Tuesday, July 19, 2011

La Bella Vespa

There are few things more traditionally and stunningly Italian than La Vespa (translation: The Wasp)... 

Here is the history...

In Nebraska, it was the Cushman motor company, founded in 1903, who began diversifying from the production of engines for just farm equipment.  So in 1936, this same company also produced the first motor scooter, even selling them as a product line in Sears.  Cushman were so successful and their manufactured product so sturdy and reliable, that during the Second World War, not only were thousands of Cushman scooters furnished for the U.S. Army in general but many were produced solely for use by the airborne regiments. These robust airborne scooters were then dropped by parachute along with those flying soldiers, those screaming eagles, right into enemy territory, right into the heart of Europe.

Toward the end of the war, the fall of Italy and the destruction of its road and rail infrastructure, meant that the need for adequate post war transport was a severely pressing one for the nation. Renaldo Piaggio, his once booming fighter aircraft factory now destroyed, crippled by the severity of a post war economy and the severe restrictions placed on a defeated nation, had to take his manufacturing skills elsewhere. Piaggio then, turned his eyes on the obvious transportation needs of his post war country. He looked around and asked himself, “Just what was it that he could produce cheaply and in vast quantities, that would meet the needs of the day?"

At that time, the olive green machines of the Nebraskan, Cushman scooter company, were buzzing around post war Europe and no doubt, became the obvious stimulus for the design style of the new, and cheap, stylish Italian vehicle for the masses. It was Enrico Piaggio, who beholding the brand new mass produced Italian scooter design with both his eyes and ears for the first time said with delightful surprise, 
“Sembra una vespa!” or, “It reminds me of a wasp!” 

1946 Vespa used by the US Marine WWII. Designed by Enrico Piaggio.

Post World War II Italy, in light of its agreement to cessation of war activities with the Allies, Italy had its aircraft industry severely restricted in both capability and capacity.
Piaggio emerged from the conflict with its Pontedera fighter plane plant demolished by bombing. Italy's crippled economy and the disastrous state of the roads did not assist in the re-development of the automobile markets. Enrico Piaggio, the son of Piaggio's founder Rinaldo Piaggio, decided to leave the aeronautical field in order to address Italy's urgent need for a modern and affordable mode of transportation for the masses.

Original proto-type
Inspirazione (inspiration)
These olive green scooters were in Italy in large numbers, ordered originally by Washington as field transport for the Paratroops and Marines. The US military had used them to get around Nazi defense tactics of destroying roads and bridges in the Dolomites (a section of the Alps) and the Austrian border areas.

Una Vespa foto rustica. Bellissima. 

Vespa azzura 

Vespa rossa 

The ever-elegant Audrey Hepburn

Gina Lolabrigeda - una bella donna italiana

Louis "Satchmo"Armstrong - a Roma 


  1. My Zio Silvio had a burgundy vespa and he would take me on long rides through the hills of Veneto.

    I have many wonderful memories of those times ...



  2. Hi! I just found your post about vespas and wanted to say how great of a introduction you have for the beginnings of this lovely little machine. I posted a few of your photos and linked back to here, as I thought others would really like to read this also! I must admit that I have never come across that Louis photo before! Nor that particular Audrey photo. Very cool! Here is the link, if you wanted to check it out: http://roxyvespa.wordpress.com/2012/05/15/bloggin-vespa-rare-vespa-photos-of-the-day/ Cheers!