The 2006 Vespa Motorcycle Range
Vespa has not only left its mark on an entire era, but it has even become the symbol of a Europe struggling to rise from the ashes of the Second World War. Piaggio emerged from the conflict with its Pontedera plant completely demolished by bombing. Italy's crippled economy and the disastrous state of the roads did not assist in the re-development of the automobile markets.
Enrico Piaggio, the son of Piaggio's founder Rinaldo Piaggio, decided to leave the aeronautical field in order to address Italy's urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation. The idea was to design a vehicle for the masses that could get post war Italy moving again.
An aeronautical engineer named Corradino D'Ascanio, responsible for the design and construction of the first modern helicopter, was given the job of designing a simple, robust and affordable vehicle. The vehicle had to be easy to drive for both men and women, be able to carry a passenger, and not get its driver's clothes dirty.
D'Ascanio, who could not stand motorbikes, dreamed up a revolutionary vehicle. Dipping into his knowledge of aeronautics, he designed a vehicle built on a frame with a handlebar gear, with the engine mounted on the rear wheel. The front fork, like an aircraft's landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing.
From Enrico Piaggio's vision sprung the Vespa in the spring of 1946.
In April of 1946, the first 15 Vespas left the Pontedera plant. The first Vespa had a 98cc two-stroke engine giving 3.5 hp at 4,500 revs. It reached 60 kilometres per hour and had 3 gears.
This was a real two-wheeled utility vehicle that did not resemble an uncomfortable and noisy motorbike, but instead it emanated class and elegance at first sight.
Vespa's success is a phenomenon never to be repeated. By the end of 1949, 35,000 units had been produced - Italy was getting over its war wounds and getting about on Vespas. In the first ten years, one million units were produced. By the mid-fifties, Vespa was being manufactured in Germany, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Spain and, of course, Italy. And only a few years later, production was started in India and Indonesia as well.
The 125 of 1948, the legendary 150 GS of 1955, the 50cc of 1963, 1968's Primavera, and the PX, born in 1978, which is still produced today in the classic 125, 150 versions, are just some of the models that have distinguished the technical and stylistic evolution of the world's most famous scooter.
Vespa is not just a scooter. It is one of the great icons of Italian style and elegance, and with 17 million units produced, is well known throughout the world. Vespa is not, however, just a commercial phenomenon but has had a significant social impact as well. During the "Dolce Vita" years, "Vespa" became synonymous with "scooter"; foreign newspaper correspondents described Italy as "Vespa country", and the important role the Vespa played in Italian society was demonstrated by its appearance in dozens of films.
One is struck by Vespa's ability to live on from one generation to the next, subtly modifying its image each time. The first Vespa offered mobility to everyone. Then, it became the two-wheeler for the time of economic boom. During the sixties and seventies, the vehicle became a symbol for the revolutionary ideas of the time. Advertising campaigns like "He Who Vespas, eats the apple", and films such as Quadraphenia have symbolised eras in our history.
And the story continues today with the new generation of Vespa models, which range from the vintage-lovers' PX with manual gear shift, to the Granturismo, the largest and most powerful Vespa, to the new LX, the latest restyling of the classic Vespa design. The first time since Piaggio ceased producing the "Primavera" that there are three distinct Vespa ranges.
For more than 50 years, Vespa has fascinated millions of people and given the world an irreplaceable icon of Italian style and a means of personal transport that has become synonymous with freedom.