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Vespa: The origins

Founded in Genoa in 1884 by twenty-year-old Rinaldo Piaggio, Piaggio began life as a producer of ship fittings before expanding into the construction of rail carriages and goods vans, engines, trams and special truck bodies.

With World War I, Piaggio diversified into aeronautics, a business in which it would operate for a number of decades. It began producing aeroplanes and seaplanes, and acquiring new factories: in 1917 an aircraft factory in Pisa, four years later a small plant in Pontedera which became the heart of Piaggio’s aeronautical production (propellers, engines and complete aircraft, including the state-of-the-art Piaggio P108, in passenger and bomber versions). Before and during World War II, Piaggio was one of Italy’s top aircraft manufacturers. For this reason, its plants were important military targets and the Piaggio factories in Genoa, Finale Ligure and Pontedera suffered severe war damage.

The 1946 invention

Immediately after the war, Rinaldo Piaggio’s sons Enrico and Armando began the process of re-starting industrial production. The hardest task went to Enrico, who was responsible for the reconstruction of the large Pontedera plant, with the return of some of the machinery that had been transferred to Biella in Piedmont. Enrico Piaggio opted for a full industrial conversion, focusing on personal mobility in a country emerging from war. In realising his ambition, he created a vehicle destined to become universally famous, thanks to the extraordinary design work of the aeronautical engineer and inventor Corradino D’Ascanio (1891-1981).

The birth of a legend

The Vespa (which means “wasp” in Italian) was the result of Enrico Piaggio’s determination to create a low-cost product for mass consumption. As the war drew to a close, Enrico studied every possible solution to resume production in his plants — starting from Biella, where a “motor scooter” based on the small motorcycles made for parachutists was developed. The prototype, known as the MP 5, was nicknamed “Paperino” (the Italian name for Donald Duck) because of its strange shape, but Enrico Piaggio did not like it and asked Corradino D’Ascanio to come up with a new design.

The aeronautical engineer was not fond of motorcycles. He found them uncomfortable and bulky, with wheels that were difficult to change after a puncture. Worse still, the drive chain meant they were dirty. Through his aeronautical experience, however, he found the answer to every problem. To eliminate the chain, he imagined a monocoque vehicle with direct mesh; to make it easier to ride, he put the gear lever on the handlebar; to simplify tyre changing, rather than a fork he designed a supporting arm similar to an aircraft carriage. Finally, he developed a body that would keep the driver from getting dirty or dishevelled. Decades before the advent of ergonomics, the riding position of the Vespa was designed to let the rider sit comfortably and safely, not perched dangerously on a high-wheel motorcycle.

Corradino D’Ascanio’s project had nothing to do with the Paperino: his design was absolutely original and revolutionary compared to all the other existing means of two-wheel transport. With the help of Mario D’Este, his trusted draftsman, it took Corradino D’Ascanio only a few days to fine-tune his idea and prepare the first Vespa project, manufactured in Pontedera in April 1946. The idea for the name came from Enrico Piaggio. Standing in front of the MP 6 prototype, with its wide central section where the rider sat and narrow “waist”, he exclaimed: “Sembra una vespa!” (It looks like a wasp). And so the Vespa was born.

The first Vespa patent

On 23 April 1946 Piaggio & C. S.p.A. filed a patent with the Central Patents Office for inventions, models and brand names at the Ministry of Industry & Commerce in Florence, for “a motor cycle with a rational complex of organs and elements with body combined with the mudguards and bonnet covering all the mechanical parts”. Shortly thereafter, the Vespa made its first public appearance, to a mixed response. Nevertheless, Enrico Piaggio did not hesitate to start mass production of two thousand units of the first Vespa 98cc. The new vehicle made its society debut at Rome’s elegant Golf Club, in the presence of the U.S. General Stone representing the Allied military government. The event was filmed by the American newsreel Movieton: Italians saw the Vespa for the first time in the pages of Motor (24 March 1946) and on the black and white cover of La Moto on 15 April 1946. They saw the actual vehicle at that year’s Milan Show, where even Cardinal Schuster stopped to take a look, intrigued by the futuristic vehicle.

From scepticism to “miracle”

Two versions of the Vespa 98cc went on sale, with two prices: 55,000 lira for the “normal” version and 61,000 lira for the “luxury” version with a few optional features including a speedometer, side stand and stylish white-trim tyres. Manufacturers and market experts were divided: on one hand were people who saw the Vespa as the realisation of a brilliant idea, on the other the sceptics, who were soon to change their minds.

The initial problems led Enrico Piaggio to offer the distribution rights for the Vespa to count Parodi, the Moto Guzzi motorcycle manufacturer, in the hope of introducing the scooter into the retail network of the better-known brand. Parodi refused outright, believing the Vespa would flop, and the scooter was therefore sold initially through the Lancia network.

In the last months of 1947 production began to take off, and the following year Piaggio launched the Vespa 125, a larger model that was soon firmly established as the successor to the first Vespa 98.

The Vespa “miracle” had become reality, and output grew constantly; in 1946, Piaggio put 2,484 scooters on the market. These became 10,535 the following year, and by 1948 production had reached 19,822. In 1950, when the first German licensee also started production, output topped 60,000 vehicles, and just three years later 171,200 vehicles left the plants.

The birth of the scooter was also followed with interest by the international markets, and both the public and the press expressed curiosity and admiration. The Times called the Vespa “a completely Italian product, such as we have not seen since the Roman chariot”. The tenacious Enrico Piaggio continued to promote the Vespa abroad, creating an extensive service network across Europe and around the world. He stimulated growing interest in his product with initiatives including the foundation and spread of the Vespa Clubs.

The Vespa became the Piaggio product par excellence, while Enrico personally tested prototypes and new models. His business prospects transcended national frontiers and by 1953, thanks to his untiring efforts, there were more than ten thousand Piaggio service points throughout the world, including America and Asia. Meanwhile, the world’s Vespa Clubs counted over 50,000 members, all opposed to the “newborn” Innocenti Lambretta. No fewer than twenty thousand Vespa enthusiasts turned up at the Italian Vespa Day in 1951. Riding a Vespa was synonymous with freedom, easy exploitation of space and even facilitated social relationships. The new scooter had become the symbol of a lifestyle that left its mark on the age: in the cinema, in literature and in advertising, the Vespa made countless appearances as one of the most significant symbols of a changing society.

In 1950, just four years after its debut, the Vespa was manufactured in Germany by Hoffman-Werke of Lintorf; the following year licensees opened in Great Britain (Douglas of Bristol) and France (ACMA of Paris); production began in Spain in 1953 at Moto Vespa S.A. of Madrid, founded in 1952, now Piaggio España, followed immediately by Jette, outside Brussels. Plants opened in Bombay and Brazil; the Vespa also reached the USA, and its enormous popularity drew the attention of the Reader’s Digest, which wrote a long article about it. But that magical period was only the beginning. Soon the Vespa was produced in 13 countries and marketed in 114, including Australia, South Africa (where it was known as the “Bromponie”, or moor pony), Iran and China. It was copied, too: on 9 June 1957, Izvestia reported the production start-up in Kirov, in the USSR, of the Viatka 150 cc, an almost perfect clone of the Vespa. Piaggio had begun very early on to extend its range into the light transport sector. In 1948, soon after the launch of the Vespa, production began of the Ape (the Italian for “bee”), a three-wheeler van derived from the scooter, whose great versatility made it an immediate success.

Many imaginative versions of the Vespa appeared, some from Piaggio itself, but mainly from enthusiasts: for example, the Vespa Sidecar, or the Vespa-Alpha of 1967, developed with Alpha-Wallis for Dick Smart, a screen secret agent, which could race on the road, fly, and even be used on or under water. The French army had several Vespa models built specially to carry weapons and bazookas, and others that could be parachuted together with the troops. Even the Italian army asked Piaggio for a parachutable scooter in 1963.

Vespa: more than 17 million scooters produced

While the Lambretta was starting to make some progress, copies and imitations of the Vespa appeared in their hundreds; but the unique Piaggio scooter was set for a very long period of success, so much so that in November 1953 the 500,000th Vespa left the production lines, followed by the millionth scooter in June 1956. In 1960 the Vespa passed the two million mark; in 1970 it reached four million, and beat ten million in 1988, making the Vespa — which has sold over 17 million units to date — a unique phenomenon in the motorised two-wheeler sector. From 1946 to 1965, the year Enrico Piaggio died, 3,350,000 Vespas were manufactured in Italy alone: one for every fifty-two inhabitants.

The Vespa boom, and the diverse business visions of the Piaggio brothers, with Enrico concentrating on light individual mobility in Tuscany and Armando active in the aeronautical business in Liguria, led the company to split. Enrico Piaggio acquired Armando’s share in Piaggio & C. S.p.A. on 22 February 1964, and for his part Armando founded “Rinaldo Piaggio Industrie Meccaniche Aeronautiche” (I.A.M. Rinaldo Piaggio). The Vespa 50 had appeared the previous year, 1963, following the introduction of a law in Italy making a numberplate obligatory on two-wheelers over 50 cc.

Being exempt from this requirement, the new scooter was an immediate success. In Italy sales of vehicles with numberplates decreased by 28% cent in 1965 compared to the previous year. On the other hand, the Vespa, with its new “50” series, continued to prosper. The “light” Vespa was a successful addition to the Piaggio range and is still in production. To date more than 3,500,000 Vespa 50s have been built in different models and versions. The Vespa ET4 50, launched in autumn 2000 (and replaced in 2005 by the new Vespa LX) was the first 4-stroke Vespa 50cc, and established a record distance range of over 500 km with a full tank.

The Vespa PX, the single most successful model in the entire history of the Vespa, is a truly unique episode in the "two wheeler" world: created in 1977 and still in production in the 125 and 150 cc versions, for the joy of its faithful supporters, it has shipped more than three million units.

In 1996, the fiftieth anniversary of the most famous scooter in the world, the Vespa ET4 and ET2 range was created. The ET4 was the first Vespa in history powered by a 4-stroke engine.

There was another twist in the never-ending story of the Vespa in 2003 with the launch of the Granturismo 200L and 125L: with these two models, Vespa reached unprecedented size and power levels. In 2005 two new and very significant products were added to the range: the Vespa LX (50, 125 and 150), replacing the Vespa ET (over 460,000 units sold since 1996), and the Vespa GTS 250 i.e., which, 50 years after the launch of the legendary Vespa GS Gran Sport, marked a new chapter in the glorious sporting record of the Vespa. With an advanced, extremely powerful 250cc, four-valve, liquid-cooled, electronic-injection engine, the Vespa GTS deploys a superb dual-disc braking system with optional ABS and brake servo.

In 2006 three exclusive models were presented to celebrate Vespa’s 60th anniversary, interpreting the original Vespa look in a modern, elegant key. These were the Vespa GTV, Vespa LXV and Vespa GT 60°. 2007 saw the arrival of the Vespa S, an elegant model inspired by the lines and models of the Seventies, presented as the heir to the legendary 50 Special and 125 Primavera for the new millennium. In May 2008 the Vespa GTS 300 Super made its debut: the 145th model, the GTS 300 Super is still the highest performing Vespa with the largest engine ever manufactured.

In the spring of 2012, a major engine innovation was introduced for the LX/S small series. A new-generation monocylinder 125/150 cc, 3-valve, electronic-injection unit that sets new standards with a range of 55 km on a litre of fuel and a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions. This cutting-edge engine, designed, developed and produced entirely at Pontedera, will shortly be mounted on the forthcoming Vespa 946.

Presented at the 2011 EICMA motor show in Milan, the Vespa 946 is a window on the future style and technology and pays tribute to its forebear, the MP6 prototype that generated the world’s most famous scooter, an unequalled example of Italian style and creativity. By distilling the essence of the features that established the aesthetic paradigm for individual mobility and enhancing the lines that made it famous, the Pontedera Style Centre has projected the Vespa into a future where citations and projections, tradition and innovation merge together seamlessly.

Vespa a citizen of the world: a global success

In the last few years, the Vespa has won extraordinary commercial success. Since 2004, when 58,000 scooters left the Pontedera factory, production has risen to 99,000 in 2006, 122,000 in 2009 and 152,000 in 2011. With the arrival of the LX/S and GTS/GTV families, the Vespa has virtually tripled production in just seven years, during which an astonishing 881,000 new Vespa scooters have appeared on the world’s roads.

Today more than ever, the Vespa is a global brand, a true citizen of the world, produced at three industrial sites: Pontedera where it has been in production continuously since 1946, for European and Western markets, including North and South America; Vinh Phuc, in Vietnam, to serve the local market and Far East; India, at the spanking new Baramati plant which opened in April 2012 and builds Vespa scooters for the Indian market.

Records, sport and rallies: around the world with the Vespa

The Vespa also has an impressive racing career. Throughout Europe back in the Fifties, it took part, often successfully, in regular motorcycle races (speed and off-road), as well as in more unusual sporting ventures.

In 1952 Frenchman Georges Monneret built an “amphibious Vespa” for the Paris-London race and successfully crossed the Channel on it. The previous year Piaggio itself had built a Vespa 125cc prototype for speed racing, and set the world speed record for a flying kilometre at an average of 171.102 km/h.

The Vespa also scored a great success at the 1951 “International 6 Days” in Varese, winning 9 gold medals, the best of the Italian two-wheelers. That same year saw the first of innumerable rallies with the Vespa: an expedition to the Congo, an incredible journey on a scooter designed primarily to solve the problems of urban traffic.

Giancarlo Tironi, an Italian university student, rode to the Arctic Circle on a Vespa. Argentina’s Carlos Velez crossed the Andes from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. Year after year, the Vespa gained popularity among adventure holiday enthusiasts: Italian journalist Roberto Patrignani rode one from Milan to Tokyo; Soren Nielsen travelled to Greenland; James P. Owen from the USA to Tierra del Fuego; Santiago Guillen and Antonio Veciana from Madrid to Athens (for the occasion their Vespa was decorated personally by Salvador Dalì and can still be seen in the Piaggio Museum); Wally Bergen made a grand tour of the Antilles; the Italians Valenti and Rivadulla toured round Spain; Miss Warral rode from London to Australia and back; the Australian Geoff Dean took a Vespa on a round-the-world tour.

Pierre Delliere, a sergeant in the French Air Force, reached Saigon in 51 days from Paris, going through Afghanistan. Swiss rider Giuseppe Morandi rode 6,000 km, mostly across the African desert, on a Vespa he had bought in 1948. Ennio Carrega went from Genoa to Lappland and back in just 12 days. Two Danish journalists, brother and sister Erik and Elizabeth Thrane, reached Bombay on a Vespa. And it is impossible to count the many scooter riders from all over the world who have made the legendary trip to the North Cape on their Vespas.

Few people know that in 1980 two Vespa PX 200s ridden by M. Simonot and B. Tcherniawsky reached the finishing line of the second Paris-Dakar rally. Four-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Henri Pescarolo helped the French team put together by Jean-François Piot.

The Vespa continues to travel: in July 1992 writer and journalist Giorgio Bettinelli left Rome on a Vespa and reached Saigon in March 1993. In 1994-95 he rode a Vespa 36,000 km from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. In 1995-96 he travelled from Melbourne to Cape Town, covering more than 52,000 km in 12 months. In 1997 he started out from Chile to reach Tasmania three years and eight months later, after travelling 144,000 km on his Vespa and crossing 90 countries through the Americas, Siberia, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. All in all, Bettinelli has travelled 250,000 km on a Vespa.

Vespa, the cinema and the USA

With their smooth distinctive Vespa lines, environment-friendly engines, disk brakes for maximum active safety and exceptional riding comfort, the new-generation Vespa models are now also sold in numerous "Vespa Boutiques" in the USA.

Having returned to the States at the end of 2000 (after exiting the market in 1985 because of new emissions legislation targeting two-stroke engines), the Vespa was an immediate success all over again and in 2011 the Vespa LX/S was the best-selling European two-wheeler in the USA.

But the Vespa isn't just a market phenomenon. It forms part of social history. In the "Dolce Vita" years, Vespa was a synonym for scooter, foreign reporters described Italy as "the country of the Vespa" and the Vespa's role in social history, not just in Italy, is confirmed by its presence in hundreds of films. And it's a story that continues to be told today.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in "Roman Holiday" (1953) were only the first of a long series of international actors and actresses to be seen on the world's most famous scooter, in a filmography that goes from “Quadrophenia” to “American Graffiti”, from “The Talented Mr. Ripley” to “102 Dalmatians”, not to mention “Dear Diary” and more recent productions like “Alfie” with Jude Law, “The Interpreter” with Nicole Kidman, and the blockbuster “Transformers”.

In photo shoots, films and on the set, the Vespa has been a "travel companion" for names like Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, Geraldine Chaplin, Joan Collins, Jayne Mansfield, Virna Lisi, Milla Jovovich, Marcello Mastroianni, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, Anthony Perkins, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Nanni Moretti, Sting, Antonio Banderas, Matt Damon, Gérard Depardieu, Jude Law, Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson and Nicole Kidman.

The extraordinary relationship between the Vespa and the cinema was celebrated by “The Vespa and the Movies" exhibition, an event that traced the fortunate alliance between the seventh art and the world’s most famous scooter through a wealth of iconographic material consisting of more than 200 film images (posters, set photos and actors on Vespas). After opening at the Piaggio Museum in Pontedera at the end of 2010, the exhibition was successful in Turin and Taormina on the occasion of the 2011 Nastri d'Argento film awards and, in the autumn of the same year, it was also shown in Russia, in St. Petersburg, evidence of the Vespa's universal values.

1946-2012, sixty-six years of the Vespa: the models that have made history

From the first Vespa in 1946, with its 98 cc, to the Granturismo of 2003, the Vespa GTS 300 Super of 2008 and the recent GTV and LXV special series, down to the Vespa 946 which made its debut on 8 November 2011 at the 69th EICMA Motorcycle Show in Milan: there are more than 150 different models, versions and variations of the Vespa – identifiable by different "chassis codes" – manufactured by Piaggio. These vehicles reflect the technical evolution of the world’s most famous scooter: By the time the Vespa ET4 was launched in 1996, over 20,000 modifications had been made to the original project and more than 1,500 details changed.

For a product that has evolved over more than 60 years, it is difficult to pick out the most representative Vespa scooters. Some models are sought after by collectors because they belong to a special series, or because they were quickly replaced by subsequent versions, and fetch high prices in the vintage scooter market, which is extremely active all over the world. Others, which were produced in larger numbers or stayed on the market longer, are classic models that have left their mark in the history of two-wheeler mobility.

There is no lack of authentic technical records in the Vespa’s history, each of which renews the tradition of innovation so closely associated with the evolution of the world’s best-selling scooter. To cite only a few recent examples: with the Vespa ET2 Injection in 1997, Piaggio launched the first direct-injection two-stroke engine in history, a technical first it doubled in 2000 with the launch of the first European 50cc four-stroke engine on the Vespa ET4 50 4T. In 2005, with the Vespa GTS, Piaggio launched the first scooter in the world to have a 250cc Euro 3 compatible engine with electronic injection. Vespa also led the way in the development of future solutions for low/zero-impact two wheelers: with the Vespa LX 50 HyS (Hybrid Scooter) unveiled on 11 April 2006, the Piaggio Group developed the first prototype “parallel” hybrid scooter whose two engines—an electric motor and a 4-stroke catalysed combustion engine—were mechanically and electronically integrated, to supply power simultaneously to the wheel for a winning technical combination.

Vespa 98, 1946 - The first Vespa. It was powered by a 98 cc engine that delivered 3.2 bhp at 4,500 rpm with a top speed of 60 km/h. It was in production for two years: in 1946 vehicles no. 1 to no. 2,464 were produced, in 1947 no. 2,465 to 18,079. Vespa 125, 1948 - This was the first Vespa 125 cc. In addition to the different engine size, it differed from the 98 with the introduction of the rear suspension; the front suspension was also modified. Vespa 125, 1953 - This marked the first important change to the engine: bore, stroke and timing gear were modified. Power output increased to 5 bhp at 5,000 rpm, and top speed to 75 km/h. The design of the rear fairing was also new. Vespa 125 “U”, 1953 - The “Utility” version with its spartan styling, which sold at 20,000 lire less than the more modern 125. The headlamp appeared high up on the handlebar for the first time in Italy (it had already been introduced on a number of exported models). Vespa 150 GS, 1955 - Experts call this “the most popular, imitated and remembered model”. There were numerous innovations: the 150 cc engine, 4-speed gearbox, standard long saddle, “faired” handlebar-headlamp unit, wheels with 10” tyres. This Vespa could reach 100 km/h. The design also changed, with a much more aerodynamic body. Vespa 160 GS, 1962 - This was developed to continue the market success of the first GS, with a completely new design. The exhaust silencer, carburettor and suspension were also new. The power output was 8.2 bhp at 6,500 rpm. Vespa 150 GL, 1963 - Another new design for what has been called “one of the best-looking Vespas produced by Piaggio designers”. The handlebar, trapezoid headlamp, front mudguard and trimmed-down rear lids were all new. Vespa 50, 1964 - The first Vespa 50 cc, created in response to the new Italian Highway Code which made a number plate obligatory on larger engines. Extremely versatile and reliable, the engine featured a new layout, with the cylinder inclined at 45° instead of lying horizontal. This was the last design to leave Corradino D’Ascanio’s drawing board. Vespa 180 SS, 1965 - A new milestone in the expansion of the engine (181.14 cc), with 10 bhp for a top speed of 105 km/h. The 180 SS (Super Sport) replaced the glorious GS 150/160 cc. Piaggio modified the front cowling, making it more aerodynamic, and significantly improved comfort, handling and road holding. Vespa 125, 1966 – Known unofficially as the “new 125”, it featured radical innovations in the design, frame, engine (inclined 45°) and suspension. Vespa Super Sprint 90, 1966 - A special series derived from the Vespa 50/90 cc and the “new” 125, the hold-all was positioned between the saddle and the handlebar for a more “laid-back” riding style. The handlebar was narrow and low, and the streamlined mudguard and cowling were also important departures. With an engine capacity of only 90 cc, this model could do 93 km/h. Vespa 125 Primavera, 1968 - Together with the subsequent PX version, it was the most durable Vespa. It was based on the “new 125”, but with considerable differences in the engine, which raised the top speed by 10 km/h. Great attention was paid to details, which included the classic, practical bag hook. Vespa 180 Rally, 1968 - With this new vehicle, Piaggio extended the rotary timing fuel feed system to its entire production. The engine was new, the front headlamp new and more powerful, the frame, derived from the Vespa 150 Sprint, narrower and more aerodynamic than that of the Super Sport. Vespa 50 Elestart, 1970 - It featured the great novelty of electric ignition, but the design was also completely revised and embellished compared to the 50 Special. Vespa 200 Rally, 1972 - The Vespa with the largest engine. This model, with 12.35 bhp at 5,700 rpm, could reach 116 km/h. Vespa 125 Primavera ET3, 1976 - The name stood for “Electronic 3 intake ports”, and included important changes to the engine, which had more power and sparkle. Even the styling was changed from the standard Primavera (which remained in the range). Vespa P 125 X, 1978 - The “PX” marked a new step forward in styling (the bodywork was completely redesigned) and performance. The hold-all was positioned behind the cowling. The same year the P 200 E also appeared, which, compared with the 125 version, could be equipped with separate lubrication and direction indicators incorporated in the body. Three years later the PX 150 E was launched, with performance halfway between the two models. Vespa PK 125, 1983 - This replaced the Vespa Primavera (standard and ET3). The styling was new, and the PK body was completely different from that of previous scooters, because the welds of the body no longer overlapped but were integral. Vespa PK 50, 1983 - Substantially identical to the PK 125, it appeared in two models, PK 50 and PK 50 S, both with a 4-speed gearbox and electronic ignition. Vespa PK 125 Automatica, 1984 - An automatic transmission was introduced on the Vespa, perhaps the most radical change since 1946 (at least from the user's point of view). The presence of the automatic transmission was emphasised by the absence of the foot brake, replaced by the lever on the left handlebar (with no need to control the clutch, as it is automatic). It was also available with automatic oil-petrol mixer and electric ignition. The following year the Vespa PK 50 Automatic was launched. Vespa T 5 Pole Position, 1985 - The T 5 was the “extra-sporty” version of the PX series. A new engine, aluminium cylinder and 5 intake ports, as well as a new design, particularly at the rear and around the front headlamp which incorporated an aggressive dome with a small Plexiglas windscreen. A spoiler was added on the cowling. Vespa 50 N, 1989 - The changes to the Italian Highway Code meant that 50 cc vehicles were no longer bound by the 1.5 bhp limit, and Piaggio presented a new small Vespa with improved performance (over 2 bhp at 5,000 rpm), and new, smoother styling. Vespa ET4 125cc, 1996 - The “new-generation Vespa” with a four-stroke engine, launched on the 50th anniversary. In 1997 and 1998 it was the best-selling two wheeler (including motorcycles) in Europe and was followed by the ET2 50 cc version and in 1999 by the classic ET4 150 cc. Vespa ET4 50, 2000 - The last model of the "new generation" of Vespas in chronological order was the ET4 50 cc, launched in the autumn of 2000. It was the first Vespa 50 equipped with a 4-stroke engine and, thanks to the characteristics of its power plant, it established an impressive range record: more than 500 km with a full tank. Vespa PX, 2001 - Front disc brake, close attention to aesthetics, new colours and the return to the "historic" Vespa logo for the timeless PX, which exceeded the extraordinary figure of three million units manufactured and sold in a career spanning more than 30 years. Revamped again in 2011, today it is available in the 125 and 150 versions. The Vespa PX is an "evergreen", thanks in part to the 4-speed handlebar shift transmission and the possibility of installing a side spare tyre. Vespa Granturismo 200L and 125L, 2003 – The Granturismo was the largest and most powerful Vespa produced to date. In 200L and 125L versions, it combined the Vespa’s emotional appeal with state-of-the-art technology: this was the first-ever Vespa with a four-stroke, four-valve, liquid-cooled engine compliant with the new Euro 2 emissions standards, as well as 12-inch wheels and a full disk braking system. The steel body was the expression of an exclusive construction philosophy. Vespa LX, 2005 - This was the return of the small-body "vespino" model, offered alongside the larger "vespone" for more than 40 years, in an extremely modern stylistic and technical key. The Vespa LX replaced the glorious Vespa ET (more than 460,000 units sold from 1996) and, from 10 March, is available in four modern and ecological engine sizes: 50cc two- and four-stroke, 125 and 150cc four-stroke. Vespa GTS 250 i.e.2005 – Fifty years after the launch of the Vespa GS (Gran Sport), the first sport scooter in history and still keenly sought after by collectors and fans, the Vespa GTS 250 i.e. launched on 25 May 2005 renews the GS blend of speed and style to become the fastest, most powerful and most high-tech Vespa in history. In November 2011, the Vespa GTS expanded into the 300 class with a cutting-edge powerful four-valve, liquid-cooled engine with electronic injection, and superb double-disk braking system. Vespa GTV and LXV, 2006 – Developed to celebrate an absolute legend in the world of two wheelers, the Vespa LXV and Vespa GTV revive and reinterpret the most distinctive elements of 1950s and 1960s styling in their form and function. The Vespa GTV, available with 125 and 250 cc engines, stands out for its headlight mounted on the mudguard, just like the original 1946 prototype. The Vespa LXV, offered with a choice of 50, 125 and 150 cc engines, is inspired by the smooth, essential lines of the Vespas of the 1960s, and features a sleek, minimalist look characterised by open handlebars and a two-part seat. Vespa GT 60°, 250cc, 2006 – This is Vespa’s gift to its fans to celebrate its sixtieth anniversary: high-quality materials and an exclusive finish for a unique scooter, this model was a limited edition of just 999 units, and is destined to become one of the milestones in Vespa’s long history. Vespa S 50 and 125, 2007 - All the character of the sporty “Vespino” is revived in the brand new Vespa S. This fascinating blend of styles and references keeps the soul of the youngest and most sporting of all Vespas alive today. The Vespa S inherits its rigorously minimalist looks from legendary models of the 1970s like the 50 Special and Vespa Primavera. Vespa GTS 300 Super, 2008 – GTS 300 Super brings the exclusive elegance of the Vespa to the over 250 class. The classic, unique Vespa style is combined with a distinctly sporty and modern personality, giving the clean Vespa lines a decidedly rugged look. With its sporty design, the Vespa GTS 300 Super embodies the style, convenience, safety and sturdiness of the Vespa brand.

With a state-of-the-art powerful 4-valve liquid-cooled electronic-injection Euro3 engine, the Vespa GTS 300 Super delivers extraordinary elasticity and vitality to leave everyone standing. Vespa S 50 and Vespa LX 50 4 Valve, 2009 – The new 50cc, four-stroke, four-valve engine marks the return to a legendary engine size in Vespa history. With new 4-valve timing, this brand new and feisty powerplant can match its two-stroke counterparts (at 4.35 bhp it is the most powerful 50 cc four-stroke on the market), yet its consumption and emissions remain those of a typical four-stroke. With this new engine, Vespa reconfirms a technological supremacy that has stood for over six decades. Vespa GTS 125 Super, 2009 – All the sporty character of the Vespa GTS Super with an ‘eighth of a litre’ engine: Vespa GTS 125 Super inherits the elegant and dynamic style of the Vespa 300 Super and represents a triumphant new sporting expression. The new electronic fuel injected engine significantly cuts operating costs – thanks to lower fuel consumption – and servicing costs. The right-hand flank of the pressed steel body – a unique feature of the Vespa since its first appearance – is slashed with a horizontally slatted grille: a clear homage to some of the most stunning Vespas of the past that lends the scooter an unequivocal sporty touch when viewed from the side. The new two-tone alloy wheel rims and the spring finished in racing red contribute to the same visual effect.

Vespa Touring – The special Touring series introduced at EICMA 2011 dresses the mighty Vespa GTS and the sleek Vespa LX, in homage to the thousands of outfitted Vespas which have ridden on roads the world over, carrying entire generations across countries. This is a series for people who love to travel, with an appropriate mix of unmistakable Vespa style and the practicality of a vehicle capable of leaving the city behind to embark on medium-range touring. Vespa “Vie della Moda” is a special series standing for style, fashion and distinction. Two models (introduced in November 2011) dedicated to the most glamorous shopping streets, an exclusive collection of unique pieces: Vespa GTV (300 cc) and Vespa LXV (125 cc) which, for 2012, are presented in elegant "Etna brown", to enhance their timeless lines.

Vespa LX 3V and Vespa S 3V – In June 2012 on the Vespa LX and Vespa S, a new engine made its debut, justifiably considered the state of the art in the industry and likely to be a trendsetter with its excellent performance and minimal consumption and emissions, delivering up to 55km/l and cutting CO2 emissions by 30%. With the new cutting-edge 3-valve 125-150 4T engine, once again Piaggio led the way into the future of engine technology. This is a monocylinder, 4-stroke, air-cooled model, with 3-valve single overhead camshaft timing (2 intake valves, 1 exhaust valve) and electronic fuel injection, developed and built in the Pontedera factory, with some of the world’s most advanced R&D centres, in order to enhance performance and cut fuel consumption and emissions.

The Vespa Clubs

The Vespa became a legend practically as soon as it appeared, with many enthusiasts banding together to form the first Vespa Clubs as early as 1946, in Italy to begin with and then abroad: a long history of devotion to the Vespa that led, in 2006, to the creation of the Vespa World Club to coincide with the Vespa’s 60th anniversary.

The development of the Vespa club movement was closely linked to Vespa sales on the international markets: by 1953 there were more than 10,000 Piaggio service stations worldwide, in Europe, Asia and America, and the Vespa Clubs already had over 50,000 members.

But as early as the 1940s, together with Italian sports journalist Renato Tassinari, Enrico Piaggio had organised meets and rallies to create growing interest in the scooter, with all kinds of initiatives including the creation of the Vespa Clubs. These groups of Vespa fans would strengthen the image of the scooter and testify to the efficacy of Piaggio’s sales and service network.

At the Fiera Campionaria in Milan in 1948, the Italian Vespa Clubs organised a rally called the “Silver Swarm” after the first Vespa model’s trademark silvery-green colour. This was the first large rally and would have an extraordinary echo.

In 1951, 20,000 Vespa fans took part in the Italian Vespa Day. Throughout the 1950s, competitions of every kind were held, at both regional and national level in Italy and abroad (the Swiss Tour, the 2,000 km Three Seas tour, the all-female Audax tour and the 1,000 km tour were among the best known rallies).

Increasingly, riding a Vespa became synonymous with freedom, the use of space and easier social relations: in short, the Vespa became a social phenomenon that would mark an entire epoch and appear on countless occasions in films, literature and advertising campaigns for many products, and in the lifestyle of a changing society keen to leave the destruction of World War II behind.

The Vespa Club Europe was set up in Milan on 8 February 1953, with unanimous support from the delegates representing the Vespa Clubs of Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland and Switzerland, to co-ordinate and develop relations, events and links among Vespa fans in individual countries.

Two months later, Austria, Denmark, the U.K., Portugal, Spain and Sweden joined the founding members of the Vespa Club Europe. Subsequently, the Vespa Club Mondial was set up and, together with the Vespa Club Europe, came to be named Fédération Internationale des Vespa Clubs (disbanded on 30 November 2005).

On 14 March 2006, the Vespa World Club was set up to co-ordinate and promote all the Vespa clubs in the world. Piaggio promoted the formation of the new association, whose objective is to draw on the finest experiences and initiatives created by Vespa fans in various countries, enhance the role of national associations and support all Vespa Clubs. Today the Vespa World Club has 35 associated national Vespa Clubs, 685 local Vespa Clubs and more than 31,000 members all over the world. Calculating the number of Vespa enthusiasts, or the Internet web pages dedicated to the world’s most popular and famous scooter, is impossible.

Every year the national Vespa Clubs and enthusiasts from all over the world meet up for Vespa World Days.

The city chosen for the 2012 event was Olympic London: from 14 to 17 June thousands of Vespa lovers from around the globe travelled to the British capital to take part in the 6th Vespa World Days, attended last year in Gjøvik, Norway, by more than one thousand registered Vespa scooters, 150 Vespa Clubs from 20 member countries and thousands of fans, all sharing the same great passion for the world’s most famous scooter




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