Friday, May 21, 2010

Vroom! Vespas

It was 1945 and the second World War had left Italy and its people recovering from bombs, trenches, and combat boots. Men were returning home from the battlefields worried about their future - there we no jobs and Mussolini's army had used all the resources, food and vehicles in the war.

The Piaggio company that produced airplanes during the war was also spent. Brothers and company owners, Enrico and Armando Piaggio had to find a way to save their company. They came up with the idea to build a new form of transportation that would be fast, simple, easy on gas, and affordable.

They looked around the warehouse and used airplane pieces to create the motor scooter. The first vespa forks were actual pieces of landing gear from Mussolini's airplanes, and the design has stuck since. In addition, the first engines were used by the Italian Air Force as starter motors for their propeller planes.

They would wheel up carts with engines mounted to them to spin the props/engines. The large amounts of airplane sheet metal were used to make a revolutionary new machine that would use its body as a frame. The engine was basic enough that it didn't need an oil pump and by combining engine and transmission, a minimum of space was used. Most parts were cast in aluminum to prevent corrosion. The engine only weighed 45 pounds!

The scooter was engineered perfectly - the dirty hot mechanics of the machine were behind the driver, the legsheilds and a floorboard would help to keep road grime off the rider. The unique design allowed men to stradle the long seat like a motorcycle and let ladies ride in a skirt with their knees together. The scooter would be tough enough to ride on the bumpy backroads and be quick enough to travel in cities with ease.

With its circular rear, thin mid section and wide front, the motor scooter was given the name "vespa" which means wasp in Italian.

Vespas were becoming so popular that there were waiting lists. Piaggio had to triple the size of their factory and they employed 1/5 of Italy's population! In 1956, only 11 years after it started, Piaggio produced its 1 millionth Vespa.

A Vespa culture had been cultivated - it was not only a mode of transportation, but it was a hobby. And... it was Italy's "miracle."

Click here for the whole Vespa story.

I love Audrey Hepburn and her famous Vespa ride in the movie, Roman Holiday! Click here to watch her tour around Rome!

Here are a few of my Vespa pictures from around Italy...

Rainy Day Vespa

Pastel Yellow Vespa

Midnight Rider Blue Vespa

In Mint Condition Vespa

Neon Green Vespa

Purple Power Vespa

Snow White Vespa

“I think the thing to do is to enjoy the ride while you're on it.” -Johnny Depp

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