“I want a vehicle that puts the country on two wheels, but not a traditional motorcycle. And above all, it must be cheap. “ With these words Enrico Piaggio entrusted the engineer Corradino D’Ascanio with the task of creating what would become one of the symbols of Italy in the world: the Vespa. 72 years and almost 50 models later, the all-Italian scooter still respects the original idea: a cheap, practical, safe motorcycle, suitable for everyday life, but able to reinvent itself even for special occasions. In short, a true Italian excellence, a product that combines the evolution of design with the beauty of tradition.
From 1946 to today: the history of the Italian Vespa
It all began in 1938, when Enrico and Armando Piaggio inherited the family business. Piaggio Italia was founded in Liguria by his father Rinaldo as a manufacturer of naval furniture and railway carriages. The two sons share the skills and under the leadership of Enrico happens the crucial transformation of the company into a manufacturer of motorized two-wheeler vehicles and commercial vehicles. The Ligurian entrepreneur wants at all costs to introduce an innovative product on the Italian market and so, in 1944, the model of the Vespa’s progenitor, the MP5, better known as Piaggio Paperino, is presented. It was the workers at the Biella establishment that renamed it, inspired by the strange shape of the moped, characterized by a large central tunnel, which wanted to imitate the paratroopers’ motorcycles. More than a Donald Duck, for the patron of Piaggio, that model turned out to be an “ugly duckling”. Enrico is not at all satisfied, he feels he must entrust the revision of the project to a creative, someone who knows how to risk, but with practicality. Corradino D’Ascanio, aeronautical engineer is the right man. On April 23, 1946, the first Vespa was patented, described by its creator as “a modern vehicle with the popularity of the bicycle, the performance of the motorcycle, the elegance and comfort of the car”.
The first Italian Vespa: technical features and design
The scooter that Piaggio presented to the world would have revolutionized driving on two wheels forever. No more cumbersome and dirty chain, in its place a supporting body. The imperative of practicality prompted the engineer to position the gearbox on the handlebars. His experience in the field of aeronautics, then, took the form of the front suspension inspired by aircraft carriages. Frame to protect drivers from oil leaks and built-in spare wheel, to deal with all the bad weather of Italian roads. Many years before the spread of concepts such as design and ergonomics, the first Vespa had already been designed to be beautiful and comfortable at the same time, with a wide seat-chair that allowed an easy and safe driving and that shape became a world-famous brand . Wide in the middle, narrow at the waist. “It looks like a Vespa!”, exclaimed Enrico Piaggio at the sight of the M6 prototype. It was the beginning of the fable of the Italian Vespa.
Vespa in the world: success beyond Italian borders
The approval of the public for the novelty of Piaggio is not late to come. The Italian Vespa makes its debut at the Golf Club of Rome and then at the Milan Exhibition. While starting the production of two thousand copies of the first Vespa 98 cc, the Italians fall in love with it looking at the photos on the inside pages of the main motor magazines of the time: Motor and La Moto. Following the indications of Enrico Piaggio, the Vespa 98cc is sold in two versions and with two prices: 55,000 lire the “normal” type and 61,000 lire the “luxury” type, with the possibility of payment in instalments. The difference? The optional of the second model: odometer, side crutch and tires with white side. Faced with more of one scepticism Enrico Piaggio proposes the purchase of the patent to the manufacturer of Moto Guzzi. Count Parodi does not smell the deal and closes every door. A blessing for the Vespa: sales are starting to take off, production is growing incessantly, new models are born. In 1950, the Vespa conquered the world: in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, America, Asia the production of Italian product began. The Times defines it as “the most innovative idea that Italy has ever had after the invention of the chariot of Ancient Rome.” Currently the Vespa is produced in 13 countries and marketed in 114 countries: a global phenomenon that goes hand in hand step with the technological and design evolution. Suffice it to mention the collaboration with Giorgio Armani for the creation of a super stylish fashion Vespa, the 946. Today Piaggio is ready for the challenges of the future, Electrical Vespa and increasingly advanced systems to support driving. The keywords are always the same, the original ones of Enrico Piaggio: “comfort, safety, practicality, savings, elegance”.
50 Special and military Vespa: a model for every occasion
From everyday life to war. Piaggio Italia has specialized over the years to offer a product that can really be used in any area. A means of transport for all tastes and all budgets. Listing all the models that have followed one another over seventy years of Vespa history would be really impossible. But two out of all are well impressed in the memory of all Italians. In 1963 was born the legendary Vespa 50, better known as “vespino”, which allowed the guide to guys aged 14 and above, without a license and without a license plate. Since then, the Vespa has become the dream of every teenager, the prize promised by parents to every willing child. From that moment on, the life of the Italian boys will be studded with “Daddy, will you buy me the scooter?” and that scooter will be, between the 70s and 80s of the last century, the unforgettable 50 Special. Three series, rectangular headlight and frame that made it virtually indestructible. World record of sales and the cities were filled with “buzzing” vespas of a thousand colours. Symbol of life, but also of war. A few years earlier, in 1955, Piaggio was responsible for the creation of the so-called military Vespa, model 150 TAP “ Aero troops parachuted“. The vehicle was used by the French army to transport an M20 cannon capable of breaking down a tank. The myth tells of drivers-shooters, the reality speaks, instead, of simple arms carriers. In any case, from its creation to date, the Vespa has proven to be really useful for everything, a special means of transport that, as Cesare Cremonini sang, “ti toglie I problemi” ( “takes away your problems”).
Cinema and music pay homage to the Vespa: Piaggio’s intuition has become a custom phenomenon
In the Italian and world mass culture, the Vespa appears in numerous films, is cited in many song lyrics and has also carved out a role of appearance in numerous television programs. Raise your hand if you have not dreamed of taking a Vespa ride through the streets of Rome at least once. Yes, just like Princess Anne and journalist Joe Bradley. Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck glued to the big screen the whole world in 1953. “Roman Holiday” recorded the box office record, but the real protagonist of the film remains the Vespa Piaggio. The 125 Farobasso produced in those years by the Italian company has been immortalized forever in one of the most iconic scenes in the history of Cinema. A normal day, that’s what Princess Anna asks Joe, his unexpected companion. And what’s more normal than a Vespa ride through the streets of the capital? Two tight and happy lovers with the wind in their hair and the most beautiful monuments of Rome as a backdrop to the extraordinary journey on two wheels most famous in Italy. The American magazine Forbes was able to condense in a few words what everyone thought: “That Oscar won in 1953 by Hepburn for” Roman Holiday” would have to go to the Vespa, because while Gregory Peck courted Hepburn, the whole world fell in love with the other She” . She, the eternal, inimitable, Italian Vespa.
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