The Vespa is a line of motor scooters that was first manufactured in Genoa, Italy in 1946 by Piaggio & Co, S.p.A. Piaggio continues to manufacture the Vespa today, although the Vespa was a much more prevalent vehicle in the 1950s and 1960s when it became the adopted vehicle of choice for the UK youth-culture known as Mods, and later Skinheads. The classic Vespas had unibody chassis pressed from sheets of steel, with bodywork covering the legs for protection from rain and mud. The engine was covered completely by a steel cowling to appeal to a broader market of people, often turned off by the dirty/greasy stereotype often applied to motorcycles. Piaggio revolutionized the two-wheel industry with the Vespa and provided a model on which nearly every other scooter made since has been based.
Most older Vespas have manual transmissions that are controlled by twisting the left handgrip while pulling the clutch lever and selecting between the 3 or 4 gears. They also have had two stroke motors, requiring a mixture of oil with the gasoline in order to lubricate the piston and cylinder. The mixture of oil in the fuel produced high amounts of smoke. Increasing environmental restrictions compelled Piaggio to pull out of the US market in 1985. Vespas would have completely disappeared from the American scene if it weren't for the enthusiasts who kept the vintage scooters on the road by rebuilding and restoring them.
Vespa returned to the US market in 2001 with a new, more modern style, and offers several models that have automatic transmissions and using both four stroke and cleaner two stroke engines. First came the ET2 (50 cc) and ET4 (50-124cc). Next came the larger 200 cc Granturismo 200. In 2004 they reintroduced a modernized PX 150. In 2005 a LX model that comes in both 50 and 125 cc versions in the UK and 50 and 150 cc version in the US .
The Vespa is recognized as the epitome of Italian design and with its elegant lines and classic aesthetics, there is a dramatic increase in the number of urban commuters who have purchased new or restored Vespas. The difficulty with parking, the cost of gasoline are two fundamental motivators for this upswing in Vespa (and other scooter) popularity.
Vespas acquired popularity beyond Europe and North America. In India, Piaggio transfered Vespa technology to Bajaj Auto, which continues to make scooters derived from Vespas of the 1960's. Bajaj used to sell in North America in the early 1980's but later withdrew from the market, owing both to the aforementioned environmental constraints, and patent infringement accusations from Piaggio. Bajaj scooters are back in the North American market, though most of the Vespa pedigree has been engineered away (other than the body shape). Another Vespa clone producer in India is LML Motors, which manufactures the "Stella" range of Vespa clones that are sold in the USA.
Vespa is Italian for wasp, and it was adopted as a name for the vehicle in reference to its body shape: thicker rear part connected to the front part by a narrow waist, and the steering rod as the antennae.
Piaggio was, and is today with Piaggio Aero, an aircraft factory. After WW2, recognizing the need for conversion to civil market, it approached this idea using internal skill, expertise and spare parts: in the first exemplar one can recognize the typical aircraft technology of molded steel sheets riveted at the edges, the front wheel with lamp was actually a landing gear, the engine was derived from a starter of an airplane engine, attention to aerodynamics is evident in all the design, in particular on the tail.
Vespas in fiction
Fictional people who own Vespas
- Nadine Cross - The Stand
- Haruhara Haruko - FLCL
- Mad Mod, and for half an episode Beast Boy - Teen Titans
- Mona - WarioWare, Inc.
- Robin Sena - Witch Hunter Robin
- Mayama Takumi - Honey and Clover
Movie, book, and web references to Vespas
- Peter Moore's travelogue Vroom with a View, in which a '61 model Australian author tours Italy on a '61 model Vespa, gives some insights into Vespa culture.
- The movie Quadrophenia, based on the double-album of the same name by The Who, prominently features Vespas in connection with the British Mod subculture.
- Princess Vespa was a character in the movie Spaceballs, a possible play on words alluding to the goddess Vesta in Roman Mythology, to whom Vestal Virgins were dedicated as pristesses.
- Roman Holiday, 1953, featuring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, is a living testimony to the 1950s Vespa Mania in Italy.
- Dolce vita on a Vespa, a summary of Peter Moore's travels in today's Italy for The Guardian.
- The Scooter Scoop!, for motor scooter news, reviews, commentary and the celebration of 2-wheeled oddities
- Modern Vespa Forum, discussion forum for Vespa scooter owners and enthusiasts
- Vespa Club USA
- Scoot Net
- Vespa Parts Scooter Mercato
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