Vespa Scooter History

Vespa is an Italian scooter maker, a subsidiary of two-wheel conglomerate Piaggio. It’s currently headquartered in Pontedera. The Vespa name has morphed from a single model in 1946 to several models and a widely-recognised name worldwide. Vespa means ‘wasp’ in Italian.

Vespa machines have traditionally featured a pressed unibody that combines a complete engine cowling, a flat floorboard for protection of the rider’s feet, and a wide front fairing for wind protection. In fact these features, together with smaller tyres and non-straddling rider position, are what primarily separate scooters from motorcycles. This classic design was the brainchild of aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, who hated motorbikes and wanted to design a counter-vehicle. His then-employer, Ferdinando Innocenti of manufacturer Agusta, gave him the following design brief for the new vehicle: it must be rideable by both men and skirt-wearing women, not soil its rider’s clothes, and be able to carry a passenger.

D’Ascanio solved all these challenges brilliantly, plus a few other nice touches like the single front fork to reduce weight and complexity, and the elimination of a chain to drive the rear wheel- thus removing a major source of oil and dirt. D’Ascanio had a falling-out with Innocenti and took his designs to Enrico Piaggio, who turned them into the ubiquitous Vespa, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Vespa was granted a patent in April 1946. Sales took off- 2,500 in 1947, 10,000+ in 1948 and over 60,000 in 1950. In 1952 the leading lady of film, Audrey Hepburn appeared in the movie Roman Holiday as a passenger on a Vespa. Sales that year shot to an incredible 100,000+.

Vespa Scooter Models

Vespa clubs sprang up throughout Europe, and the little scooter, originally a utility tool, became a symbol of freedom and imagination. However, even the massive sales success could not overcome the problems caused by poor management and over-ambition, and the company came close to bankruptcy in 2003 before being put on a path to recovery by CEO Roberto Colaninno. Today its product range in New Zealand comprises the ET2 and ET4series, the GT, GTS and GTV’s the LX and LXV lines, and the PX and S series.

Looking at buying a Vespa scooter? Check the history of any Vespa by entering its number plate in the field above.