VESPA LOVE: how a scooter becomes world famous

VESPA LOVE: how a scooter becomes world famous

Finally, no more walking. Finally, no more riding the tram. Freedom at last - thanks to VESPA. That was the advertisement for Italy's first motor scooter, which is now world famous. 75 years ago, aircraft manufacturer Enrico Piaggio registered the patent.

cars and motorbike on the street
All-purpose weapon in traffic - no matter how busy it is
Photo: Javon Swaby on

To date, more than 20 (!!!) million Vespas have been sold worldwide. The Italian scooter has starred in more than 150 films. The Hollywood breakthrough came in 1956 with the film "A Heart and a Crown". Here Audrey Hepburn clings tightly to Gregory Peck during a Rome joyride - on a Vespa, of course.

audrey hedburn and gregory peck
This scene made the Vespa famous:  Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck

But from the beginning: The Second World War and fascism are over. Freedom is back - but still you can't get around. Industry and transport are down.

vespa prototype
THIS is how it all began: a predecessor prototype of the Vespa Piaggio 98 cc, 1945

Aircraft manufacturer Piaggio sees the US Army's small cargo scooters flying over the airfield. He commissioned engineer Corradino D'Ascanio (designer of the first Italian helicopter) to develop a similar device for transporting people.

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D'Ascanio has no experience with two-wheelers. He builds the 3 hp two-stroke engine, which is normally used to start aircraft engines, directly onto a scooter rear wheel and places the handlebars on the front wheel. The front wheel is suspended only on a fork, just like on an aeroplane.

the first vespa
The Vespa fathers: engineer Corradino D'Ascanio (2nd from left) and aircraft builder Enrico Piaggio (2nd from right).

Piaggio's sheet metal factory still has intact sheet metal presses. The construction is covered with sheet metal. The design was inspired by the sweeping international aircraft construction. The curves were not in keeping with Italian taste at the time.

"It looks like a wasp," Piaggio is said to have exclaimed when he saw the finished scooter for the first time. Wasp is the Italian word for Vespa. The rest is history. On 23 April, a patent for Vespa was filed.

written by Adriano Pesca, first published on 29 November 2021

Cover photo: Piaggio Germany

Sources:; Deutschlandfunk - Hartmut Goege "75 years of Vespa patent"; Motorad Magazin: 75 Jahre Vespa

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