The Vespa is another invention stemming from post-war struggle, this time from Italy!
In the mid-1940s Italy agreed to cease war activities which dealt a severe blow to their aircraft industry. From the ashes of a bomber plane plant that was bombed during WWII, a Vespa manufacturing plant rose. Enrico Piaggio saw the need for accessible transport for the masses as his responsibility and conveniently his father was the owner of Piaggio, which gave him a platform.
Piaggio engineers Renzo Spolti and Vittorio Cassini designed a motorcycle that had an enclosed drive train and a tall splash guard at the front. The fuel cap was beneath the seat so there was no need to blemish the smooth exterior. The wheels were small and there was ample wind and foot protection. Known for their stand-out colours and unique appearance, the Vespa was at first utilitarian. Like many other working-class items, they grew in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s.
Piaggio didn’t like the first model (MP5) and contracted an aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio to design a new model. D’Ascanio hated motorcycles in their present form, therefore the aero influence is no surprise. The MP6 came out with a clean, functional design and a monocoque build. An interesting tweak was the wheel driven directly from the transmission meaning no drive chain and oily mess.
When Piaggio saw the MP6 for the first time he said: “It looks like a wasp!” – not knowing that he had named the Vespa (wasp in Italian) for life. In no time at all Vespa clubs were everywhere. In the 1960s Vespa reached the developing market in India, Brazil, and Indonesia and transformed the way people commute to this day.
Vespa is presently making a resurgence due to its low cost and versatility. In 1962 Salvador Dali customised a Vespa model (pictured).