On 23 April 1946, Piaggio & CSpA filed the following patent: “motorbike with a rational combination of parts and elements with a frame combined with mudguards and hood covering the entire mechanical part”.
Enrico Piaggio realized that in order to create something really innovative he would have to choose a designer whose mind would be free from any constructive concept concerning a motorcycle; he chose the aeronautical engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, helicopter designer and man who “hated motorcycles”.
D’Ascanio hated having to climb a motorcycle to sit on it, so he used his knowledge to invent the first load-bearing body bike, without steel tubular structure and, thanks to this, without a central tunnel.
He adopted a front suspension inspired by that of the aircraft trolleys and created an engine conceptually derived from aeronautical ignition engines. He moved the gearbox to the handlebars, covered the engine with the frame to make up for the frequent oil spills that stained his pants, added the spare tire as most of the roads of the era were in dirt and the motorcyclists were forced to remedy at frequent punctures. He modeled the driving position to be the least tiring possible.
The Vespa was born. On March 24, 1946, the scooter made its debut at the Exhibition of Mechanics and Metallurgy in Turin, the day after the company leader Enrico Piaggio, in a letter addressed to the Plant Manager and all the workers, so he wrote: “I have the pleasure to inform you that the first specimens met general admiration. I express to you my most heartfelt satisfaction, certain that with the union of all our strengths, we will be able to mark other important steps for our industrial recovery “.
So much so that Enrico Piaggio in the early months of 1946 proposed to Moto Guzzi the distribution of the “Vespa”. The offer was however declined due to the negative opinion of Carlo Guzzi, very contrary to external designs, and to the firm opposition of Giuseppe Guzzi towards low-wheeled motorcycles, due to their instability.
Following this refusal, Enrico Piaggio decided to organize himself.
It should be added that the first pre-series lot of the “Vespa 98”, at the price of 55,000 Lire, had not been enthusiastically received by customers; in addition to the “classic” version (from 55,000 lire), a luxury version of 61,000 lire was sold, with some options such as the speedometer, the side crutch and the refined white side tires.
With the help of Mario D’Este, his trusted designer, Corradino D’Ascanio took only a few days to fine-tune his idea and prepare the first Vespa project, produced in Pontedera in 1946.
The sale of the first 50 specimens, built and assembled by hand, proceeded nonetheless slowly.
Not at all discouraged by adversity, Enrico Piaggio decided to approve the preparation of the assembly line for mass production and sought the help of Lancia for initial commercial support.
The new scooter got to be hosted in the Lancia dealerships, so the mass production of a first batch of 2,500 units started, 2,181 of which were sold in 1946; a result destined to increase fivefold in the following year, with 10,535 Vespa sold.
Enrico Piaggio’s intention in producing the “Vespa” was not to start a motorcycle company, but simply to find a temporary alternative production, widely consumed, which would allow the company to overcome the inevitable difficulties of the post-war period and, later on , resume the traditional aeronautical construction.
The first Vespa had a displacement of 98 cm³, two-stroke engine, three gears, flywheel magnet ignition, maximum power of 3.2 horsepower at 4500 rpm, which allowed a maximum speed of 60 km / h and the overcoming of slopes 20%.
The position of the engine allowed direct transmission from the gearbox to the rear wheel without chain, which was part of the design simplicity that has favored the global success of the Vespa.
In 1948 the company produced 19,822 vehicles. Then, when production began in the first German licensee, in the fifties, 60,000 vehicles were reached, while three years later, 171,200 vehicles will hit the doors of the plants.
The price of 68,000 lire was equivalent to several months of work by an employee, however the possibility of payment in installments was a major stimulus for sales: the Vespa gave the first impulse to mass motorization in Italy, before the advent of the other great protagonist, the Fiat Nuova 500.
The Vespa was produced with various engines. From the models 50 cm³ (1963) to 125 cm³ that could accommodate a passenger (especially the Primavera model), up to 150, 160, 180 and 200 cm³ versions.
Despite the passing of the years, the Vespa remains one of the most successful examples of industrial design in the world. Its line, even if varying in particular, remains unmistakable as a whole: whatever the model, whatever the year of production, its fundamental characteristics remain impressed to such an extent that the Vespa object is uniquely identifiable.