For many older people, both middle-aged and retired, Vespa scooters may well bring back memories from Europe or the Far East. Of course the concept of the scooter comes from just after the Second World War, and the characteristics ever since emanate from their quintessentially Italian design, style, popularity and inexpensiveness compared to other forms of motor transport.
These attributes all remain to this day, although technology has assisted to make the scooter more reliable and cheaper to run than its early counterparts. They are now available all over the world and are just as likely to be seen in Thailand in great numbers as they are in Tennessee; Paris France or Paris Texas; Madrid or Melbourne.
Piaggio is the name that typified class and mechanical perfection for the first half of the 20th Century.
Twenty year old Rinaldo Piaggio started a business in the Italian port city of Genoa in 1884 fitting out luxury ships in an age when perfection was both requested and required. He was successful.
By the end of the 19th Century the Piaggio name was getting well known for both perfection and style, with orders flowing in to produce rail carriages, luxury coaches and engines, trains and truck bodies.
With World War I Piaggio struck out with his innovative ideas into the new concept of aeroplanes, being a forerunner in this new form of transportation by producing both aeroplanes and seaplanes. He opened a new factory in Pisa and soon after took over a plant in Tuscany which became superlative in the production of aircraft of many types.
World War II saw Piaggio making state-of-the-art aircraft for both passengers and bombing. Ironically, however the factory was bombed to pieces by the Allies towards the end of the War.
Enter Enrico Piaggio. Rinaldo’s son had been born and brought up with the business of transportation and innovation. He decided that to put the company back on its feet, and help with the transportation problems engendered by war, with bad roads and lack of affordable transport, a new vehicle could be made for the ordinary Italian.
Piaggio’s chief aircraft engineer was an innovator (having designed and flown the first helicopter); he put his mind to developing a small, stylish, sturdy and economical machine. With a personal dislike of motorbikes D’Ascanio used aeronautical ideas to produce this new machine.
Piaggio himself was delighted and on first sight said it looked like a ‘wasp’. So the Vespa scooter was born (‘vespa’ being ‘wasp’ in Italian). This new machine was not as noisy as a motorbike as its engine is enclosed. Its stylish aeroplane-like grace also kept the mud off the driver, whilst at the same time carrying him/her cheaply and comfortably.
They were an immediate hit with the general public. By 1949 some 35,000 had been produced and within ten years the 1 millionth had come off the production line. Production soon started all over Europe and has gone from strength to strength all over the world.
Modern technology has kept pace with the development of the Vespa scooter, but the 1940’s design was so good that the fundamentals remain very similar today. They may be a bit more efficient, they may go a bit faster, they may start more easily, and they may use less gas, but you cannot change Italian style, as millions of owners will acknowledge. These machines have class.
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