The Italian Almanac


Italian News - April 19

Italy is celebrating the creation of a two-wheel style icon that has won hearts worldwide. Audrey Hepburn and Jennifer Lopez were pleased to pose on one. It has inspired pop songs and films, and Italians are eager to hail its sleek design as the undisputed symbol of national pride.

The Vespa turns 60 this month and is being feted with an exhibition celebrating the two-wheeled embodiment of la dolce vita. “The key to the Vespa is that it has a soul,” said Roberto Leardi, head of the Italian Vespa Club. “It is not just a piece of machinery.”

The scooter features as an “icon of Italian design” in Vrooooom, an exhibition that opened this week at Riccione. The enduring national love affair with the Vespa is partly because of its simple but aesthetically pleasing design, including the voluptuously rounded and flared tail that inspired its name (Vespa is Italian for wasp).

The Vespa was created in April 1946 by Enrico Piaggio, an aircraft manufacturer looking for new postwar markets, and Corradino D’Ascanio, the aeronautical engineer and helicopter designer. Its elevation to the status of national icon came in 1953, with William Wyler’s film Roman Holiday, in which Gregory Peck takes Audrey Hepburn for a ride around Rome on a Vespa. Other film stars who subsequently posed on one include Ursula Andress, Ingrid Bergman, Anthony Quinn, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jennifer Lopez.

By the 1950s, Vespas were being manufactured under licence in 180 countries, including Britain, where they became an essential element of Mod culture. Since 1946, some 17 million have been sold, and 40 per cent are still made at the Piaggio plant at Pontedera in northern Italy. Although the Vespa has been through 140 models, its design remains much the same.