70 and Fabulous: Say Happy Birthday to the Vespa!

Tue, 04/05/2016 - 04:00
Vespa Piaggio

23 April 1946 – An Italian company named Piaggio registered the patent for a “motorcycle on a rational complex of organs and elements combined with a frame with mudguards and casing covering the entire mechanical part.” The Vespa was born. 

The first model to be launched on the market, not expensive and therefore accessible to all, was the Vespa 98. Within only a few years, the Vespa became a highly coveted good: all across Italy, people wanted one, be it to go to work, to move more easily and freely in the city, for leisure or just for the sake of possessing it.

The development of the Vespa is linked to World War II, or, more precisely, to the end of it: Piaggio had been one of the leading Italian manufacturers of aircrafts and, for this reason, a strategic military target. At the end of the conflict, the factories in Genoa, Finale Ligure and Pontedera had suffered extensive damage caused by bombing.

Enrico Piaggio, the son of the company’s founder, took the reins of the Pontedera factory, aiming toward a total reconversion of production: to get out of the crisis, he understood it was necessary to invest into something that would help people move around in a country leaving the war behind, where everything had to be built.

Enrico entrusted the new project to aeronautical engineer Corradino D'Ascanio, known for his dislike of motorcycles, which he considered inconvenient, bulky and difficult when it came to change tires in case of a puncture. Inspired by his experience with airplanes, he designed the driving position based on the drawing of a man sitting comfortably in an armchair; he created an engine conceptually derived from aircraft engines ignition, moved the stick shift on the handlebars because he thought it was easier to use, covered the engine with a frame to deal with the frequent oil leaks that stained people’s pants and added a spare wheel because, at the time, most streets were unpaved. It was a success.

According to legend, upon seeing the first model, Enrico Piaggio exclaimed, “'It looks like a wasp!”, due to the sound of the engine and its rounded shape; hence the name Vespa, wasp in Italian.

The 1953 movie Roman Holiday, starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, made the Vespa famous around the world.

Seventy years after the first model was launched, the Vespa continues to charm. It has become a symbol of the creativity and beauty of the Made in Italy, achieving a cult status.

Vespa fans should not miss the exhibition opening on April 22, “In viaggio con la Vespa”, at the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera.

For yourself or the Vespa lovers in your life, celebrate the legendary two-wheel invention by getting a stylish Vespa-inspired accessory, such as a wallet, a tablet cover or a key chain. Browse our online shop for more options

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