History of the Vespa Scooter
First launched over 50 years ago, the ever-so stylish Vespa remains at the cutting edge of modernity and fashion.
The trendiest two-wheeled vehicle in the history of mankind happens to be the Vespa. Born as a low-cost product for the masses, this utilitarian scooter became a style statement in itself, able to influence fashion in successive decades since its birth in 1946. Over fifty years have passed since then, when a two-wheeled vehicle, so completely new as to be revolutionary, was presented at the Golf Club in Rome by an Italian company with a 110-year history in the transport field, Piaggio. Called Vespa, its concept and name were the fruit of Enrico Piaggios intuition, while its structure took shape on the design table of Corradino D'Ascanio, aeroplane and helicopter engineer. Received at its birth with mixed reactions - from enthusiasm to diffidence - Vespa would very soon become a myth: a myth constructed on over 15 million scooters produced and sold throughout the world, which have served not only to motorise entire countries, but also to unite people of diverse languages and cultures.
Vespa is a word - rather, a concept - which is absolutely international, and which represents the dreams and the desire for freedom of entire generations. Vespa is not a scooter; it is 'the' scooter. The very name Vespa evokes memories of youth; transports the mind to thoughts of free time, beautiful weather, the pleasure of driving in the open air with the sun and wind on the skin - as shown by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, riding a Vespa around the Colosseum in the 1952 film Roman Holiday, or the sensual Anita Ekberg escaping the paparazzi in the famous shot from Fellini's masterplece, La Dolce Vita.
It isextraordinary that the Vespa, having been involved in so much fashion, never passed out of fashion. At first it was green and not wondrously beautiful, a symbol of transformation from war to peace. Then it became white and elegant, a product that imposed the stile italiano: from necessity to style, the recipe for the good life. Then it dressed itself in silver and was transformed into a myth of elegance, youth and adventure. The young man riding it was - and is - a modern Prince Charming, the fiancé that every girl would like to have; the exciting 'Latin Lover' who takes female tourists pillion on the beaches of Emilia Romagna. But communication initiatives were not restricted to the cinema: effective mass advertising campaigns were invented, like the one based on the slogan 'Vespizzatevi' (Vespa yourselves!) Piaggio also succeeded in creating a spontaneous customer organisation: Vespa Clubs, for example, with their own magazines and facilities. The Italian union of Vespa riders was born in 1949 and the same year, Miss Graziella Bontempo from Naples was elected the first Miss Vespa. The Vespa had been consecrated as a recognisable symbol of Italian-ness: joyful, popular, uninhibited.
Truly an Esperanto among objects, the Vespa, initially presented as solid (it is still made of metal), long-lasting and adventurous, appealed to pioneers during the '40s and '50s. In the 60's it reflected the Italy of change, of pleasure-seeking children, and was transformed into a toy with real performance, expressing novelty, modernity and anti-conformism. In the '70s and '80s it turned into an object of nostalgia; and in this decade, with technological innovations and the 1996 launch of the sleek new Vespa ET2 and ET4, it has become revolutionary, riding with all its appeal intact into the third miflennium. For very many people, the Vespa is the perfect combination of style, design and elegant functionafity. The Vespa is timeless: it transcends the capriciousness of fashion.
The author, Monica Marchi, is a Vespa Brand Manager, Piaggio Veicoli spa.