April 2021 Piaggio’s iconic scooter Vespa completes 75 years of existence. Much before Vespa officially started being
manufactured at the Baramati factory in the district of Pune in
the western Indian state of Maharashtra beginning April 2012, the Vespa had
completed two separate stints in the country.
had first licensed the production of Vespa scooters in India to Bajaj Auto in
the 1960s. In 1971, as a result of change in government policies, Piaggio's
license was not renewed. After the collaboration ended, Bajaj continued to
produce scooters based on the Vespa design. This new scooter that went by the
name of Chetak sold hundreds of thousands of units before the company decided to cease
production of scooters completely in 2009, a decision taken by Rajiv Bajaj,
much to the chagrin of his father Rahul Bajaj.
also had another partner in India and that was LML Motors. The two companies
entered into a joint-venture in 1983 to produce the P-Series scooters for the
Indian market. In 1999, LML purchased Piaggio's stake in the joint venture company
and with that the partnership ceased. Though LML continued to produce the
P-Series variant for global markets, it ceased operations in India in 2018
after going bankrupt.
VESPA: THE ORIGINS
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 saw the company producing aeroplanes and seaplanes. 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).
the years leading up to the Second World War, Piaggio was one of the largest
Italian aero plane 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
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. 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
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.
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
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
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
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. 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 options including a speedometer, lateral stand and stylish
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
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.
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 in
India 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.
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.
Vespa: produced in 19 million units
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
from being a successful commuter scooter for million, Vespa scooters were also
active in the world of short and long distance travelling and even in racing.
Exciting records include those of Giancarlo Tironi, an Italian university
student, who 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.
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,
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. .
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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