Among the icons that define the Italian peninsula, one which was developed shortly after World War II definitely stands high, the Vespa Scooter.
Its inception recently featured in a Netflix movie as the famous motorcycle celebrates its 75th birthday this year; that has prompted the AutoWorld center in Brussels to put up a spectacular exhibition over the Summer.
Featuring no less than 75 different vehicles, it displays models of different vintages, colours….
Italy is just coming out of World War II and is on its knees. People need to be able to get around easily and cheaply, and this vehicle must accomodate men and women just as easily; this is the spec sheet on which Enrico Piaggio worked.
If we are to believe the Netflix scenario, the reception received by the Vespa was not as warm as anticipated (hoped?) after its launch.
The decision taken by Piaggio to make Vespas available to Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn while shooting the movie Roman Holiday in 1953 put his two wheeler firmly on the map.
It is said that as a consequence of this advertisement, one hundred thousand motorcycles were sold shortly thereafter.
What struck me most during my various visits was the sheer variety of shapes etc. produced around the original concept.
First and foremost comes the Bee (Ape), a three wheeler based on the Vespa design, launched as early as 1951.
It is still quite popular on Italian roads, as it is an easy way to carry large payloads and two people in the cabin on short haul. It was also made under license in numerous other countries such as in India as a for example.
If the first version had a low sitting light (Faro Basso), it became compulsory to have a light on the handlebar to improve lighting. Faro Basso models as you can imagine are very sought after as a consequence, and there are a couple on display at AutoWorld.
Then came a flurry of different versions, single seaters, two seaters.…
Some models displayed deserve a special mention, such as this 1968 Cowboy, sort of Harley Davidson Wannabee.
Vespas became the jack of all trades for many delivery people in big cities as a for example.
The exhibition features some well worn copies demonstrating that a Vespa can be as everlasting as they come.
Another sample attracted my attention, one that says US Army. Not sure whether the US Army ever did use the Italian scooter but in preparation for this article, I stumbled upon a version dating from 1956 equipped with a cannon, made under licence for the French Army!
Wanting to promote the Vespa as a larger than life vehicle, a version was developed with a sidecar, à la German BMW for example. Not sure I’d want to sit on the Vespa or as a sidekick though.
Finally, also on display is another Italian wheeled icon, in Summer attire as another nod nod wink wink to Italian-style dolce vita, a special roofless, doorless Fiat Cinquecento in its rare “Spiaggina” ie beach version.
Today, the story goes on, with an electric motor version and a special 75th anniversary edition.
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