Sunday, April 17, 2011

Some (Vespa) Scoot History

Piaggio hasn't always been in the scooter business. Founded by Rinaldo Piaggio in 1884, Piaggio actually began by producing luxury ship fittings, truck bodies, engines, locomotives and railway carriages. During World Wars I and II, the company focused on producing aircraft in it's Pontedera, Italy plant.

With the end of WWII, Italy's crippled economy, and the disastrous state of it's roads, auto production was an especially difficult challenge. Enrico Piaggio, the son of Piaggio's founder Rinaldo Piaggio, saw an opportunity to address Italy's urgent need to kick-start it's economy and produce a modern and affordable vehicle.

Enrico brought in aeronautical engineer Corradino D'Ascanio, famous for designing the first airworthy helicopter. He was now tasked with nearly as formidable a job by being asked to create a sturdy, simple and affordable vehicle that was easy for both men and women to drive, was passenger capable; and could keep it's operators clothes clean.

Inspired by a small motorcycle made for parachutists, the first prototype was known as the MP5 and nicknamed “Paperino” (the Italian name for Donald Duck). Historians say Enrico was unhappy with this design however, so Corradino was sent back to the drawing board and soon came up with the second prototype.

He soon came up with the MP6, at which Enrico happily exclaimed, "It looks like a wasp!".

In 1946 the Vespa (Wasp) was launched. Within ten years, over a million units would be produced.

My scoot, like the one in this ad circa 1980, is a 1979 Vespa P200e. Garaged for more than 15 years, it was overhauled several years ago by Mike at NoHo Scooters in North Hollywood. At more the 70 miles to the gallon of regular gas, my little wasp can take me a long way on it's small 1.48 gallon tank... and with gasoline in Culver city at $4.29 a gallon and rising, it will likely find itself on the road again soon.

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