Sometimes likened to the Ford Model T automobile (1908–27), which sold 15 million units in its lifetime, the Italian Vespa motor scooter designed by Corradino D'Ascanio and manufactured by Piaggio since 1946 has been the best‐selling two‐wheeler, with more Vespas than Model Ts having been sold by the end of the 20th century: more than 3.5 million by 1965; more than 10 million by 1988; and more than 15 million by 1996, the year of the Vespa's 50th anniversary. In terms of public visibility and capturing the public imagination, the Vespa has also featured in countless films spanning several generations, including Roman Holiday (in which it was ridden by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn), Vincente Minnelli's An American in Paris, Federico Fellini's La dolce vita, Franc Roddam's Quadrophenia, George Lucas's American Graffiti, and Jay Roach's Austin Powers. The Vespa scooter (named after the wasp whose buzzing it imitates) proved to be a stylish, affordable means of transportation in the reconstruction period of the later 1940s, epitomizing the democratic spirit that infused the outlook of many designers in the years immediately after the end of the war. Able to be ridden by men and women alike, easy to operate, with three‐speed gears operated from the handlebar, a pedal‐operated rear brake, and a stylish body casing to protect riders from dirt, the final form evolved from D'Ascanio's 1945 Paperino and MP6 prototypes and was launched in April 1946. It proved immensely popular throughout Europe, having sold 100,000 units by 1952 with Vespa Club membership standing at over 50,000. It was marketed widely in the United States, being imported by the Cushman scooter company from 1961 and also by Sears Roebuck & Co. who sold it through their stores and mail order catalogues. It was also produced under licence in several European countries, such as Germany where production by Hoffman‐Werle began in 1950, as well as in India where it was manufactured by Bajaj and in Taiwan by PGO. All kinds of variations, models, and new features were introduced over succeeding generations including the 1976 Primavera 125‐ET3, the first Vespa with electronic ignition, and the 1989 Sfera with its plastic body.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.