Vespa has not only left its mark on the world as the premier manufacturer of high quality stylish light mobility scooters, it has also become a symbol of Europes 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.
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 rebuilt Pontedera plant. The first Vespa had a 98cc two-stroke engine giving 3.5 hp at 4,500 rpms. It reached 37 mph and had 3 gears. This was a real two-wheeled utility vehicle that also emanated class and elegance at first sight
The Vespa has evolved from a single model motor scooter to a full line of high quality scooters and one of seven companies owned by Piaggio. From their inception, Vespa scooters have been known for their painted, pressed steel unibody which combines a complete cowling for the engine (enclosing the engine), a flat floorboard (providing foot protection), and prominent front fairing (providing wind protection) into a structural unit.
2,500 Vespa’s were sold in 1947, over 10,000 in 1948, and over 60,000 in 1950. The biggest sales promo ever came courtesy of Hollywood. In 1952 Audrey Hepburn rode side-saddle on Gregory Peck’s Vespa in the feature film “Roman Holiday” resulting in over 100,000 Vespa sales. In 1956 John Wayne rode one to get between takes on set, Marlon Brando and Dean Martin among others had also become Vespa owners.
Vespa Dealers popped up throughout Europe and the world, by 1960 two million had been sold. The Vespa – originally conceived as a utility vehicle had come to symbolize freedom, imagination, style, premium quality, and resulted in further sales boosts: four million by 1970, and ten million by the late 1980’s. They remain the most recognized, stylish, and revered scooters available worldwide!