Piaggio and Vespa History

 OldPiaggioLogoPiaggio was founded in Genoa in 1884 by twenty-year-old Rinaldo Piaggio.The first activity of Rinaldo’s factory was luxury ship fitting. But by the end of the century, Piaggio was also producing rail carriages, goods vans, luxury coaches and engines, trams and special truck bodies.World War I 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) and then, after World War II, witnessed the birth of the iconic Vespa.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF 1946The war, a radical watershed for the entire Italian economy, was equally important for Piaggio. The Pontedera plant built the state-of-the-art four-engine P 108 equipped with a 1,500-bhp Piaggio engine in passenger and bomber versions. However Piaggio’s aeronautical plants in Tuscany (Pontedera and Pisa) were important military targets and on August 31, 1943 they were razed to the ground by Allied bombers, after the retreating Germans had already mined the pillars of the buildings and irrevocably damaged the plants. To rebuild the Pontedera plants, Enrico Piaggio asked the Allies, who then occupied part of the grounds and of the buildings still standing, to arrange for the machinery transferred to Germany and Biella in northern Italy to be brought back. This was done rapidly and Armando and Enrico Piaggio then began the process of rebuilding. The hardest task went to Enrico, who was responsible for the destroyed plants of Pontedera and Pisa. Enrico Piaggio’s decision to enter the light mobility business was based on economic assessments and sociological considerations. It took shape thanks to the successful co-operation of the aeronautical engineer and inventor Corradino D’Ascanio (1891-1981).

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 war drew to a close, Enrico studied every possible solution to get production in his plants going again. A motor scooter was produced, based on a small motorcycle made for parachutists. The prototype, known as the MP5, was nicknamed “Paperino” (the Italian name for Donald Duck) because of its strange shape, but Enrico Piaggio did not like it, and he asked Corradino D’Ascanio to redesign it. But the aeronautical designer did not like motorcycles. He found them uncomfortable and bulky, with wheels that were difficult to change after a puncture. Worse still, the drive chain made them dirty. However, his aeronautical experience found the answer to every problem. 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. Finally, he designed a body that would protect the driver so that he would not get dirty or dishevelled. Decades before the spread of ergonomic studies, the riding position of the Vespa was designed to let you sit comfortably and safely, not balanced dangerously as on a high-wheel motorcycle.Corradino D’Ascanio only needed a few days to refine his idea and prepare the first drawings of the Vespa, first produced in Pontedera in April 1946. It got its name from Enrico Piaggio himself who, looking at the MP 6 prototype with its wide central part where the rider sat and the narrow “waist”, exclaimed, “It looks like a wasp!” And so the Vespa was born.

On April 23, 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”. In a short space of time the Vespa was presented to the public, provoking contrasting reactions. However, Enrico Piaggio did not hesitate to start mass production of two thousand units of the first Vespa 98 cc. The new vehicle made its society debut at Rome’s elegant Golf Club, in the presence of U.S. General Stone who represented the Allied military government. 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.FROM SKEPTICISM TO “MIRACLE”
Manufacturers and market experts were divided: on one side the people who saw the Vespa as the realization of a brilliant idea, and on the other the skeptics, who were soon to change their minds. In the last months of 1947 production exploded 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” Innocenti Lambretta. No less than twenty thousand Vespa enthusiasts turned up at the Italian “Vespa Day” in 1951Time. 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 from its debut, 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 of Madrid, 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 150 cc, 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 van (the Italian for “bee”) derived from the scooter began, and the vehicle was an immediate success for its many possible uses. Numerous imaginative versions of the Vespa appeared, some from Piaggio itself, but mainly from enthusiasts – for example, the Vespa Sidecar, or the Vespa-Alpha of 1967, developed with Alpha-Wallis for Dick Smart, a screen secret agent, which could race on the road, fly, and even be used on or 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.


While the Lambretta was starting to enjoy some success, the Vespa was being copied and imitated in a thousand ways: but the uniqueness of the vehicle ensured Piaggio a very long period of success, so much so that in November 1953, the 500,000th unit left the line, followed by the one millionth in June 1956. In 1960 the Vespa passed the two million mark; in 1970 it reached four million, and over ten million in 1988, making it a unique phenomenon in the motorised two-wheeler sector it has sold over 16 million units to date.From 1946 to 1965, the year Enrico Piaggio died, 3,350,000 Vespas were manufactured in Italy alone: one for every fifty inhabitants.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 numberplate obligatory on two-wheelers over 50 cc. The new scooter was exempt from this law and was an immediate success. In Italy sales of vehicles with numberplates decreased by 28 per cent in 1965 compared to the previous year. On the other hand, the Vespa, with its new “50” series, was a great success. The light 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 latest being the ET4 50 launched in autumn 2000. It is the first four stroke Vespa 50cc, and has a record range of over 500 km with a full tank.The Vespa PX (125, 150 and 200cc) is the biggest sales success in the entire history of the Vespa. It is the “original vintage” – launched in 1977, it has sold over two million units, and as such is a favourite among those with a sense of nostalgia but also with the younger market.

The Vespa also has a racing career behind it. In Europe back in the Fifties, it took part, often successfully, in regular motor cycle 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; 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 Delliere, Sergeant in the French Air Force, reached Saigon in 51 days from Paris, going through Afghanistan. The Swiss Giuseppe Morandi travelled 6,000 km, much of it in the desert, on a Vespa he had bought in 1948. Ennio Carrega went from Genoa to Lapland and back in 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. Four-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Henri Pescarolo helped the French team put together by Jean-François Piot.The Vespa continues to travel: in 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 150,000 km on his Vespa across the Americas, Siberia, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. All in all, Bettinelli has travelled 254,000 km on a Vespa.Vespa-Cinema-and-the-USA

Stylish and unmistakably Vespa, exceptionally comfortable to ride with low-environmental-impact engines and disk brakes, the new-generation ET models are now also sold in numerous “Vespa Boutiques” in the US (over 60 from California to Florida and from Hawaii to New York, with the latest two boutiques in SoHo and Queens). Having returned to the US in 2000 after exiting the market in 1985 because of new emissions legislation that targeted two stroke engines, the Vespa was an immediate success all over again, and has achieved a market share of 20 per cent of the small (40,000 units a year) but growing scooter sector. 6,000 Vespas were sold in the first year, 2001, and over 7,000 in 2002.

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 ” were only the first of a long series of international actors and actresses to be seen on the world’s most famous scooter in a filmography that goes from “Quadrophenia” to “American Graffiti”, from “The Talented Mr. Ripley” to “102 Dalmatians”, not to mention “Dear Diary “.In photo shoots, films and on the set, the Vespa has been a “travel companion” for names like 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, Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson.

The Vespa communication exhibition: beyond the imaginary. Tommaso Fanfani
In a broadcast to the nation on Radio Milano on July 2 1945, Ferruccio Parri, Prime Minister of freed Italy, described the disastrous condition of a country afflicted by hunger, inflation and unemployment. The pitted roads, collapsed bridges and rubble-filled cities and countryside were signs of widespread destruction. Many other countries in Europe and elsewhere were in much the same state. In this context the intellect of those who bore the social responsibility of putting the country and the world back on their feet had to reckon with extraordinary situations and find the capability to innovate, rebuild and return to everyday life. This included the concept of mobility as a way for people to re-establish the daily pattern of exchange, work and social life.In a small Tuscan town called Pontedera an entrepreneur who had until then produced aeroplanes and trains intuited that normalcy need not necessarily mean restarting the construction of radial aircraft engines or railway wagons, but that it could very well mean building less complex means of transport for mass distribution. In fact his aircraft and train wagon production required raw materials that were impossible to find and equally unavailable incoming capital, while such material and capital as he had would be sufficient to build a small vehicle. Enrico Piaggio, the Ligurian businessman in charge of the family’s plants in Pisa and Pontedera, was surrounded by engineers and technicians of high calibre and creativity as well as workers he could employ. These men and women, technicians and workers, could do anything an entrepreneur required as long as he could guarantee employment and future prospects. The problem and the solution to a decidedly complex situation came from Piaggio’s own engineers and technicians. During the long periods of inactivity they had been forced into in the last few months of the war, when orders had stopped coming in and the factory (transferred in the interim to Biella) had closed down, they had kept themselves busy designing a variety of objects, from saucepans to metallic traves, as well as recovering raw or partially worked material to hoard against better times. One of these varied objects was a small vehicle put together with material they had salvaged, their idea being to create something that could be used to get easily about on. From their drawings and experimentation emerged a little faired motorcycle, similar to the vehicle made by the engineer Belmondo from Turin. Presented somewhat hesitatingly to Enrico Piaggio, it would become the main idea to work on from autumn 1945 to April 1946. Those were feverishly busy months. Corradino D’Ascanio demanded unceasing commitment of his technical designers, who worked in rough conditions without the appropriate tools or material. The result was a small scooter (MP6), shown to Enrico Piaggio in his Pontedera workshops. The shape of the vehicle and the noise of its engine led Enrico to exclaim that it resembled a wasp (“vespa” in Italian), and the scooter received its definitive baptism.The extraordinariness of the Vespa’s origins lay partly in Enrico’s intuition of it being the right moment to produce a small, easy to ride vehicle that would consume little and put people back on wheels, and partly in the vehicle’s own creativity, i.e. the concentrate of genius that D’Ascanio and his collaborators applied to it. The aeronautical engineer used some aircraft-building principles such as the sidearm on the front wheel instead of a fork, or the load-bearing body, and the use of lightweight materials for the body, but mainly worked on extremely simple concepts that were subsequently revealed to be elements of genius.

When D’Ascanio designed the Vespa he started by tracing the outline of a person sitting comfortably as in his own drawing room, then drew the vehicle under him. This apparently simple idea revolutionised motorcycle design logic. D’Ascanio’s front shield was intended to protect the rider from splashes when travelling the pothole-filled post-war roads. He avoided using a transmission chain, placed a small spare wheel on the vehicle so that a punctured tyre would be nothing more than a minor inconvenience, and placed all the controls on the handlebar, making riding easier not only for men but, as he himself remarked, “for women and priests” as well. The Vespa philosophy was hence a mix of common sense, practicality and cost-effectiveness, with a series of intelligent features that together represented extraordinary productive creativity. The chief designer’s happy intuition was backed by the entrepreneurial vision of Enrico Piaggio, who courageously placed the vehicle on the market notwithstanding the difficulty of selling the first few vehicles produced in April 1946. He gave orders to produce another 2,500 Vespas although he had had an extremely hard time selling 50! He set up a sales company and a Piaggio dealer and service network in increasingly extended parts of Italy and overseas, introduced a concept of purchase in instalments that had until then been unknown in Europe and looked for and found partners in England, Germany, France and Spain.

All in all, he created the conditions to suit the production of a vehicle that would conquer the world. And so it was. The secret was neither the Vespa’s appealing design nor its ease of use or cost-effectiveness, but a combination of these factors and others that were not immediately perceived by the people who had thought up, produced and sold it. Parri had spoken of the Italian crisis and the difficulty of transport. Enrico Piaggio faced that problem and contributed to solving it, as did other manufacturers in different segments with varying degrees of success, such as Innocenti with the Lambretta, Guzzi with the Galletto, Fiat with its Topolino and so on. The transport problem was hence overcome and in the years to come the Vespa would become a symbol of economic, social and civil recovery of the whole country.

The Vespa immediately became an object sought out by those of all ages and financial situations. The lucky owners of a Vespa often met in large rallies, sharing a pure passion that led to extraordinary events, races and shows such as sea-crossing, obstacle races and extreme exploits such as crossing the Andes, or travelling the English Channel between Dover and Calais, or seemingly impossible trips such as to the North Pole on a Vespa. Not only did the transport boom accompany Italy’s economic miracle and the stability of a country that caught up in a few decades with an economic delay of centuries vis-à-vis more advanced nations, but the Vespa became a key element in influencing the habits, mentality and lifestyle of generations of young and older people. The scooter that fed people’s dreams played a starring role in some of the best-known films, and its ability to portray social issues kept it astonishingly modern from “Roman Holiday” through to Italian director Nanni Moretti’s “Dear Diary”. The actors’ fa-ces changed, as did the image of actresses dressed in the fashion of passing decades. Youngsters gambolled in cities and villages, men and women went to work and creative enthusiasts transformed their Vespas out of all imagination, demanding of the little scooter performances that constantly challenged mechanics and technology.


Through all this the scooter made in Pontedera remained a lead player. Design changed and so did technology; electronics made their appearance, but Vespa time seemed to have stopped. The values the Vespa inspires include an infinite gradation along which the creative capability of communicators and the genius and intelligence of creative minds develop and strengthen. The Vespa can describe the world of transport as efficiently as those of nature, colour and fantasy. In creative hands the Vespa can recount all of society’s emergencies and be the joint that fixes the complex dynamism of youth with the degrees of its adaptation to the problems of adolescence, its exceptional flexibility to meet the diverse demands of work and free time for men and women of every generation and every part of the world. Nature, colours, women, work, traffic, parking – these are just some key elements in deciphering the extraordinary wealth of images and communication that the Vespa has inspired and that can only be used by diligent readers of the ideas expressed by the texts. These contents surpass the technological innovation of the mechanical means of transport created in 1946 and transformed by successive generations of engineers and technicians. A look back over Vespa’s sixty years through most significant advertising campaigns therefore becomes a series of pages not only entrusted to history but also capable of recounting change in a succession that goes beyond the imaginary world of a scooter destined to write the future.

Birth and History of an object of desire–Omar Calabrese
What a lovely name the Vespa has! No one really knows how it came to be named. It is said that during the experimental stage the prototype of what would become the most famous scooter in the world was called Paperino, Italian for Donald Duck. But company lore would have it that when Enrico Piaggio saw the definitive model which Corradino D’Ascanio showed him after having modified it to the entrepreneur’s specifications, he exclaimed: “It looks like a wasp!” And wasp – Vespa – it became. Never was a product’s name more appropriate. The wasp is in fact a likeable enough insect – individualistic, independent and Nature-loving, even if it can be dangerous and has no real use, not being capable of producing honey. It moves quickly, without stopping, more or less everywhere, interpreting the etymology of the word “scooter”, which comes from the verb scoot, meaning “to move swiftly; to go suddenly and speedily”. This nomenclature was, among other things, extremely lucky. It was a common noun which became a proper noun, the name of a vehicle, but then returned to being a common noun – in fact one says “the Vespa”, but also “a Vespa”, sometimes used generically to describe vehicles not produced by Piaggio. I believe that in product history a similar process took place with aspirin. Like any lucky name, the Vespa has given birth to a “family”.

Another three Piaggio vehicles are called respectively Ape (bee), Moscone (bluebottle) and Grillo (cricket) – all insect names, to follow up on the idea of a small engine with a buzz that flies anywhere and everywhere. But these vehicles also had a decreasing order of success. The Ape, the worker vehicle, did well, though its name had to be changed in English-speaking countries where it was re-baptised Vespacar or, in South Africa, Bromponie. The Moscone, “the seaside Vespa”, was moderately successful, while history largely ignores the Grillo. But then the destiny of a masterpiece is to remain unique notwithstanding copies. The strength of the name transferred itself to all the communication of our scooter. The 1950s slogan “Vespizzatevi!” (Vespa yourselves!), a linguistic innovation (somewhat like “Vote socialist” or “Walk Pirelli”) in that it creates a verb from a proper noun, is still part of the common memory. But the famous “Chi Vespa mangia le mele” (roughly “those who Vespa eat the apple”) of the late 1960s is also an example of transformation of the Italian language. In this case the change creates a surprising ambiguity between a hypothetical “to vespa” and the ellipsis of the verb “have” (“those who (have) Vespa…. “). In the Seventies the Vespa goes as far as renaming its rivals the “sardomobili” or “commuter sardines”, a bold coinage that put sardines and cars together to indicate (in one word in the original Italian) the terrible degeneration of urban traffic. The Vespa undeniably forms part of Italian history. It was born in 1946 and immediately proved itself the best possible strategy for reconstruction. Enrico Piaggio owned a company that had been destroyed by the war and that was totally unequipped for peacetime. During the war it had produced helicopters, aircraft, industrial vehicles for military use and even arms. Earlier it had produced trains, rail wagons and ships. Its prospects in a country with a non-existent economy were slim. The Vespa was hence a real find. It was a vehicle for town travel or even for small trips. It was the cheap individual solution to a mobility problem that couldn’t be solved through the usual mass transport. It was a miniature of the motorised possession represented elsewhere by the commercial vehicle.

All in all, it was what we might call “Italy’s Ford.” Hence it quickly became a myth: a worker’s myth, but also one of purchase, of families, of young couples, a myth of freedom within a hardworking and optimistic society. The myth carried on expanding in succeeding periods such as that of the economic boom or the generational change of the 1960s. In fact everything seemed to already be written into the product’s specifications. The boom saw the multiplication of models in tens of versions, from the most basic to the plushest. Automobile sales, on the increase in those years thanks to the Seicento and Cinquecento (Fiat’s Six Hundred and Five Hundred respectively) promoted the idea of the scooter as a saving grace in traffic. The production of the smallest displacement, the Vespa 50, followed a law that permitted it to be ridden without a licence plate or driving licence. It became the steed of the young. The earliest pollution warnings and ideological anti-pollution campaigns that followed led to the Vespa being seen as an antidote. And thus its history was made – “Vespa yourselves!”, “With a Vespa you can”, “Vespa riders eat the apple”, “Unlike commuter sardines Vespa riders are young” and so on, in a succession of messages that, re-read today, do not seem banal advertising campaigns but almost forerunners of a common “political” sentiment, or at the very least examples of attention towards social issues that is unusual in the history of Italian industry.

The Vespa lives on in the imagination of many generations of Italians (and Europeans and Americans and Africans and Asians), and not just because it is an iconic object. The Vespa is also one of the elements that forms a stable part of the landscape of our everyday lives. There aren’t many of these – Coca Cola, Swatch, Polaroid, the Walkman, tennis shoes and maybe cars like the Dyane, the Beetle and the Cinquecento are a few of the names that leap to mind. Hence the Vespa became an involuntary character of (i.e. didn’t bribe its way into) the arts and letters. We find it in the scenario of tens of films (the total number of Vespa-starrers is 83!), some of which are very well known, e.g. “Roman Holiday”, “La dolce vita” and “Dear Diary”, to name only the top three. It is a character in books by writers such as Folco Quilici, Gino and Michele or Vitaliano Brancati. It was snapped by Renato Guttuso and decorated by Salvador Dalì. It was photographed alongside the Pope, the Shah of Iran and the vice-presidents of India and Brazil. Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Ursula Andress and Audrey Hepburn rode it. Jacovitti made it the object of his comic strips. And even pop music, mainly outside Italy, used it. It even has a song all to itself – a tango, of course, titled La Vespa y la Guapa (the wasp and the beauty).

Most importantly, however, the Vespas has been immortalised in millions of family photos, an object that accompanies personal memories and trips, as is witnessed by the thousands of Vespa Clubs created all over the world starting from the 1940s, with their rallies, periodicals and correspondence networks. They still exist, in a modern version – navigation on the Internet can reveal websites created by groups of Americans still in the thrall of the Italian scooter. The “aesthetic” aspect of the Vespa’s presence in the Western world has always been reflected in the communication that accompanies its production.

In various periods the Vespa campaigns have been able to anticipate mass trends. Longanesi’s graphics, for instance, are linear, thin and witty in a time that didn’t use poetic trends in advertising. Savignac’s strong, scintillating designs preceded pop art. The legendary “Vespa riders eat the apple” campaign’s graphics introduced mature pop art in Italy and pre-announced the mutation of pop art into the hippie and new dada styles. Dear old Vespa, always so modern. The Vespa is probably an immortal objet that unites generations and social classes, sexes, tastes and trends. A rapid overview of the themes that have featured in the communication of the Vespa shows us the overall evolution of Italian society (and perhaps all of Western society).First, the emancipation of the less fortunate classes during the reconstruction. Alongside this, the emergence of the young as individual entities with their own dignity, desires and destinies. Then women, transformed into independent individuals and no longer accompanying the rider. The environment is another topic that was emphasized in Vespa communication at a time in which it was not a real issue and had not yet been taken into consideration by politicians and progressive movements. But the Vespa could do all this because it is one of those objects capable of defining a country, Italy, that has few other “distinguishing marks” on its modern-day passport – pizza, pasta, coffee, O Sole mio, Venice, the Siena Palio, panettone (spiced brioche with sultanas eaten at Christmas), fashion and Borsalino hats. But while all these give an idea of the tradition and culture of the past, the Vespa also offers invention and modernity, with the dash of sentiment, originality and moderated revolution that this rather progressive vehicle knows how to add. The Vespa’s traits are lovely, but it is essentially made for those who aren’t well off. It amuses without forgetting its primary utilitarian function. It is free and nonconformist, without letting itself go as far as the roars and violence of speed. The engineer Corradino D’Ascanio of the Marches, a democratic man who invented the Vespa by borrowing bits and pieces of motorcycles and aeroplanes, would be glad that its 50-plus years of life haven’t taken away any of the lightness and depth of his little big “scooter”

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