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Early Vespa History
Beginnings of Piaggio
Vespa is the most famous two-wheeled vehicle of the twentieth century and coming from the ashes of postwar Europe to provide safe and reliable transportation for masses, it has become a true lifestyle and design statement. Piaggio, company responsible for this gem, was originally founded in 1884 by Rinaldo Piaggio and concentrated on heavy machines like railway cars and planes. Especially during both World Wars, Piaggio was one of the best manufacturers of planes in Italy. In the 1940s Piaggio was doing great and manufactured all sorts of transportation vehicles from trucks, railway cars and engines to planes and trolleys. However, the loss of World War II meant economic ruin for the country and completely destroyed main plant in Pontedera. You can watch this video portraying the beginnings of the legend.
First Vespa scooters
It wasn’t until 1946, when the son of Rinaldo, Enrico Piaggio, asked his engineer to develop a vehicle, which would provide easy transportation for impoverished masses and the first Vespa scooter was born. Vespa history started with great aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, who worked for Piaggio since the thirties. D’Ascanio was asked to develop an easy to operate vehicle for both men and women with the ability to carry a passenger and their belongings. One of the requirements was also protection from the mud on ruined roads to keep the passengers clean.
D’Ascanio, who is also responsible for the concept of a modern helicopter and who also coincidentally hated motorcycles, created a scooter with rear mounted engine, strong steel frame, rigid suspension, wide front protective panel and easy twist grip gear selector on the handlebar. As soon as Enrico saw the new prototype, he exclaimed: “It looks like a wasp!” and the scooter was named Vespa (Italian for a wasp) on the spot thus started a Vespa history that will always continue.
This 98cc model has been so successful that it sold 12 500 units within first two years and enriched the Italian language with the verb “vespare”, which means to go somewhere on a Vespa. The scooters has become a symbol of transformation from war to peace and Vespa became one of the most recognized brands in the world. Company has been on its way with over million scooters sold within the first decade.
Vintage models until 1978
Vespa scooters skyrocketed in popularity through the 1950s, particularly because of their success in Hollywood movies. Audrey Hepburn who rode a Vespa in 1952 film Roman Holiday helped the company to sell over 100,000 scooters. Other movie celebrities soon followed the suit: John Wayne, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin and Abbe Lane all became Vespa owners and contributed to the spread of a worldwide phenomenon that would continue throughout the Vespa history. Vespa fan clubs’ membership was growing significantly and the company supported this growth with important improvements to the original design. In 1948 Vespa 125 first came around and featured brand new rear suspension and the front wheel was placed to the left of the column for better riding stability.
1953 Vespa 125 U is one the most recognizable models of the whole Vespa history and a highly sought after scooter by collectors. The “U” in its name stands for utility and it was relatively cheap to compete with Lambretta. This model is also the first in Vespa history, which has the headlamp moved up to the handlebar. 1955 Vespa 150 GS (Gran Sport) was the beginning of large frame stronger scooters for the Vespa brand and later production of GS also saw the handlebar electrical wires hidden inside the body, as opposed to the earlier models sporting the maze of wires right on top of the handlebar. 1960 Vespa 150 Standard with model numbers starting with VBB quickly became one of the most famous large frame models in Vespa history. In the 1960s Vespa basically started producing two separate lines of scooters. Small frame cheaper scooters up to 125 cc displacement, all based on the three-speed Vespa 50 V5A of 1963. One of the main reasons for these smaller scooters was its price along with the fact that you didn’t need a drivers license. This line later evolved into the PK scooters in the 1980s. Stronger large frame versions started with 125cc engines all derived on the most innovative Vespa 125 N of 1960. This scooter was very different from all previous ones in Vespa history (alloy handlebars, hidden cables, carburetor connected to the cylinder, four-speed transmission, shock absorber mounting) and became a standard for large frame scooters transformed into the PX line in the late 1970s.
Our selection of vintage models
Well, how do we fit in? You can browse through our premium selection of large frame vintage models from the 1960s and 1970s and customize them to your liking. All scooters come with original frames and engines and are completely restored by our team of skillful technicians. We also provide you with an excellent customer support and a 6-month warranty on all parts.
1960 – 1967
1965 – 1979
1965 – 1974
1965 – 1974
Don’t forget about our custom scooters, where you tell us what your favorite piece of history is and we build one just like that specifically for you. To learn more about your new personalized scooter, please visit our custom vintage Vespa store.
Modern Vespa history – 1980s and onwards
As mentioned earlier the late 1970s and early 1980s meant innovative design and technical revolution in Vespa scooters. Large frame scooters evolved into the PX line, which started in 1978 with Vespa 125 PX. Completely redesigned scooter with spare tire and compartment hidden behind the cowling together with brand new performance indicators meant a true revolution in stronger scooters in Vespa history. Vespa also rolled out the new P 200 E sporting 200 cc engine later that year. Small frame scooters got a brand new category in the PK line, which started with 1983 Vespa PK 50, which meant the new beginnings for utility scootering, especially when its stronger brother, the 1984 Vespa PK 125 Automatic introduced automatic transmission. Vespa PK 50 followed the suit one year later and the automatic revolution in Vespa scooters was born. Another novelty for small frame scooters came in 1989 with Vespa 50 N featuring for the the first time in Vespa history a 50 cc engine capable of output over 2bhp.
Milestone for the company came with its 50th anniversary, when a bran new line of Vespa ET4 in 1996, which was the first Vespa scooter powered by a four-stroke engine. It also has a disc brake and fully automatic transmission. Several years later, the strongest in Vespa history, the 2003 Vespa GT 200 left the factory. The new GT combines the classic Vespa design with state of the art technology featuring four-stroke, four-valve and liquid cooled powerful 200 cc engine, while complying with all important environmental regulations. Through the limited edition for Vespa 60th anniversary in 2006 we are brought to the present, when just last year the new 2013 Vespa 946 has been introduced. It has since garnered much attention as one of the most futuristic scooters ever produced while maintaining the “vintage” appeal of earlier models. Vespa history continues and we are happy to be a small part of it.
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