Here’s a look at the story behind the Vespa - the most iconic scooter ever

Every thing retro is now making a comeback. It’s so apt then for the legendary scooter, Vespa, to rewrite its own story in India. The company launched a brand new line-up of scooters here two years ago and the iconic scooter has been making its presence felt on Indian roads again. So, while most of us are trying to save up to buy a Vespa, let’s have a look at the story behind the iconic brand first.

History

Vespa belongs to the Italian company Piaggio, which initially dealt with fighter plane plants before and during World War II. After the plant got bombed towards the end of the war, Enrico Piaggio, the son of the founder Piaggio, commissioned the first scooter and named it Vespa (‘Wasp’ in Latin and Italian) due to its bug-like looks.

Initially targeted at the masses, this utilitarian scooter would go on to become a cultural and style icon after its birth in 1946. More than 15 million Vespas have been produced and sold throughout the world since.

Designed by Corradino D'Ascanio, an aeroplane and helicopter engineer, the Vespa’s image was popularised and boosted by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn riding around Rome in a Vespa in the famous 1952 movie Roman Holiday. Not that it required much effort, but to make the scooter appeal to the youth, Vespa launched a video ad campaign titled “Chi Vespa Mangia Le Mele”. Loosely meaning he who rides a Vespa takes a bite of the apple alluded to the forbidden fruit and the pleasure associated with it. The ad however closed with a more cautious slogan, “Ride carefully and courteously”.

Not many people know that Vespa riders had formed their own union in 1949 and even had a Miss Vespa pageant.

Resurgence

Unlike some of its other European cousins, such as the Lambretta scooter or the German Bella, the Vespa is enjoying a reincarnated return with a modern line of models. This in turn has boosted awareness for the vintage models again, as well as popularity and demand. The most noticeable feature of the scooter has historically been the fact that the scooter body, with all its curves and sculpting of pressed steel, is also the frame of the vehicle as well. First used with the initial Vespa models, the same approach continues to be used today with the current Vespa models.

Apart from demand for the newer models, this has also given rise to a restoration industry, with thousands of restored Vespas being exported from Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia to the rest of the world.

(This article was published on April 10, 2014)
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