Vespa’s timeless design comes from an equally timeless company — Piaggio has been a distinguished innovator in the field of transportation for nearly 120 years.
Piaggio was founded in Genoa, Italy in 1884 by twenty-year-old Rinaldo Piaggio. Rinaldo’s business began with luxury ship fitting. But by the end of the century, Piaggio was also producing rail carriages, luxury coaches, truck bodies, engines, and trains.
With the onset of World War I, the company forged new ground with the production of airplanes and seaplanes. In 1917 Piaggio bought a new plant in Pisa, and four years later it took over a small plant in Pontedera in the Tuscany region of Italy. It was this plant in Pontedera which became its new center for aeronautical production (propellers, engines and complete aircraft).
During World War II, the Pontedera plant built the state-of-the-art P 108 four-engine aircraft, in both passenger and bomber versions. However, the plant was completely destroyed by Allied bombers due to its military importance.
Enrico Piaggio, son of founder Rinaldo Piaggio, surrounded by VespasPiaggio came out of the conflict with its Pontedera plant in complete ruin. Enrico Piaggio was at the helm, having taken over from his father Rinaldo. Concerned about the disastrous state of the roads and the Italian economy, Enrico decided to focus the Company’s attention on the personal mobility needs of the Italian people.
Enter Corradino D’Ascanio, Piaggio’s ingenious aeronautical engineer who designed, constructed and flew the first modern helicopter. D’Ascanio set out to design a simple, sturdy, and economical vehicle that was also comfortable and elegant.
D’Ascanio, who could not stand motorcycles, dreamed up a revolutionary new vehicle. Drawing from the latest aeronautical technology, he imagined a vehicle built on a “monocoque” (French for “single shell”) or unibody steel chassis. Furthermore, the front fork, like a plane’s landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing. The result was an aircraft-inspired design that to this day remains forward-thinking and unique among all other two-wheeled vehicles.
Upon seeing the vehicle, Enrico Piaggio remarked “Sembra una Vespa!” (“It looks like a wasp!”) This was a real two-wheeled utility vehicle. But it did not resemble an uncomfortable and noisy motorcycle. The steel frame’s shape protected the rider from road dirt and debris. It emanated class and elegance at first glance.
By the end of 1949, 35,000 units had been produced. Italy was getting over its war wounds and getting about on Vespas. In ten years, one million were produced. By the mid-fifties, Vespa was being produced in Germany, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Spain and, of course, Italy.
Vespa has lived on from one generation to the next, subtly modifying its image each time. The first Vespa offered mobility to everyone. Then, it became the two-wheeler of the post war economic boom. During the sixties and seventies, the vehicle became a symbol for the revolutionary ideas of the time. Advertising campaigns like “He Who Vespas, eats the apple”, and films such as Quadrophenia have symbolized eras in our history.
Vespa Historical Film (7,45 MB)And the story continues today with the new generation of Vespa models, represented by the Vespa ET2 and Vespa ET4. Vespa is not just a scooter. It is one of the great icons of Italian style and elegance, and with more than 16 million units produced, is well known throughout the world. For more than 50 years, Vespa has fascinated millions of people and given the world an irreplaceable icon of Italian style and a means of personal transport that has become synonymous with freedom.