Total Motorcycling brings you this week’s Inspiration Friday: Design Fashion & Style, in style! 1946, quite the year for riding and the history books. First bikini, United Nations, V2 Rockets, UNICEF, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Best Years of our Lives”, Route 66, Las Vegas Flamingo, Tupperware, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dolly Parton, Donald Trump, Hermann Göring trail filled the papers, radio and TV. What a year. Scootering as we know just might have been started in the Spring of 1946 by a small Italian company named Vespa… maybe you have heard of it or even rode a Vespa?
This week Vespa celebrates it’s 75th Anniversary with the milestone of 19 million units produced (2 million in the past 10 years alone). And when you think of Vespa, you can’t help think of history, style, fashion and design as Vespa has shaped and molded our social fabric for decades. Selling in 83 countries around the world, Vespa is a true youthful international icon of riding.
Join us on a journey into Vespa’s past, present and future on today’s Inspiration Friday: Design Fashion & Style and we at Total Motorcycle hope it inspires you to get out there, ride, scooter or jump on the back of a bike to experience the freedom and joy of two wheel adventures!
Check out Total Motorcycle’s complete guide to Vespa from 2009 to 2021, hundreds of models, hundreds of photos and a whole history book of information just for our readers (all free of course). And all our several hundred 2020, 2021 and 2022 models as well!
Total Motorcycle would like to thank Triumph Motorcycles for inspiring us to bring you this week’s Inspiration Friday: Design Fashion & Style! Each week we bring you another Inspiring Motorcycle story to inspire you to get out and ride! Thank you for your support for visiting us and supporting us at Patreon for just $1 a month.
THESE ARE 19 MILLION STORIES OF GUYS AND GIRLS, ENTIRE GENERATIONS WHO DREAMED OF AND GAINED THEIR FREEDOM ASTRIDE A VESPA
TODAY, VESPA IS A LEGEND THAT HAS SURPASSED ITS FUNCTION OF AN EASY AND ELEGANT MEANS OF COMMUTING TO BECOME AN ICON OF STYLE, FASHION AND DESIGN
A GLOBAL BRAND, PRESENT IN 83 COUNTRIES ON EVERY CONTINENT, VESPA IS IN ONE OF THE BRIGHTEST MOMENTS OF ITS HISTORY, CAPABLE OF REINVENTING ITSELF WITHOUT DISTORTING ITS VALUES, ALWAYS STAYING YOUTHFUL, CONTEMPORARY AND INIMITABLE
Vespa celebrates 75 years and reaches the extraordinary milestone of 19 million units produced, beginning from the spring of 1946. The Vespa that celebrates the 19 million is a GTS 300 in 75th Anniversary Special Edition and was assembled in the Pontedera plant, where Vespa has been manufactured uninterrupted since 1946.
19 million Vespas translate into as many stories of guys and girls worldwide who have gained their freedom astride the most beloved two-wheeler in the world. Vespa has accompanied their lives and embodied feelings and the desire for freedom. Because Vespa is part of our culture. It is a protagonist in our lives, in the imagination of many generations of Italians, Europeans, Americans, Africans and Asians. Today, Vespa is one of those rare products that are consistently part of the landscape in our daily lives.
This extraordinary moment arrives as Vespa is experiencing one of the brightest times of its history. Sold in 83 countries on every continent, it is now the most famous and most loved two-wheeled vehicle in the world. For some time now, Vespa has far surpassed its function as an easy and elegant means of commuting to become a global brand, a symbol of Italian technology and style, capable of bringing millions of enthusiasts together in its name.
A range in constant evolution and consistently on the cutting-edge of technology, a unique style, transcending fashion and trends and skilfully reinventing itself whilst remaining faithful to its original values are just some of the reasons for a success that is measured in over 1 million and 800 thousand vehicles manufactured in the last ten years.
Halfway through the first decade of the new millennia, annual Vespa production was around 50 thousand units and, since then, constant and spectacular growth took it an excess of 100 thousand in 2007 and 200 thousand from 2018.
On the dawn of its 75 years, Vespa is more of a global brand than ever, one of the best known “Made in Italy” products, a true citizen of the world that is manufactured out of three production sites: Pontedera, with production destined for Europe, the Americas and all the western markets; Vinh Phuc, in Vietnam, which serves the local market and the Far East, and India, in the ultra-modern Baramati plant, opened in April 2012, where Vespas for the Indian and Nepalese markets are produced.
For its 75th birthday, Vespa introduces a special Vespa 75th series, available for Vespa Primavera (in the 50, 125 and 150 cc engine sizes) and for Vespa GTS (in the 125 and 300 cc engine sizes), limitedly to 2021.
The body of Vespa 75th takes on the brand new metallic Giallo 75th colour which, designed expressly for this series, reinterprets colours in a modern key that were all the rage in the forties. The number 75 appears on the side panels and front mudguard in a more accentuated shade, creating an elegant tone-on-tone, as well on the front, where the traditional “necktie” is refined in a matte yellow pyrite colour.
A unique history
Vespa was born out of the desire to create an innovative product for individual mobility. First a “motor scooter” was built on the model of small motorcycles for parachutists and then a prototype that revolutionized the concept that had dominated the classic motorcycling layout until then. A vehicle was created with a stress-bearing body, direct-drive, with the gear shift on the handlebar. The classic front fork disappeared in favour of a single-sided swingarm that made tyre changes easier and, above all, the frame disappeared, replaced by a stress-bearing body capable of protecting the rider from dirt and rumpled clothing. The Vespa design patent filing date is 23 April 1946.
From its first appearance – in a country where everything needed to be rebuilt but, partly for this reason, full of ideas, creativity and hope – Vespa represented the joy of living and racing toward the future and this is why it soon became an icon of freedom and emancipation for guys and girls all over the world. This wealth of Vespa’s values was accompanied throughout the years by a style and technology always on the cutting-edge in the various decades of its life.
After the years of rebirth, Vespa continued to strengthen its legendary status, fortifying its identity through the decades of economic prosperity and the generational renewal of the sixties. As cars and mass motorization spread, Vespa offered salvation from traffic, with the versions in the smaller engine sizes catering to the legendary world of youth which, precisely in those years, was gaining its space in society. And when, in the ‘70s, the signs of a growing ecological awareness arrived, Vespa was the antidote to city pollution, able to zip through traffic and easily find parking.
In the various eras it has seen, Vespa has always represented the cutting-edge of technology. Characterized by an extremely advanced stress-bearing body concept, still built entirely out of steel to this day, it marked the evolution of individual mobility. Today, the latest Vespa vehicles, equipped with ecological engines and technical solutions to support modern riding, represent the style synthesis of an evolution that has made Vespa design immortal, ensuring it is an icon of Italian elegance the world over.
Brief Vespa Timeline (Full Timeline Below)
On 23 April 1946, Piaggio (founded in 1884) files the patent for “a motorcycle featuring a rational elemental and organic complex combined with frame and fenders and an engine hood covering all mechanical parts”. The Vespa is born. The motorised scooter with a 98 cc, 2T single-cylinder engine is built in the Pontedera plant, in Tuscany.
1948 – The Vespa 125 cc model is introduced.
1949 – The Unione Italiana Vespa Riders, incorporating 30 clubs, is formed and holds its first convention.
1950 – Vespa begins production in German under a licence agreement with Hoffman-Werke.
1951 – Vespa begins production in the United Kingdom under license to Douglas of Bristol and in France with ACMA of Paris.
1952 – The Vespa Club Europea is born in Milan to bring the clubs in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium together. Worldwide Vespa Club membership surpasses 50,000. There are more than 10,000 Vespa service stations around the world.
1953 – Vespa 125 is immortalised in the film Roman Holiday by William Wyler with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.
1955 – Vespa GS is the most elegant scooter ever built and marks a turning point for Vespa which, for the first time, exceeds the 100 km/h mark, adopts a 4-speed gearbox for the first time and mounts 10 inch wheel rims.
1964 – The Vespino is born – Vespa in the 50 cc engine capacity.
1965 – Vespa sales surpass 3.5 million.
1968 – The “Chi Vespa mangia le mele” campaign (Those who Vespa eat the apples) revolutionises the advertising world.
1968 – Vespa Primavera is one of the longest-lasting Vespa models and the vehicle of new generations all over Europe.
1976 – Vespa Primavera 125 – ET3 is the first scooter with electronic ignition.
1978 – Vespa PX is born in the three-cylinder “classic” 125, 150 and 200 cc versions. It would be the most sold model in Vespa history with more than 30 million units.
1980 – Four Vespa PX units participate in the Paris-Dakar, the most epic and gruelling race in the world. Incredibly, ridden by Marc Simonot, one of them would go on to finish the race.
1984 – Vespa PK 125 Automatica is the first Vespa with an automatic transmission.
1988 – Vespa sales surpass 10 million.
1992 – Giorgio Bettinelli, writer and journalist, leaves Rome on a Vespa and reaches Saigon in March 1993. He would go on to accomplish several other feats: in 1994-95, also on a Vespa, he covered the 36,000 km from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. In 1995-96 he travelled from Melbourne to Cape Town – over 52,000 km in 12 months. In 1997 he started out from Chile, reaching Tasmania after three years and eight months, having travelled 144,000 km on his Vespa and crossed 90 countries across the Americas, Siberia, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. All in all, Bettinelli has travelled 250,000 km on a Vespa.
1996 – The new Vespa generation is born with the ET4 125 cc model. For the first time, Vespa adopts a 4T engine and automatic transmission.
1996 – The number of Vespas sold surpasses 15 million.
1997 – Vespa ET2 (50 cc) is launched.
1998 – Restyling and front disc brake for Vespa PX, the most sold scooter model in the world (over two million units from the time it was launched).
2000 – Vespa returns to the American market.
2003 – The return of the Vespone, Vespa GT 125 and Vespa GT 200 are born.
2005 – Vespa LX marks the return to Vespa’s most classic lines.
2006 – Vespa celebrates 60 years with the spectacular Vespa 60° special series that brings back the colours and style of the early Vespas.
2008 – Vespa 300 GTS Super is the highest performance and sportiest model in history.
2011 – Vespa 946 is highly exclusive model dedicated to aesthetic and technological perfection, the name of which recalls the year that the scooter symbolic of Italian elegance was born – 1946.
2013 – The legendary Vespa Primavera returns, produced in the 50, 125 and 150 engine sizes, it renews the legendary Vespino.
2018 – Vespa Elettrica is born, a modern work of art with a technological heart, destined to change the mobility segment. Completely silent and easy to ride, and produced entirely in Pontedera, it represents the revolutionary and contemporary soul of a brand that has always been ahead of its time, consistently at the cutting edge, while remaining faithful to its values in terms of style and technology.
2021 – Vespa reaches 19 million units produced and celebrates 75 years with the Vespa 75th special series that dresses the GTS and Primavera families in new elegance.
FULL VESPA HISTORY
In 75 years of history (Piaggio registered its patent on 23 April 1946) and 19 million vehicles on the road in five continents, Vespa has given the entire world a new gear, spreading as it has across the world’s roads, uniting youngsters from very differing and distant cultures in a unique passion. The first truly global mobility brand, Vespa has become a common thread between generations, used by all different groups in society, creating various cultural phenomena particular to the different settings in which it has found itself, to the point of becoming a protagonist and a distinctive trait. It has steered habits, music and youth, and has accompanied countries and continents as they have grown, racing alongside them in times of economic boom.
Now, as it celebrates this wonderful milestone, Vespa is experiencing one of the happiest moments of its long life.
Since 2004, when 58,000 vehicles were produced, the growth of the Vespa brand has been constant and spectacular. More than 100,000 units were produced in 2006, arriving at 180,000 in 2017 and passing the benchmark of 200,000 units in 2018.
In the last decade, more than 1,800,000 new Vespa vehicles have been produced and taken out on roads all over the world.
Today, Vespa is a more global brand than ever before, a real citizen of the world, produced at three production sites: Pontedera, the plant where Vespas have been built uninterruptedly since 1946 with production destined for Europe and Western markets, the Americas included; Vinh Phuc, in Vietnam, which serves the local market and the Far East; and India, at the ultra modern Baramati factory, opened in April 2012 to manufacture Vespas for the Indian market.
Vespa, in the various eras it has seen, has always represented the cutting-edge of technology. Characterised by an extremely advanced bearing body concept, built entirely out of steel, Vespa marked the evolution of individual mobility. Today, the latest Vespa vehicles, equipped with engines and technical solutions to support modern riding, represent the style synthesis of an evolution that has made Vespa design immortal, ensuring it is an icon of Italian elegance the world over.
Vespa Primavera – Youthful, innovative, technologically ground-breaking, agile and dynamic, with an eye to the protection of the environment of which it is the star, the Vespa Primavera (in its 50, 125 and 150cc versions) is a protagonist of its time, inheriting all the freshness and joy of life that marks the history of a model that is a legendary element of the Vespa family tree.
Vespa Sprint continues the tradition of vitality and youthfulness. It was designed as the evolution of the recent Vespa Primavera project (from which it adopts its engines), aimed at kids of all ages and highlighting the sporty features conjured up by its name, legendary by birth. It was created with a small and lightweight but practical and protective body, all in steel and is characterised by its youthful line, marked by a bold rectangular rear light and large 12” tyres, with spectacular aluminium alloy wheels.
Vespa GTS, known as the “Vespone” (“big Vespa”) for its large chassis, is the fastest, sportiest and most enjoyable Vespa in the range, perfect for urban usage thanks to its handling and the performance of the liquid-cooled 125, 150 and 300cc 4-Stroke engines, but also for trips out of town, alone or with a passenger on board. The new GTS range, launched in 2019 and comprising Vespa GTS, GTS Super, GTS SuperSport and Touring, offers a new 300 HPE engine, the most powerful ever adopted by Vespa, sophisticated style details and a comprehensive series of modern equipment that includes the ABS braking system and ASR traction control, exclusive, cutting-edge Piaggio Group technology that contributes to making Vespa GTS safer and more enjoyable to ride in all conditions.
On the market since November 2018, Vespa Elettrica is a modern work of art with a technological heart, destined to change the mobility segment. It is not an electric scooter, it is Vespa Elettrica. Completely silent and easy to ride, and produced entirely in Pontedera, it represents the revolutionary and contemporary soul of a brand that has always been ahead of its time, consistently at the cutting edge, while remaining faithful to its values in terms of style and technology.
Vespa Elettrica is also, and above all, a connected vehicle: the numerous functions offered by Vespa MIA, the multimedia system that allows a smartphone to be connected to the vehicle, can be managed via an innovative human-machine interface that incorporates digital instruments and a colour TFT display. Vespa Elettrica is available in the version with top speed limited to 45 km/h and the 70 km/h version.
(VESPA 946) RED Collaboration began between the Piaggio Group and (RED), entirely dressed in red to participate in the programmes to fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria launched by (RED), an association founded in 2006 by Bono and Bobby Shriver and that has contributed hundreds of millions in US dollars to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa. The (VESPA 946) RED has been designed with elegance and style in order to show sensitivity to this serious problem. It represents an opportunity to join the battle against some of the most difficult challenges humankind must face.
(VESPA 946) RED is the latest Vespa 946, a highly exclusive model dedicated to aesthetic and technological perfection, the name of which recalls the year that Vespa – the ultimate symbol of Italian elegance – was born: 1946. Artisan yet futuristic at the same time, the Vespa 946 both harks back to our magnificent past and rewrites its aesthetics afresh in meticulous attention to detail and deep respect for the environment. The (VESPA 946) RED represents the new chapter in an incredible story of beauty, enthusiasm, diligence and awareness.
From 2020, Vespa Primavera was also enriched with a (RED) version.
VESPA: THE ORIGINS
Founded in Genoa in 1884 by twenty-year-old Rinaldo Piaggio, Piaggio initially undertook luxury ship fitting before going on to produce rail carriages, goods vans, luxury coaches and engines, trams and special truck bodies. The First World War brought a new diversification that was to distinguish Piaggio activities for many decades. The company started producing aeroplanes and seaplanes. At the same time, new plants were springing up. In 1917 Piaggio bought a new plant in Pisa, and four years later it took over a small plant in Pontedera which first became the centre of aeronautical production (propellers, engines and complete aircraft, including the state-of-the-art Piaggio P108 in passenger and bomber versions). In the years leading up to the Second World War, Piaggio was one of the largest Italian aeroplane manufacturers. Precisely for this reason, the Piaggio plants in Genoa, Finale Ligure and Pontedera, became war targets and were destroyed during the conflict.
The 1946 invention
Rinaldo Piaggio’s sons Enrico and Armando began the process of re-starting industrial production immediately after the war. The hardest task went to Enrico, who was responsible for the destroyed Pontedera plant. He arranged for part of the machinery transferred to Biella in Piedmont to be brought back. Enrico Piaggio opted for an industrial reconversion, focusing on personal mobility in a country emerging from war. He gave shape to his intuition, building a vehicle destined to become extremely famous, thanks to the extraordinary design work of the aeronautical engineer and inventor Corradino D’Ascanio (1891-1981).
The birth of a legend
The Vespa (which means “wasp” in Italian) was the result of Enrico Piaggio’s determination to create a low cost product for the masses. As the end of the war drew near, Enrico studied every solution possible to relaunch production in his plants, beginning with the one in Biella, where a “motor scooter” was created on the model of the small motorcycles for parachutists.
The prototype, known as MP5, was nicknamed “Paperino” (the Italian name for Donald Duck) due to its strange shape, but Enrico Piaggio did not like it, and he asked Corradino D’Ascanio to redesign it. The aeronautical designer was not a fan of motorcycles, which he considered to be uncomfortable and bulky vehicles with tyres that were too difficult to change in the event of a puncture and dirty, especially due to the drive chain. The engineer found the solution to every problem by drawing on his aeronautical experience. To eliminate the chain he imagined a vehicle with a stress-bearing body and direct mesh; to make it easier to ride, he put the gear lever on the handlebar; to make tyre changing easier he designed not a fork, but a supporting arm similar to an aircraft carriage. Last but not least, he designed a body that would protect the driver, to keep him from getting dirty or dishevelled. Decades before the spread of ergonomic studies, the riding position of the Vespa was designed to let the rider sit comfortably and safely, not balanced dangerously as on a high-wheel motorcycle.
Corradino D’Ascanio’s drawings had nothing to do with the Paperino: his design was absolutely original and revolutionary compared to all the other existing means of two-wheeled transport. With the help of Mario D’Este, his trusted designer, it would only take Corradino D’Ascanio a few days to fine tune his idea and prepare the first Vespa project, manufactured in Pontedera in April of 1946. Enrico Piaggio himself named the scooter. Standing in front of the MP6 prototype, with its wide central part where the rider sit and the “narrow” waist, he exclaimed: “It looks like a wasp!” And so the Vespa was born.
The Vespa patent
On 23 April 1946 Piaggio & C. S.p.A. filed a patent with the Central Patents Office for inventions, models and brand names at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in Florence, for “a motor cycle with a rational complex of organs and elements with body combined with the mudguards and bonnet covering all the mechanical parts”.
Enrico Piaggio did not hesitate to launch factory production of two thousand units of the first Vespa 98cc. The public début of the new vehicle was held at the prestigious Rome Golf Club with the American General Stone of the allied government attending. The event was filmed by the American newsreel Movieton: Italians saw the Vespa for the first time in the pages of Motor (March 24, 1946) and on the black and white cover of La Moto on April 15, 1946. They saw the actual vehicle at that year’s Milan show, where even Cardinal Schuster stopped to take a look, intrigued by the futuristic vehicle.
From scepticism to “miracle”
Two versions of the Vespa 98cc went on sale with two prices: 55,000 lira for the “normal” version and 61,000 lira for the “luxury” version with a few optionals including a speedometer, lateral stand and stylish white-trim tyres. Manufacturers and market experts were divided: on one side the people who saw the Vespa as the realisation of a brilliant idea, and on the other the sceptics, who were soon to change their minds.
In the last months of 1947 production began to explode and the following year the Vespa 125 appeared, a larger model that was soon firmly established as the successor to the first Vespa 98. The Vespa “miracle” had become reality, and output grew constantly; in 1946, Piaggio put 2,484 scooters on the market. These became 10,535 the following year, and by 1948 production had reached 19,822. When in 1950 the first German licensee also started production, output topped 60,000 vehicles, and just three years later 171,200 vehicles left the plants.
Foreign markets also watched the birth of the scooter with interest, and both the public and the press expressed curiosity and admiration. The Times called it “a completely Italian product, such as we have not seen since the Roman chariot”. Enrico Piaggio continued tenaciously to encourage the spread of the Vespa abroad, creating an extensive service network all over Europe and the rest of the world. He maintained constant attention and growing interest around his product, with a number of initiatives that included the foundation and spread of the Vespa Clubs.
The Vespa became the Piaggio product par excellence, while Enrico personally tested prototypes and new models. His business prospects transcended national frontiers and by 1953, thanks to his untiring determination, there were more than ten thousand Piaggio service points throughout the world, including America and Asia. By then the Vespa Clubs counted over 50,000 members, all opposed to the “newborn” Lambretta Innocenti. No less than twenty thousand Vespa enthusiasts turned up at the Italian “Vespa Day” in 1951. Riding a Vespa was synonymous with freedom, with agile exploitation of space and with easier social relationships. The new scooter had become the symbol of a lifestyle that left its mark on its age: in the cinema, in literature and in advertising, the Vespa appeared endlessly among the most significant symbols of a changing society.
In 1950, just four years after its début, the Vespa was manufactured in Germany by Hoffman-Werke of Lintorf; the following year licensees opened in Great Britain (Douglas of Bristol) and France (ACMA of Paris); production began in Spain in 1953 at Moto Vespa S.A. of Madrid, founded on 1952, now Piaggio España, followed immediately by Jette, outside Brussels. Plants sprang up in Bombay and Brazil; the Vespa reached the USA, and its enormous popularity drew the attention of the Reader’s Digest, which wrote a long article about it. But that magical period was only the beginning. Soon the Vespa was produced in 13 countries and marketed in 114, including Australia, South Africa (where it was known as the “Bromponie”, or moor pony), Iran and China. And it was copied: on June 9, 1957, Izvestia reported the start of production in Kirov, in the USSR, of the Viatka 150cc, an almost perfect clone of the Vespa. Piaggio had begun very early on to extend its range into the light transport sector. In 1948, soon after the birth of the Vespa, production of the three-wheeler Ape (the Italian for “bee”) van derived from the scooter began, and the vehicle was an immediate success for its many possible uses.
For Vespa, the most imaginative versions were created, manufactured in some cases by Piaggio itself, but especially by mechanic enthusiasts, the Vespa-Sidecar for example, or even the ’67 Vespa-Alpha that – created with Alpha-Wallis for agent Dick Smart, the star of a 007-style spy film – could not only race on the road, but also fly, sail and go underwater. The French army had a few Vespa models built specially to carry arms and bazookas, and others that could be parachuted together with the troops. Even the Italian army asked Piaggio for a parachutable scooter in 1963.
Vespa: produced in 19 million units
Vespa has been copied and imitated in thousands of ways: but the unique character of the vehicle ensured an extremely long period of success for Piaggio, so much that, in November ‘53, production reached 500,000 units and in June of ‘56, the one millionth Vespa was manufactured. In 1960 the Vespa passed the two million mark, before hitting 4 million in 1970, and then exceeding 10 million in 1988, making Vespa – which has now reached 19 million vehicles – a unique phenomenon in the motorised two-wheel sector.
The boom of the Vespa, and the different business prospects of the Piaggio brothers, with Enrico concentrating on light individual mobility in Tuscany and Armando on the aeronautical business in Liguria, led the company to split. On February 22, 1964, Enrico Piaggio acquired the share in Piaggio & C. S.p.A. held by his brother Armando, who then founded Rinaldo Piaggio Industrie Meccaniche Aeronautiche (I.A.M. Rinaldo Piaggio). The Vespa 50 had appeared the previous year, 1963, following the introduction of a law in Italy making a number plate obligatory on two-wheelers over 50cc.
The new scooter, exempt from registration plate regulations, was an immediate success. The “Vespino” (“little Vespa”) was a successful addition to the Piaggio range and this displacement is still in production. To date almost 3,500,000 Vespa 50s have been built in different models and versions. The Vespa ET4 50, launched in autumn of 2000, was the first four-stroke Vespa 50cc, and established a record distance range: of over 500 km with a full tank.
The Vespa PX story is an exceptional one. It is the single most successful model in all of Vespa history: introduced in 1977, more than three million units were sold.
In 1996, the fiftieth anniversary year of the most famous scooter in the world, the Vespa ET4 and ET2 range was created. The ET4 was the first Vespa in history powered by a 4-stroke engine. There was another twist to the unending story of the Vespa in 2003 with the launch of the Granturismo 200L and 125L: with these two models, Vespa reached unprecedented size and power levels. In 2005 two new and very significant products were added to the range: the Vespa LX (50, 125 and 150) replaced the Vespa ET (over 460,000 units sold since 1996) while, 50 years after the launch of the legendary Vespa GS Gran Sport, the Vespa GTS 250 i.e. took over as the fastest, most powerful and high-tech Vespa ever, thanks to an ultra modern and powerful 250cc, four-valve, liquid cooled engine with electronic injection.
Three exclusive models arrived to celebrate Vespa’s 60th anniversary in 2006, interpreting the original Vespa look in a modern, elegant way. These were the Vespa GTV, Vespa LXV and Vespa GT 60°. 2007 was the year of the Vespa S: elegantly inspired by the lines of 1970s models, the Vespa S was the new millennium heir to the legendary 50 Special and 125 Primavera. In May 2008 the Vespa GTS 300 Super arrived: the 145th model, GTS 300 Super, the highest performing Vespa with the largest engine ever manufactured.
Records, sports and long distance travel: around the world with the Vespa
The Vespa also has a racing career behind it. In Europe back in the Fifties, it took part, often successfully, in regular motorcycle races (speed and off-road), as well as unusual sporting ventures.
In 1952 the Frenchman Georges Monneret built an “amphibious Vespa” for the Paris-London race and successfully crossed the Channel on it. The previous year Piaggio itself had built a Vespa 125cc prototype for speed racing, and it set the world speed record for a flying kilometre at an average of 171.102 km/h.
The Vespa also scored a great success at the 1951 “International 6 Days” in Varese, winning 9 gold medals, the best of the Italian motorcycles. That same year saw the first of innumerable rallies with the Vespa: an expedition to the Congo, which was to be the first of a series of incredible journeys on a scooter that was intended primarily to solve the problems of urban and intercity traffic.
Giancarlo Tironi, an Italian university student, reached the Arctic Circle on a Vespa. The Argentine Carlos Velez crossed the Andes from Buenos Aires to Santiago del Chile. Year after year, the Vespa gained popularity among adventure holiday enthusiasts: Roberto Patrignani rode one from Milan to Tokyo; Soren Nielsen in Greenland; James P. Owen from the USA to Tierra del Fuego; Santiago Guillen and Antonio Veciana from Madrid to Athens (for the occasion their Vespa was decorated personally by Salvador Dalí and it is on exhibit to this day in the Piaggio Museum); Wally Bergen on a grand tour of the Antilles; the Italians Valenti and Rivadulla in a tour of Spain; Miss Warral from London to Australia and back; the Australian Geoff Dean took one on a round-the-world tour.
Pierre Dellière, a sergeant in the French Air Force, reached Saigon in 51 days from Paris, going through Afghanistan. Swiss rider Giuseppe Morandi rode 6,000 km, mostly across the African desert, on a Vespa he had bought in 1948. Ennio Carrega went from Genoa to Lapland and back in just 12 days. Two Danish journalists Elizabeth and Erik Thrane, a brother and sister, reached Bombay on a Vespa. And it is impossible to count the many European scooter riders who have reached the North Cape on their Vespas.
Few know that in 1980, two Vespa PX 200s ridden by M. Simonot and B. Tcherniawsky reached the finishing line of the second Paris-Dakar rally. The squad, which was French and organised by Jean-François Piot, was assisted by four-time winner of the Le Mans 24-hours, Henri Pescarolo.
The Vespa continued to travel: in July 1992 Giorgio Bettinelli, writer and journalist, left Rome on a Vespa and reached Saigon in March 1993. In 1994-95 he rode a Vespa 36,000 km from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. In 1995-96 he travelled from Melbourne to Cape Town – over 52,000 km in 12 months. In 1997 he started out from Chile, reaching Tasmania after three years and eight months, having travelled 144,000 km on his Vespa and crossed 90 countries across the Americas, Siberia, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. All in all, Bettinelli has travelled 250,000 km on a Vespa. .
The Vespa Dolce Vita
But the Vespa isn’t just a market phenomenon. It forms part of social history. In the dolce vita years, the Vespa became a synonym for scooter, foreign reporters described Italy as “the country of the Vespa” and the Vespa’s role in social history, not just in Italy but abroad, can be seen from its presence in hundreds of films. And it’s a story that continues to be told today.
Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953) were just the first in a long series of international actors who, over the years, have been filmed on the world’s most famous scooter, in films from Quadrophenia to American Graffiti, from The Talented Mr. Ripley to 102 Dalmatians, not to mention Caro Diario or the recent remake of Alfie with Jude Law, The Interpreter with Nicole Kidman and the blockbuster Transformers: The Last Knight in 2016. In photo shoots, films and on set, the Vespa has been a “travel companion” for the likes of Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, Geraldine Chaplin, Joan Collins, Jayne Mansfield, Virna Lisi, Milla Jovovich, Marcello Mastroianni, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, Anthony Perkins, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Nanni Moretti, Sting, Antonio Banderas, Matt Damon, Gérard Depardieu, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.
1946-2021 – 75 YEARS OF VESPA: THE MODELS THAT HAVE MADE HISTORY
It is difficult to pick out the most representative Vespa models in an evolution that has lasted over seventy years. Some Vespas are sought after by collectors because they belong to a special series, or because they were rapidly replaced by subsequent versions, and are highly priced in the period scooter market, which is extremely active all over the world. Others, which were produced in greater numbers or stayed on the market longer, are classic models that have left their mark in the history of two-wheeled mobility.
There is no lack of authentic technical records in the Vespa’s history, each of which renews the tradition of innovation that has marked the evolution of the world’s best selling scooter. To cite only a few examples: with the Vespa ET2 Injection in 1997, Piaggio launched the first direct injection two-stroke engine in history, a technical first it doubled in 2000 with the launch of the first European 50cc four-stroke engine on the Vespa ET4 50. In 2005, with the GTS, Vespa launched the first scooter in the world to have a 250cc engine with electronic injection.
Vespa 98, 1946 – The first Vespa. It was powered by a 98cc engine that delivered 3.2 HP at 4,500 rpm with a top speed of 60 km/h. It was in production for two years: in 1946 vehicles no. 1 to no. 2,464 were produced, in ‘47 those from no. 2,465 to 18,079.
Vespa 125, 1948 – The first 125cc Vespa. It differed from the 98 not only in terms of its engine capacity, but also for the introduction of rear suspension; the front suspension was also modified. Vespa 125, 1953 – It showcased a first, significant development regarding the engine, the bore, stroke and timing gear all modified. Power output increased to 5 bhp at 5,000 rpm, and top speed to 75 km/h. The design of the fairing at the rear was also new.
Vespa 125 “U”, 1953 – Characterised by its austere aesthetic, this was the “utility” version, sold for 20,000 lira less than the more modern 125. The headlamp appeared high up on the handlebar for the first time in Italy (it had already been introduced on a number of exported models).
Vespa 150 GS, 1955 – Defined by experts as “the most highly-appreciated, imitated and best remembered model”. There were numerous innovations: the 150cc engine, 4-speed gearbox, standard long saddle, handlebar-headlamp unit with “fairing”, and wheels with 10” tyres. This Vespa could reach 100 km/h. The design also changed, with a much more aerodynamic body. Vespa 160 GS, 1962 – Created to continue the commercial success of the first GS, it boasted a completely new design.
The exhaust silencer, carburettor and suspension were also new. The power output was 8.2 HP at 6500 rpm. Vespa 150 GL, 1963 – Another new design for what was defined “one of the most beautiful Vespas to be created by the Piaggio designers”. The handlebar, trapezoid headlamp, front mudguard and trimmed-down rear lids were all new.
Vespa 50, 1964 – The first Vespa 50cc, created to exploit the new Italian Highway Code which made a number plate obligatory on larger engines. Extremely versatile and reliable, the engine featured a new layout, with the cylinder inclined 45° instead of horizontal. It was also the last design to leave Corradino D’Ascanio’s drawing board.
Vespa 180 SS, 1965 – Representing a new standard in terms of engine capacity growth (181.14cc), it could reach 105 km/h thanks to its 10 HP. The 180 SS (Super Sport) replaced the glorious GS 150/160cc. Piaggio modified the front cowling, making it more aerodynamic and significantly improving comfort, handling and road holding.
Vespa 125, 1966 – Unofficially known as the “new 125”, it was radically innovative in its design, frame, engine (angled at 45°) and suspension.
Vespa Super Sprint 90, 1966 – A special series deriving from the Vespa 50/90cc and the “new 125”, it was characterised by a top box located between the seat and the steering column to encourage an extended riding position. The handlebar was narrow and low, and the mudguard and cowling were streamlined. With an engine capacity of only 90cc, it could reach 93 km/h.
Vespa 125 Primavera, 1968 – Together with the subsequent PX, this was the most enduring of the Vespa models. It derived from the “new” 125, but with considerable differences in the engine, which raised the top speed by 10 km/h. There was great attention to detail, finishes including the classic and very practical bag hook.
Vespa 180 Rally, 1968 – With this new vehicle, Piaggio extended the rotary admission system to its entire production range. The engine was new, the front headlamp new and more powerful, the frame, derived from the Vespa 150 Sprint, narrower and more aerodynamic than that of the Super Sport.
Vespa 50 Elestart, 1970 – The model featured an electronic ignition, an important new feature, but its design was also overhauled and enriched with respect to the 50 Special.
Vespa 200 Rally, 1972 – Piaggio reaches a new top in Vespa engine displacement. This model, con 12.35 HP at 5,700 rpm, touches 116 kph. Vespa 125 Primavera ET3, 1976 – The acronym stood for“3 port electronics”, and marked an important change to the engine, more powerful and peppy. Even the styling was changed from the standard Primavera (which remained in the range). Vespa P 125 X, 1978 – The “PX” represented another step forward in terms of aesthetics (the chassis was completely redesigned ) and performance. The top box was positioned behind the cowling. That same year, the P 200 E was also presented. With respect to the 125 version, this model could be equipped with separate lubrication and direction indicators incorporated in the body. Three years later, the PX 150 E was presented, a model offering intermediate performance between the two models.
Vespa PK 125, 1983 – This replaced the Vespa Primavera (standard and ET3). The styling was new, and the PK body was completely different from that of previous scooters, because the welds of the body no longer overlapped but were integral.
Vespa PK 50, 1983 – Essentially identical to the PK 125, it was presented in the two PK 50 and PK 50 S models, both with 4-speed gearbox and electronic ignition.
Vespa PK 125 Automatica, 1984 – Automatic gearing was introduced by Vespa, perhaps the most radical change since 1946 (at least from the user’s standpoint). The presence of the automatic transmission was emphasised by the absence of the foot brake, replaced by the lever on the left handlebar (which does not need to control the clutch, as it is automatic). It was also available with automatic oil-petrol mixer and electric ignition. The following year the Vespa PK 50 Automatic was launched. Vespa T 5 Pole Position, 1985 – The
PX series also finds a “super sport” model in the T 5. Featuring a new engine, aluminium cylinder and 5 intake ports, the design was also new, particularly at the rear and around the front headlamp which incorporated an aggressive dome with a small Plexiglass windscreen. A spoiler was added on the cowling. Vespa 50 N, 1989 – The changes made to the Italian Traffic Code allowed 50cc models to clear the power limit of 1.5 HP, and Piaggio introduced a new, higher-performance “vespino” (more than 2 HP at 5,000 rpm), characterised by a brand new look with “softer” lines.
Vespa ET4 125, 1996 – The first Vespa with a 4-stroke engine, this was the “new generation” model launched to mark the company’s fiftieth anniversary. In 1997 and 1998 it was Europe’s best-selling two-wheeler of all those with a number plate (motorcycles included) and was followed up with the 50cc ET2 version and, in 1999, by the classic 150cc ET4.
Vespa ET4 50, 2000 -. It was the first Vespa 50 equipped with a 4-stroke engine and, thanks to the characteristics of its power plant, it established a true and proper range record: of over 500 km with a full tank. Vespa PX, 2001 – The timeless PX featured a front brake disc, careful aesthetic changes, new colours and the return of the “historic” Vespa logo, the model achieving extraordinary production figures, with three million units built and sold over its 30-year career. Revamped again in 2011, today it is available in the 125 and 150 versions. Vespa PX is an “evergreen”, thanks in part to the 4 speed handlebar shift transmission and the possibility of installing a side spare tyre. Vespa
Granturismo 200L and 125L, 2003 – The Granturismo was the largest and most powerful Vespa produced up until that time. In its 200L and 125L versions, it marries Vespa’s emotional values with state-of-the-art technology: this was the first-ever Vespa to have sparkling four-stroke, four-valve, liquid-cooled engines that meet the new Euro 2 emissions standards, as well as 12-inch wheels and a two-disk brake system. The steel body is a uniquely Vespa touch.
Vespa LX, 2005 – It’s the return of the “Vespino” (“little Vespa”), the small body model which had been alongside the “Vespone” (“big Vespa”) for more than 50 years.
Vespa GTS 250 i.e., 2005 – Fifty years after the launch of the Vespa GS (Gran Sport), the first sport scooter in history and still a sought after treasure for collectors and fans, Vespa GTS 250 i.e. renews the GS blend of speed and style to become the fastest, most powerful and most high-tech Vespa. From November 2011, Vespa GTS grew to the 300 class with new and powerful four-valve, liquid cooled engine with electronic injection.
Vespa GTV and LXV, 2006 – Conceived to celebrate an absolute legend in the world of two wheelers, the Vespa LXV and Vespa GTV repeat and reinterpret the most distinctive elements of ‘50s and ‘60s styling in form and function.
Vespa GT 60°, 250cc, 2006 – This is the gift that Vespa was determined to give its fans to celebrate the company’s sixtieth anniversary. With its prestigious materials and exclusive finish, this unique limited edition is made in a series of only 999 units, and is destined to become one of the milestones in Vespa’s long history.
Vespa S 50 and 125, 2007 – All the character of the sporty “Vespino” of yesteryear is revived by the brand new Vespa S. This fascinating blend of styles and memories keeps the soul of the youngest and most sporting of all Vespas alive in the present day. The Vespa S inherits its rigorously minimalist looks from legendary models of the 1970s like the 50 Special and Vespa Primavera.
Vespa GTS 300 Super, 2008 – Vespa GTS 300 Super brought exclusive Vespa elegance to the “over 250” class. The classic, unique Vespa style is combined with a distinctly sporty and modern personality, giving the clean Vespa lines a decidedly rugged look. With its sporty design, the Vespa GTS 300 Super embodies the style, convenience, safety and sturdiness of the Vespa brand.
With new four-valve timing, this brand new and feisty little powerplant has nothing to envy of its two-stroke counterparts (at 4.35 HP, it is the most powerful 50cc four-stroke on the market), yet its consumption and emission figures remain those of a four-stroke.
Vespa S 50 and Vespa LX 50 4 Valve, 2009 – The new 50cc, four-stroke, four-valve engine led to the rediscovery of a legendary engine size, a cornerstone of Vespa history.
Vespa GTS ABS ASR. In 2014, the Vespa GTS was updated, adopting the latest and most technologically-advanced electronic systems to support riding, namely: two-channel ABS braking system and ASR traction control. With this step, Vespa confirms its cutting-edge technological leadership which has always marked its history and makes it one of the most modern, advanced and safe vehicles on the road today.
The Vespa legend was born at practically the same time as the vehicle, so much so that many were inspired, from 1946 onwards, to share their passion for the Vespa. Thus the first Vespa Clubs were born, in Italy to begin with and then abroad, leading eventually, in 2006, to the creation of the Vespa World Club to coincide with Vespa’s 60th anniversary.
The grouping of Vespa fans was closely linked to Vespa sales on international markets: by 1953 there were over 10,000 Piaggio service stations worldwide, including in Asia and America, and over 50,000 fans were members of Vespa Clubs worldwide.
But ever since the 40s, Enrico Piaggio – supported by sports journalist Renato Tassinari – had organised conventions and bike meets, creating an atmosphere around Vespa
that would grow with every kind of initiative, including the foundation and promotion of the Vespa Clubs, Vespa fan organisations that could not only promote the brand image but also document the effectiveness of the sales and support network.
At the Fiera Campionaria in Milan in 1948, Italian Vespa Clubs organised a rally called the “Silver Swarm” after the first Vespa model’s trademark silvery-green colour. This was the first large rally which would have an extraordinary echo. In 1951, 20,000 Vespa fans took part in the Italian Vespa Day. Throughout the 1950s, races of every kind were held, from regional and national rallies in Italy and abroad (the Swiss Tour, the 2,000 km Three Seas tour, the all-female Audax tour and the 1,000 km tour were among the best known rallies).
Riding a Vespa increasingly became synonymous with freedom, the use of space and easier social relations: in short, the Vespa became a social phenomenon that would mark an entire epoch and be pictured incessantly in films, literature and advertising campaigns for many products as well as in the behaviour of a changing society that was keen to leave the destruction of World War II behind.
The Vespa Club Europe was set up in Milan on 8 February 1953 on the initiative of Renato Tassinari, with unanimous support from delegates representing the Vespa Clubs of Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland, to co-ordinate and develop relations, events and links among Vespa fans in individual countries.
Two months after the creation of the Vespa Club Europe, Austria, Denmark, the U.K., Portugal, Spain and Sweden joined the founding members. Subsequently, the Vespa Club Mondial was set up and, together with the Vespa Club Europe, came to be named Fédération Internationale des Vespa Clubs (disbanded on 30 November 2005).
Finally, on 14 March 2006, the Vespa World Club was set up to co-ordinate and promote all the Vespa clubs in the world.
Piaggio promoted the setting up of this new association, whose objective is to draw on the finest experiences and initiatives created by Vespa fans in various countries, enhance the role of national associations and support all Vespa Clubs. As of now, there are 49 National Vespa Clubs with 82,000 members worldwide. It is impossible to calculate the number of Vespa enthusiasts, or the Internet web pages dedicated to the most popular and famous scooter in the world. Each year, the national Vespa Clubs and fans from all over the world come together for the Vespa World Days.