A Short History of Vespa Scooters
The Vespa scooter is one of the most iconic and recognizable scooter designs throughout the world. Read on for a short history of this fascinating brand.
Vespa is an Italian scooter brand manufactured by Piaggio since 1946. Piaggio had been producing bomber planes during the Second World War and had to find new manufacturing opportunities at the end of hostilities. Italy, at the end of the Second World War, had been left devastated, its crippled economy, and bomb-cratered roads an obstacle in developing an affordable car industry. The answer lay in scooters: lightweight, easily maneuverable, and affordable. They could be mass-produced to provide a modern mode of transportation to war-weary Italians. Piaggio publicly launched the Vespa at the 1946 Milan Fair. Despite an initially slow start, sales of the Vespa soon picked up; however, popularity really took off in the 1950s, following a fortuitous sales promo courtesy of Hollywood.
La dolce vita
The 1953 romantic comedy film Roman Holiday features Audrey Hepburn, in her Hollywood debut, driving love interest Gregory Peck around Rome on a Vespa. Other celebrities soon caught on, with everyone from John Wayne to Gina Lollobrigida being photographed on the fashionable scooter. This resulted in over 100,000 Vespa sales, and the licensed manufacture of the scooter around the world to cope with the increased demand.
Meanwhile, in the Vespa’s home country, Italy went through a period of huge post-war economic growth, known as the ‘economic miracle’. For Italian teenagers in the 1950s, the Vespa symbolized a homegrown, stylish, and affordable means of independence. The Vespa soon came to embody modern Italian style and elegance, typified in the 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which follows celebrity journalist Marcello as he reports on the decadent lives of Rome’s fashionable elite, accompanied by his Vespa-riding photographer friend, Paparazzo.
Later in the 1960s, in ‘Swinging London,’ the Vespa was adopted by the mods. Short for ‘modernist,’ the mods were a British youth subculture who were drawn to the minimalist design and affordability of the Vespa. Many took to customizing them with mirrors and fog lights, essential add-ons for the unpredictable British climate.
The Vespa today
The popularity of scooters declined slightly in the 1970s, due to the increased affordability of small cars. However, there is still very much a place for the Vespa scooter in today’s world. With cities worldwide becoming choked with pollution from the amount of traffic on the roads, many city dwellers are looking for alternative methods of transportation. Although public transport is one option, often such systems are expensive and unreliable—and let’s face it, after the coronavirus pandemic, who wants to be confined to a crowded and often dirty public transport system? Scooters offer the perfect solution, being affordable, easy to ride, and easy to maneuver through the streets. With green issues in mind, the Vespa is one step ahead, having released its first electronic model, the Vespa Elettrica, in 2019. Thanks to its stylish design, and ability to combine heritage with innovation, the Vespa scooter is sure to be with us for a long time yet.