Vespa has not only left its mark on an entire era, but it has even become the symbol of a Europe struggling to rise from the ashes of the Second World War. Piaggio emerged from the conflict with its Pontedera plant completely demolished by bombing. Italy’s crippled economy and the disastrous state of the roads did not assist in the re-development of the automobile markets.
Enrico Piaggio, the son of Piaggio’s founder Rinaldo Piaggio, decided to leave the aeronautical field in order to address Italy’s urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation. The idea was to design a vehicle for the masses that could get post war Italy moving again.
An aeronautical engineer named Corradino D’Ascanio, responsible for the design and construction of the first modern helicopter, was given the job of designing a simple, robust and affordable vehicle. The vehicle had to be easy to drive for both men and women, be able to carry a passenger, and not get its driver’s clothes dirty.
D’Ascanio, who could not stand motorbikes, dreamed up a revolutionary vehicle. Dipping into his knowledge of aeronautics, he designed a vehicle built on a frame with a handlebar gear, with the engine mounted on the rear wheel. The front fork, like an aircraft’s landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing.
From Enrico Piaggio’s vision sprung the Vespa (which means “Wasp” in Italian) in the spring of 1946.
In April of 1946, the first 15 Vespas left the Pontedera plant. The first Vespa had a 98cc two-stroke engine giving 3.5 hp at 4,500 revs. It reached 60 kilometres per hour and had 3 gears.
This was a real two-wheeled utility vehicle that did not resemble an uncomfortable and noisy motorbike, but instead it emanated class and elegance at first sight.