The front “fairing” provides wind protection and shields the feet which are placed on a flat floorboard. The open leg area allows for a more comfortable, upright riding position.
Although this scooter design is commonplace today, there was nothing like it until 1946.
The original design came from Corradino DAscanio, an Italian aeronautics engineer responsible for the Agusta helicopter. DAscanio was the author of numerous scientific publications and a professor at the University of Pisa between 1937 and 1961, while he was still an employee of Piaggio.
DAscanio is said to have been disappointed that he was better known by the public for his association with Vespa scooters than he was for his helicopter and other aviation designs. The Italian government did recognize his achievements in aeronautics and awarded him the “Order of Merit of the Italian Republic”.
One of the more interesting models included the 150 TAP, which was modified by the French military to hold an anti-tank weapon. Another was the Torpedo with its 125 cc counter-opposing piston engine that set a world record. The average speed attained was 171 km/hour.
The popularity of Vespa scooters can be partially attributed to Hollywood. The 1952 film “Roman Holiday” showed Audrey Hepburn riding side saddle on Gregory Peck’s scooter as they rode through the streets of Rome. By the late 1950s, Marlon Brando, Dean Martin, John Wayne and Charlton Heston, as well as many other famous folks, were all Vespa-riders.
Although Piaggio has seen its share of ups and downs over the years, the company is now publicly traded on the major stock exchanges. Five models are currently in production and more are expected to be released in the future, including hybrid models.
The current drive to reduce emissions and conserve fuel is expected to push the sales of Vespa scooters higher than ever before.