The History of Vespa
The Vespa has evolved from a single model motor scooter manufactured in 1946 by Piaggio & Co. S.p.A. of Pontedera, Italy—to a full line of scooters and one of seven companies today owned by Piaggio—now Europe’s largest manufacturer of two-wheeled vehicles and the world’s fourth largest motorcycle manufacturer by unit sales.
From their inception, Vespa scooters have been known for their painted, pressed steel unibody which combines a complete cowling for the engine (enclosing the engine mechanism and concealing dirt or grease), a flat floorboard (providing foot protection), and a prominent front fairing (providing wind protection) into a structural unit.
The Vespa was the first globally successful scooter.
D’Ascanio, who hated motorbikes, designed a revolutionary vehicle. It was built on a spar-frame with a handlebar gear change, and the engine mounted directly on to the rear wheel. The front protection “shield” kept the rider dry and clean in comparison to the open front end on motorcycles. The pass-through leg area design was geared towards all user groups, including women, as wearing dresses or skirts made riding a motorcycle a challenge. The front fork, like an aircraft’s landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing. The internal mesh transmission eliminated the standard motorcycle chain, a source of oil, dirt, and aesthetic misery. This basic design allowed a series of features to be deployed on the frame, which would later allow quick development of new models.
However, D’Ascanio had a falling-out with Innocenti, who rather than a molded and beaten spar-frame wanted to produce his Innocenti frame from rolled tubing, thereby allowing him to revive both parts of his pre-War company. D’Ascanio disassociated himself with Innocenti, and took his design to Enrico Piaggio to produce the spar-framed Vespa from 1946. Innocenti, after overcoming design difficulties and later production difficulties through his choice of a tubular frame, went on to produce the more costly Lambretta line of motorscooters.
When Vespa celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996, more than 15 million of the scooters had been sold worldwide, making it the most successful scooter of all time. Other companies vied with Piaggio for market share, but none came close to emulating the success—or romance—of Vespa.