Piaggio Vespa scooter history

60 years ago, the Piaggio Vespa scooter transformed personal transportation and Italian lifestyle, and it’s still abuzz. 


The coloured Piaggio Vespa has become one of the most stereotyped Italian cliches, yet I’ve never really thought about its origins, until I leafed through my newly acquired and highly cherished copy of Guido Piovene’s Viaggio in Italia  and read up on some scooter history.

According to Piovene, the Piaggio corporation was originally based in Genova, where it produced cars, helicopters and aeroplanes for military uses, but during the German occupation of Italy, the engineers started discussing how they could adapt the production to more peaceful times. A son of the founder, Enrico Piaggio, thought the future belonged to inexpensive motorcycles that were easy to navigate in spite of the disastrous state of Italian roads.

Piaggio vespa

Enrico Piaggio consulted aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, who hated motorcycles because he found them bulky and dirty. Yet he designed a prototype that had the engine mounted beside the rear wheel. The wheel was driven directly from the transmission, eliminating the drive chain and the oil and dirt associated with it. The new scooter was launched in April 1946 and set in production at a new Piaggio factory in Pontedera outside Pisa in Tuscany. Piovene attaches special importance to the location, as the Tuscan workers with their adaptability and high quality craftsmanship gave the new product its finishing touches.

So the Vespa wasp transformed personal transportation and Italian lifestyle in the mid-twentieth century by putting wartime knowhow to peaceful uses in a geographically extended partnership and cooperation. Gives me a better understanding of what the scooter buzz is about.

View Larger Map

11 replies
  1. Shell
    Shell says:

    Hey, thanks for sharing your post and images with the world.

    I know my hubby will love to read this. He used to have a Vespa himself many years ago.

    I’ve “pressed” your post and added some photos of the first scooter we bought my stepson when he came over to Cyprus for a summer vacation.


    • admin
      admin says:

      I really like the cool photos of Thomas on his scooter. He looks so ready to go. Just wish he wears a helmet, when he’s driving around.

  2. Turkey's For Life
    Turkey's For Life says:

    Everyone here rides scooters but there will never be anything that looks quite so cool as an Italian Vespa. They’re such an icon aren’t they?

  3. Shell
    Shell says:


    Thomas is now living in Australia and has joined the Navy there so he is riding on much larger forms of transport thesed days!

    When he was riding around the local village, he didn’t where the helmet – it’s a fact of life here. But if he travelled out onto the main road and to the beach, then he had to wear it, otherwise we wouldn’t let him go.

    Sadly, even travelling on the highway we often see bikers with no helmets. (When I say highway, it’s actually a dual carriageway of 2 lanes each side that runs pretty much the length of the island from Ayia Napa in the East to Paphos in the West).

    All the local boys on scooters very rarely wear a helmet.

    • admin
      admin says:

      It was the same in Italy, and driving around we used to see a lot of heart breaking accidents, which is why I don’t like it. Still, it seems as if it is becoming more acceptable to wear a helment even among young people in the hot south, so hopefully road safety has improved;)


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] 60 years ago, the Vespa scooter transformed personal transportation and Italian lifestyle, and it's still abuzz.  […]

  2. […] Italian Notes | Vespa scooters and Tuscan craftmanship. […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.