- Vespas are an icon of Italian culture, featured in movies like Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” and “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn.
- Vespa has made and sold over 1.6 million scooters all over the world.
- We visited the headquarters of Vespa and the Piaggio Group in Pontedera, Italy to see how the iconic two-wheelers are made.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Vespas are more than just scooters. Over the years, they have become an icon of Italian culture and of “made in Italy” itself. They have been featured endlessly on the big screen in movies like Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” or “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn.
“Vespa is an extraordinary story,” Piaggio Group design director Marco Lambri told Business Insider. “It’s a story that was born in 1946, after the Second World War thanks to Enrico Piaggio’s intuition and the genuis of an engineer, Corradino D’Ascanio. At the time, Piaggio was building in the aeronautical and naval field and the owners decided to reconvert the company in a new field: personal mobility. After the war, Italy had to start up again. And through this vehicle, simple, cheap, and for everyone, they thought they could give a significant contribution.”
Vespa has made and sold over 1.6 million scooters all over the world. Vespa debuted in 1946 at the Rome Golf Club, and it quickly gained popularity. It went from selling 2,500 scooters in 1947 to more than 20 times that in only three years, selling 60,000 in 1950. The first models were sold for 55,000 lire, or about $245 at the time. Vespa prices were very competitive, and this, together with its sleek design, is what turned it into a success.
“Vespa was born after a strange combination of coincidences,” said Lambri. “Corradino D’Ascanio, its engineer, actually didn’t love motorbikes. He designed this Vespa based on who was supposed to drive it but without the constraits of motorbikes back then. It had to be easy to use, protective, comfortable. He designed it thinking about how he would have used it. Its name comes from Enrico Piaggio’s exclamation when he saw the first prototype. Its shape, with a narrow waist and large rear,resembled a wasp (vespa in Italian). When he said it, he said, “It looks like a wasp!” And this is how Vespa was born.”
We visited the headquarters of Vespa and the Piaggio Group in Pontedera, Italy to see how the iconic two-wheelers are made. Vespa differs from other scooters in that its body frame is made entirely of steel stampings that are welded together, which is exactly how Piaggio made its airplanes when it launched the scooter in 1946.
Aside from the Pontedera factory, Piaggio also opened a factory in Vietnam in 2013 to cater for the great demand in Asian markets.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in July 2019.