Vespa Celebrates 70 Years of History

Original Vespa poster from 1946. (Photo: Piaggio)
Original Vespa poster from 1946. (Photo: Piaggio)

On April 23, 1946, the first official Vespa patent was filed by parent company Piaggio, and now 70 years later Vespa celebrates 18 million units sold and a place in the hearts of scooter lovers worldwide.

Rinaldo Piaggio founded the company that bears his name in Genoa, in 1884. After producing airplanes and aeronautical parts during World Wars I and II, Rinaldo’s sons Enrico and Armando took up the task of restarting production with a new focus as the country emerged from war: personal mobility. Unhappy with the initial prototype, Enrico hired aeronautical designer Corradino D’Ascanio to redesign it from the wheels up. D’Ascanio was not a fan of motorcycles, finding them uncomfortable, bulky, dirty and hard to work on. So he designed vehicle with a stress-bearing body and direct drive transmission. To make it easier to ride, he put the gear lever on the handlebar, to make tire 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 from road grime, tire spray and puddles. Decades before ergonomic studies became the norm, the rider-friendly seating position of the Vespa was designed to let the rider sit comfortably and safely, not perched atop a traditional motorcycle.

In April of 1946, D’Ascanio unveiled his MP6 prototype scooter to Enrico Piaggio. Remarking on the shape of the  MP6’s wide central part (where the rider would sit) and the narrow “waist,” he remarked, “It looks like a wasp!” And the name Vespa was born (Vespa means “wasp” in Italian).

The design has been imitated and copied many times over the intervening seven decades, but to many a scooter aficionado, there is only one true Vespa.

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