With a history dating back to 1882, Enrico and, his father, Rinaldo Piaggio were initially involved in the naval, railway and aeronautical worlds. Post War Italy saw the family seeking alternative products and the Vespa can trace its original to a single model scooter manufactured in 1946 by Piaggio & Co. S.p.A. in Pontedera (Italy).
With the eye of designer Corrodino D’Ascanio and the engineering know-how of Piaggio’s team of Renzo Spolti and Vittorio Casini they took the unsatisfactory earlier prototype MP5 – “duckling” – and transformed it into the MP6 with a rear mounted engine (originally a 98 cc air-cooled two stroke) giving direct drive to the rear wheel and step-through design. On seeing this masterpiece Enrico Piaggio is said to have cried – “Sembra una vespa!” (“It resembles a wasp!”) thus naming his new scooter.
The patent for the Vespa was applied for in April 1946 and a granted in December and the Vespa was publicly debuted at the 1946 Milan Fair – with sales stimulated by an instalment payment arrangement.
The iconic nature of the Vespa was assured by its design and technology but its promotion was greatly assisted by its appearance in films such as “Roman Holiday”
By 1960 two million Vespas had been sold and by the late 1980’s this figure has risen to over ten million. Variations including the 125 cc and 200 cc PX and the ET series further developed the brand.
Since 1959 Piaggio been in the control of the Agnelli family, with Giovanni Agnelli’s death in 1997, this important influence was lost. In 1999 the business was acquired by Morgan Grenfell Private Equity. By 2003, the company was perilously close to bankruptcy with unserviceable levels of debt. Roberto Colaninno made an initial investment of €100m in exchange for just under a third of Piaggio in October 2003 and his appointee Rocco Gabelli rationalised the business and redesigned the factory to become an assembly line.
The ET model, my particular favourite, was true to the original design of the MP5. It had an automatic gearbox – essential for a scooter novices like me and a choice of engines – a 50 cc two or four stroke or a 150 cc four stroke.
The vast expense of parking in Central London combined with a move deeper into SW London – and the resultant longer and more uncomfortable train/tube/bus commute – prompted me to buy my ET2 in 1998. It was an excellent decision. Overnight, I saved time and money – above all I truly liberated myself from the grind of commuter travelling.
As I drove my Vespa ET2 – shown in our featured photo – on a car driver’s licence I was able to drive it with a passenger. A full CBT bike test was required for the bigger engine ET4 which I didn’t have any real desire to take. My wife was a willing pillion but she is half my size. Our combined commute to the West End was really very enjoyable – on dry days. We had matching Driza-Bone stockman coats for wet days and the site of us return home one evening prompted a neighbour to ask a couple of days later whether I though it safe taking the children on the scooter with me!
Photo from Piaggio