) and as guys trying to avoid real work will do, we got to talking and discovered we both really aspired to an Ape, someday. To me, someday means some day. A day off in the future. Many, if not most people go on vacation and come back with pictures of the Trevi Fountain, or the the Roman Coliseum. I have pages of Polaroids of Apes as far back as 1982 when this affliction first manifested itself on an extended stay in Calabria. And I even have brochures with prices scribbled on the back, in lira, by our friend Giuseppi. He got tired of hearing about it and called our bluff and said “So, order one, already. I’ll get it shipped over. Che problema?” How much was 4,182,000 lira worth in 1982? Whatever, twenty five years later I’m still musing about an Ape. Twenty five minutes later on the other hand, Paul is not musing about one, he’s driving about in one and there it is in our parking lot. Ok, maybe it was a month or so, but still. No grass growing under this ape.
ape in an italian orchard. from a 1982 piaggio NUOVO catalog
MOM, ALL the OTHER kids have an ape. PLEEEZE?

When we were looking at the Vespa here, I mentioned Sean Potter just down the street here, who ALSO has one. Paul found Sean and found out there had been an Ape on eBay and before you could say “andiamo” he had made a deal and roped another friend into a road trip to Jersey to pick this one up. It is a 1982 coincidentally. With almost no miles on it. Or kilometers either.

italian ape from 1982Paul had the great good sense to figure out how to rationalize this. It is not a new toy. This, my friends, is a business expense. Yes, yes it is. Really. He’s importing his family’s great wines from Italy, and this will be his delivery truck for the greater Falmouth area. Stay tuned to this bat channel to see the graphics we’ve designed for this baby ape. Coming soon. You’ll be the first to see the reveal.

Float like a butterfly,
Sting like an ape.

For anyone who wants to see all the apes in the world, check out the Gallerie on this Ape site. If Vespas are your cup of tea, there seem to be an amazing stream of them on eBay coming in from Viet Nam. Oh, yes we’ve been stung by this ape/vespa bug. Look what you’ve started Paul. First, your totally addictive rose’s and now planting the ape seed in my mind.

We’re leaving for Italy in less than two weeks. And you know, I think there is plenty of room for a wild ape or two in our cantina . . .

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland